Social media is a strange beast. On the one hand, it’s opened up individuals and businesses to global audiences and revolutionised the way we interact. At the touch of a screen, we can broadcast our thoughts, selfies, pets and products across the planet.
In theory, it sounds simple enough.
But as anyone who has ever been charged with executing a social media strategy will attest, it’s anything but. Putting aside the time it takes to plan and actually create your content (let alone researching and deciding which social platforms work for your purposes), maintaining a consistent social media presence is incredibly time consuming.
Even after you’ve got your visuals, copy, hashtags and optimal publishing times worked out, the very act of posting several times a day across multiple platforms requires significant legwork.
Little wonder, then, that a whole host of social media scheduling platforms—designed to allow users to pre-plan, schedule and automatically post to social platforms—have sprung up to make life easier.
Spoiled for choice
There are literally scores of social media platforms in the world today. To be fair, most of us focus our activity on the big names like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn. But for every platform, there seems to be a dozen tools and apps, each offering different features and prices.
Subscription levels are common, tiered according to how many users and accounts need to be managed. Free subscriptions are available, although they may place limitations on the number of accounts and users or even how many posts can be scheduled in advance—naturally, extra features can be unlocked by upgrading the subscription.
If you’re a one-person operation looking to expand your team, it’s worth checking out the price of future plan upgrades. In some cases there can be quite a jump in cost to add additional users.
So which one is the best?
The one social media planning tool every marketing professional should use is… not that straightforward. It’s a ‘how long is a piece of string’ proposition that depends on which social platforms you wish to use and what functionality you’re after. The better question is ‘which one is the best for me?’.
Some platforms like Facebook, for instance, offer their own scheduling functions so you can pre-program multiple posts. So, if these tools are being built into the platform, why would go elsewhere? Mainly because the right tools can save you jumping from app to app to post content to multiple channels. They can also provide an all-in-one overview of your social media activity and analytics.
That’s where things start to get tricky—not all management tools work with all platforms. You might find something that covers off the big ‘social’ sites, but if your strategy includes a presence on a ‘professional’ social platform like LinkedIn, you’ll need to find an app that includes that in the mix. The first step to finding the right management tool is to narrow down which platforms you need to post to and find the apps that cover off the ones you need.
Instagram, the social media black sheep
If Instagram forms part of your social media strategy, expect things to be a little more problematic. Famously, Instagram is stubborn in its refusal to permit users scheduling posts ahead of time—it actively shuts down any third party organisations that violate this policy. The rationale is that requiring human intervention to post content keeps the ‘bots at bay’ and stops Instagram being inundated with spam.
Which is not to say that there aren’t planning tools for Insta posts—it just means things work a little differently. When a post is scheduled, the app will send a reminder to your device, prompting you to click through… it then adds the content image to your library and copies the text to the clipboard, making it a relatively simple matter of select image, paste text, tag, add location and share.
Find your functionality
Compatibility with your preferred platforms is a start, but think about what functions will make planning and posting as efficient as possible. It may be as simple as an intuitive dashboard UX or a visual layout that lets you preview how your feed will look.
There are all sorts of other useful tools. Ones that help you find the best hashtags for your content, others that post comments and likes to other users or functions to recommend optimal times for posting to a given channel. Some apps provide deeper analytics than others. The ability to schedule posts as a draft is useful to prevent work-in-progress content accidentally going live—also handy if content requires sign-off from senior team members (or clients): a click of the approval button sends it to the publishing queue.
Speaking of clients, certain management tools let you invite them to provide access to their accounts through the app, circumventing the need to request logins and passwords for various platforms. The ability to create groups is useful for managing multiple clients and accounts, and for content-heavy feeds, bulk upload functionality can be a timesaver.
Trial and error
The only true way to understand how well the functions work—or to discover their limitations—is by using them. It’s pretty common for social media management apps to offer free trial periods directly through their website so you can give them a spin around the block before committing.
If you find a few options that could meet your needs, it’s entirely feasible to trial one the first week, a second the next and so on. Experiencing each app’s UX for yourself and discovering the nifty features that make social media management that bit easier will help cement your decision.
If you like the idea of delving into social media, or even if you find it a little overwhelming, then The Left Bank’s 10-week Social Media Marketing course might be right for you.