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Updated: Dec 13, 2019
An entire ecosystem of support products have emerged around social media. With continuously updating algorithms, newly emerging platforms, and constantly evolving best practices, no one can afford to fly blind in the world of social media. Many of these third-party social media tools are geared toward making your marketing and outreach efforts more meaningful. From measuring the impact of your current efforts, to helping you curate content that will be relevant to your network, and from monitoring mentions of your brand in social media, to automating the boring stuff, social media is no longer just about posting to your profiles and waiting to see what happens.
The right social media tools paired with the right social media strategy can help you actually move the needle online. A really great strategy will understand the role that tools can play in sharpening your insights, amplifying your reach and making data matter.
Whether you handle your own social media, you have someone in your company who manages it for you, or you work with an outside consultant, exploring these social media tools could help you improve or grow your business without a lot of extra effort.
The question of whether to use Buffer or HootSuite is one of those things that is endlessly debated in the social media-obsessed quarters of the internet. It’s a bit silly, because at the end of the day the two social media automation programs are virtually the same in most of the ways that are important to users.
They both make it drop dead simple to schedule posts from curated sources as well as self-originated material. Find interesting content on the web and use an applet (an extension that you can install to your web browser that can be used with the click of a button) to choose content to send to your scheduling software of choice. Alternatively, author your content and set a time to post it in advance.
Both feature an algorithmically optimized post scheduling tool that allows you to post when your fans are most active. Both tools work for the most popular social networks. Create content when it’s convenient for you and the let the software decide when to publish it based on when it is most likely to generate the best engagement.
Scheduling posts is a time saver and it’s a massive help to companies short on resources.
The biggest difference in the two platforms is in the amount and detail of reporting and analytic features. Hootsuite offers the most robust analytics, particularly in its paid incarnation, as it covers comprehensive data across the range of your connected social profiles, while Buffer offers reporting only on the content that you have shared through the app. Both feature free and paid plans that differ a bit, feature-wise from their paid counterparts.
The best thing to do is to try them both out and see what works best for you. The time savings will make the extra effort worth your time.
There are other entries to this category, such as Edgar and Sprout Social. There are good and bad things about many of the up and comers, but HootSuite and Buffer are the biggest incumbents and where you should start if you’re new to social media automation. Watch for activity in this space, because there are new contenders emerging on a regular basis.
One of the great things about social media is that it gives you a profound level of insight into what your customers and potential customers think about your brand, as well as the competition.
Google Alerts is tough to beat when it comes to brand mentions for people who don’t want to rely on a tool. Many people already use Google apps for their email and other services, so integrating Google Alerts is a simple addition. Simply select your keywords and get email alerts whenever your brand is mentioned. Google Alerts can miss a lot of activity, and there is a delay in when you receive your mentions, but the fact that it’s so easy to use makes it a no brainer for any brand monitoring setup.
However, as you might guess, there are a range of tools that allow brands to dive deeper into their presence online.
BuzzSumo is a paid tool which would slot well into this category, but for reasons you’ll soon see, I’ve mentioned it in another category below. The service offers content alerts that are powerful and likely more suitable to a busy brand’s needs, and the filtering mechanisms are much more reliable and finely-tuned than Google Alerts. However, because Social Mention and Google Alerts are free, that’s what I would recommend to anyone starting out.
The main tools I use for content curation are Buzzsumo and Ahrefs. Neither of these tools was designed explicitly for content curation and both of them require a subscription. However, if you are using content marketing seriously, one or both of them may be worth the expense for you.
When it comes to content research, one thing that you’d usually want to look at is how content about a particular topic performs across the web.
Using Buzzsumo, you can look at the performance of content on a particular topic or search term and get a view of what content performs best on that topic over a given range of time. You’ll see how that top content was shared across each social platform. If you’re trying to create content to share on Facebook, you can search for terms related to your industry and find content that consistently performs well to get ideas for what to write about. You can also identify influencers across different topic domains and see what their best performing content is. That would also be helpful if you wanted to do outreach to get your content, products or services in front of them.
Ahrefs is primarily an SEO tool (the utility of which is deep enough that it would merit its own article). However, for the purposes of content curation, it’s very useful to examine the most shared content from a given domain. You can enter a web address and see what the most shared content from that site is, and crucially, see how many backlinks each page has generated. You can then compare that with social media shares to find a good mix of what kind of topics generate different types of social and web engagement. Sort by different sharing platforms in order to formulate content ideas that will outperform the competition.
Alltop is an interesting site that helps you discover content in a couple simple ways. You can browse the most popular articles from a range of top websites, or you can browse by interest. You can filter your searches by a topic that would be useful for you if you’re creating content, or if you’re looking to share content with your followers on social, you can easily find things they’re likely to enjoy. You can also use Alltop to simply stay on top of what’s happening in your industry.
For those that wish to find content without using any third-party tools, you can even utilize Google with advanced search operators. Search using the operator allintitle: “keyword” to find web pages with your keyword in the title. In order to find recent content about a topic, you can then utilize the Search Tools tab beneath your google result and choose a relevant time frame (24 hours, one month, one year, etc), and then display your results by either recency or relevancy.
One of the biggest problems facing companies getting started with content marketing is simply finding the time or resources to create content worth sharing. Luckily there are quite a few tools that make creating nice looking visual content accessible for free.
Pablo is a tool created by Buffer (the social media scheduling and automation tool mentioned above) that makes it ridiculously simple to create high quality visual content that’s shareable on a range of social platforms. You can choose from a few different aspect ratios, a selection of appealing fonts, and Instagram-esque filters. It even comes with a browser extension that makes it possible to instantly begin editing any image you find on the web. As usual, be careful when it comes to copyright — royalty free photos such as those you might find at Unsplash ( http://www.unsplash.com ) or Pexels will work best if you don’t have your own imagery.
Canva makes it simple to create anything from a picture with some nice text overlaid, to a typographically sophisticated text illustration and even infographics. Work made with Canva gives off the impression that you have a full time designer creating really great work for you. Pablo is a little bit quicker for simple jobs, but Canva is almost as simple and produces much more sophisticated results.
Piktochart picks up any slack that Canva might leave. Piktochart is to Canva’s infographics, as Canva is to Pablo’s pictorial content. It’s a simple infographic editor that allows you to create sophisticated data visualizations that will help you tell information-based stories. Infographics are powerful drivers of trust, and can lead to big boosts in traffic.
Hootsuite and Buffer would probably meet the analytic needs of most small business owners, but there are a number of very sophisticated and relatively simple to use analytics apps to help business owners and marketers dive deep into their social data to glean insights that can help you grow your business.
This is a crowded space, and it would be impossible to give a comprehensive overview of even the most prominent players in the limited scope of this article, so we’ve chosen just two that provide somewhat distinct services.
Simply Measured is a robustly featured social marketing suite. It provides granular data over all facets of your social media performance. However, it is pricey enough that only companies that are very serious about their performance on social will likely consider investing in it.
Connecting Simply Measured to your Google Analytics account will allow you to run sophisticated funnel optimization analysis that could help you improve your conversion rates across a variety of marketing objectives.
It gives you a truly complete picture of what you’re doing, with dashboard visualizations of any relevant KPI. It’s compatible with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LInkedIn, Instagram, Youtube, Tumblr, Vine and emergent platforms will likely be added.
It offers standard and customizable reports, as well as a host of competitive benchmarking and analysis options. You can figure out who key influencers are in your space, and figure out what relevant topics are trending.
It probably goes without saying that Simply Measured overlaps with much of the functionality of some of the above mentioned tools, so that may be one way to justify the cost.
Social Bakers offers some of the same functionality as Simply Measured, but with more of an emphasis on competitive analysis and benchmarking. While it is not as richly featured, it is significantly cheaper, and might be a good entry point for any company looking into more sophisticated social data analysis.
Social Bakers allows you to view your own performance in several important KPIs in direct comparison to your competition. When you want to know more about your competition’s data, it makes it easy to discover much more about their performance than other platforms, which makes it a great tool for devising strategies.
Social Bakers also allows you to create and manage ads for Twitter and Facebook, which can be useful if you’re trying to incorporate information from your competitors directly into your advertising strategy.
Samantha Novick is a senior editor at Funding Circle, specializing in small business financing. She has a bachelor's degree from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. Prior to Funding Circle, Samantha was a community manager at Marcus by Goldman Sachs. Her work has been featured in a number of top small business resource sites and publications.