Which Social Media Marketing Tools Are Right For You?

  •    Tim is a freelance business writer. He writes about the business of innovation, comics and genre entertainment on The Full Bleed.

From media titans to everyday bloggers, social media has become the de facto distribution platform for anyone serious about publishing content.

According to a report from research site Shareaholic, the top eight social networks drove 31.24% of overall traffic to sites in December 2014, up from 22.71% the same time last year:

You'll have to address most or even all of these networks if you aim to generate the widest possible audience for your work. To do that, you'll need to find social media marketing tools that let you monitor and publish to multiple networks from one place.

How can you know which is the best tool for you? There's no easy answer, unfortunately, since different tools are better at different things. But there are some basic principles for choosing wisely. Social media marketing consultant Gina Schreck points to four must-have features:

  1. Cross-platform support. Apps for Mac, PC, iOS and Android for mobile at the minimum, Schreck says, while also noting that most social media marketing tools are also accessible via any desktop or mobile browser.
  2. Mobile is a MUST. You never know where you'll be, or what device you'll have, when the time comes to engage with your fans and critics. Also, Schreck says, "Who can sit at their desk all day?"
  3. Manages the big social platforms. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ to begin with since they drive huge amounts of traffic. Instagram and Pinterest support is also helpful, but harder to find.
  4. Don't break the bank. Most of the major social marketing platforms have a free version. Use it until you have enough of a following that it makes sense to upgrade and get extra features such as advanced scheduling and reporting.

Three Social Media Marketing Tools Worth Your Time -- And Maybe Some of Your Money, Too

Buffer Dashboard

Once you've made the decision to get a social media marketing tool, it's time to assess your needs. How will you use social media? How many networks will you need to keep up-to-date? How much will you use data and analytics to inform your posting? Here are three tools designed for those who answer "a lot" to any of these questions.

Buffer - Best for those who want a simple solution and need help posting regularly. A browser plug-in allows users to easily choose and schedule content to post. For bloggers interested in curating content other than their own, Buffer allows users to import RSS feeds from various outlets for reading and sharing as the mood strikes. Pricing runs from $10 month for the "Awesome plan" to $250 a month for a premium business account.

Sprout Social - Best for those who love metrics and want to track progress in their social media marketing efforts. Sprout Social also has what's called a "Smart Inbox" for tracking interactions for all your social media accounts. Drawbacks include no support for LinkedIn Groups, though a rep I spoke with says that feature is being added. Pricing runs from $59 per user monthly.

HootSuite - Best for those who want total control of the social media experience and who have a LOT of accounts. HootSuite offers a highly customizable interface and supports all the major social media services, including LinkedIn Groups. Analytics are also available and pricing runs from $9.99 monthly.

Or, if none of these sound appealing, hack a solution yourself. Just do something. The alternative is forfeiting at least a third of your potential traffic.