Social networking is a crucial part of small business marketing, but managing it all can be overwhelming. Laurie McCabe explains how social media management can tame the beast.
What is Social Media Management?
As described in the article, “What is Social Networking, and Why Should You Care,” Internet-based social media make it easier for people to listen, interact, engage and collaborate with each other. But, as the volume of social media venues and conversations rises, it quickly becomes a time- and labor-intense process to effectively track, converse, monitor and manage them.
Social media management solutions can help you manage outbound and incoming online interactions — along with other small business marketing activities — in a more efficient manner. They streamline and consolidate how you listen to and participate in relevant conversations in the different places they’re taking place — blogs, social networks like Twitter or Facebook, and other public and private Web communities and sites.
They also help you to more easily monitor what people are saying about your business, and by automating the process of delivering your outgoing messages through multiple social media outlets simultaneously, help you to amplify your social media presence across several social networking sites.
Social media management tools can also help you to integrate social networking activities with your other marketing programs. These can include other online activities, such as Web sites, search engine marketing campaigns, contact management systems, and email marketing, as well as offline marketing, such as events or white papers.
Why Should You Care?
We all know how important word of mouth is, and social networking is like word of mouth on steroids. As a business, it’s vital to tap into and join online conversations not only about your brand, but also those about your competitors, your industry and your areas of expertise.
Even if you haven’t launched an outbound social media strategy, you to keep a pulse on what people are saying — good or bad — about your company, competitors and major trends. And, by representing your company in a positive, authentic way, you can build credibility for your expertise and business and link to customers and prospects quickly.
You can also help mitigate damage should negative conversations about your company emerge by quickly responding to complaints. Social media can also steer people to your other marketing programs, where it’s easier to individually track and manage individual customer and prospect interactions.
Done right, social networking sites can help you better understand prospective and current customer needs, increase visibility and generate leads. But it takes a lot of time and energy to stay on top of all of this in a manual, piecemeal fashion. Think about the time it takes just to cover some of the basics, such as:
- Creating content in multiple places, such as a blog, Twitter, a Facebook page, etc.; monitor and scan the views, decide what comments to approve, and respond to replies on these sites
- Scanning Twitter followers for conversations you may want to join, or checking your RSS reader subscriptions for relevant articles and new ideas
- Checking Google Alerts to see when and where your business is mentioned on the Web
- Creating and monitoring a community and topics on a site such as Facebook or LinkedIn
Now think about the fact that the social networking to-do list is only going to grow. And while you are building goodwill, relationships and awareness, it’s difficult to measure short-term payback on social media efforts. And you can’t abandon your other marketing activities — Web site, search engine marketing, email marketing and contact and sales management.
Social media management tools give you a way to get your arms around the many-headed social media Hydra by streamlining and integrating customer interactions across multiple marketing venues.
What to Consider
There are dozens, if not hundreds of solutions out there that let you manage and integrate different slices of the social media pie, but we are still searching for the Holy Grail in this relatively new area. However, I’ve spotted a few vendors that have put together more comprehensive solutions designed and priced specifically for small business budgets, including:
BatchBlue’s BatchBook, a “social CRM” offering that integrates contact, sales and social media feeds, with mobile versions for iPhone and Blackberry. The social media integration is cool — after you enter social media feeds from Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, etc. on a contact record, you automatically see a contact’s social networking profile, and the last three posts, tweets and/or other entries when you open the record so that you can keep a pulse on customers and prospects.
With lists and reports, you can build lists, or create customized reports. BatchBook integrates with MailChimp, so you can send email newsletters to your lists. BatchBlue gives all new customers a minimum of two hours of one-on-one consulting time to help them get productive as quickly as possible.
Pricing ranges from $9.95 to $99.95 a month, based on the number of users, storage, and one-on-one consultation time you need. My take is that BatchBlue is a great solution for tech-savvy small businesses, especially services businesses where every relationship counts.
CloudProfile gives small businesses a unified content publishing and social media hub and Web presence, which you can use standalone in place of a Web site, or with your existing Web site. You create an online profile, which enables your business to get found in search engines like Google, business directories and on social networks. It helps you find and connect with customers on Twitter and Facebook, and it offers tools such as click-to-call, text messaging and e-mail marketing to help you stay connected with customers.
CloudProfile provides built-In reports and connect to Google Analytics. The company plans to add PayPal and Amazon checkout and appointment scheduling soon. Pricing starts at $14.95 a month. A very good choice for the approximately 40 percent of small businesses that don’t yet have a Web site — gives you an online presence plus social capabilities.
HubSpot helps companies create, optimize and promote their content. It features a blogging platform and a content management system, plus tools to help analyze your marketing reach via blogs, leads, Facebook and Twitter accounts. It provides links to conversations across the Internet related to your business' keywords in one tidy dashboard.
The Web Voter feature lets you create a social news page on your site, where people can submit links and vote on them — creating an activity hub for discussion of hot issues. HubSpot also provides Keyword, Page and Link Graders, to help optimize search result rankings. Optional integration with Salesforce.com CRM is available.
HubSpot charges an initial $500 start up fee, and ongoing pricing starts at $250 per month. It also offers a number of free tools, including Graders for Web sites, press releases, blogs, etc. HubSpot provides a very comprehensive solution for both small and medium businesses.
ZooLoo provides a one-stop shop to get an online presence and manage social media interactions — including domain name registration, Web site creation, a blogging platform, SEO tools, privacy controls, storage and tools to connect across social networking sites — along with a personal dashboard to manage all of it. Some tools, such as the Graffiti blogging platform that lets you share posts across your social networks, are free.
ZooLoo charges for other things, such as domain registration, Web sites and privacy controls. Fee-based services range in price from $1.99 to $9.99 per month. Although most of its current customers are consumers, ZooLoo is a great fit for entrepreneurs —and the Facebook-like interface makes it easy for anyone to learn.
As you can see, these companies come at the social media management conundrum from different angles. As you evaluate these and other offerings, think about what is most critical to your business. What are your key objectives for your social networking investments? Where do you spend the most time manually scanning, managing, updating and integrating across social media streams and more structured marketing activities? Where are the gaps?
There is no one-size fits all, so use your own requirements and objectives to help you start taming the social media Hydra.
Read More Articles by Laurie McCabe:
Did this help you understand social media management more clearly? Let me know, and send me any additional questions you have on this topic. Also, please send your suggestions for other technology terms and areas that you'd like explained in upcoming columns. E-mail me at email@example.com, tweet me at lauriemccabe on Twitter or read my blog.
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