It all started out with my smartphone. I overdid it with the apps, which I suspect was a contributing factor to it getting stuck in an endless restart loop this spring. After it was repaired, I knew I had to limit the number of apps running on it. The glitchy manga reader app had to go. Ditto for the metronome app that seemed to crash every now and again. Next on the hit-list was limiting the app size. Then, it was time to tackle the beast known as social media. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Flickr, Soundclound, Linked In and Youtube: I know there are more out there, but these are the ones I use. It was important to have one dashboard and one mobile app to manage them all.
My criteria for social media management (SMM) tools was shorter than the one I had for my online scheduling system. I had 10 items to start with:
- Facebook, Twitter, Linked In AND Google+, Youtube integration
- Could handle multiple streams/sources: i.e., multiple accounts for a single social network
- Is cheap ($15/month or less)
- Has a logical user interface, i.e. attractive, easy to use, easy to navigate
- Has a mobile app for Android
- Has the ability to schedule posts and the ability to post the same item simultaneously to several social networks (cross-posting)
- Can manage more than five streams/accounts/sources
- Real-time monitoring
- Reporting tools and analytics
- Decent tech support
My initial Google search and review hunt came up with the following SMM tools for small business: Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Buffer, Viralheat and BuzzBundle.
A quick comparison of specifications took Sprout Social and Buffer out of the running. Although Sprout Social has a 30-day trial, the smallest package offered is the Standard at $39 US/month.
Buffer, on the other hand, isn't really an SMM tool. Rather it is a powerful tool to share information - posts you've read, or your own. I was contemplating using it to manage the blogs I subscribe to. However, it only has Facebook, Twitter and Linked In integration. SMM tools with Google's API is hard to find.
That left the remaining three.
BuzzBundle - Powerful Listening and Monitoring Capabilities, with a Couple of Snags
I really wanted BuzzBundle to work. A BuzzBundle video review I watched demonstrated its powerful listening and monitoring capabilities. You have the ability to monitor keywords used for SEO (in my case: "music lessons", "music and technology", "practice tips"). Once you've designated a few listening "spots" (e.g. discussion forms, Yahoo Answers, Wiki Answers), you are alerted when someone asks a question. You can hop in and join the conversation, share your information and be off to the next item.
The user interface was easy enough to use and my requests were responded to between 24 - 48 hours. Unfortunately, the free version is extremely limited: five accounts and you can't save your projects (each stream/profile and keyword search is a project). That's a huge time waster if you have to input your social network profiles and SEO keywords every single time you open the program.
I almost forked out the $199 one-time package. I liked the idea that it was a one-time fee. However, a bit more digging revealed that there is a monthly maintenance fee, which you start paying after six months.
There were other drawbacks for me: no mobile app, with no plans of offering one. BuzzBundle is a software download (versus an online application) and finally, there's no integration with Flickr and Soundcloud.
I didn't realize going in that software download versus online application would be a deal breaker, but it was. If I was only working off of one computer, then it wouldn't be so bad. However, I flit back and forth between my office computer, studio computer and netbook. Therefore, running an web-based social media management tool is ideal.
Viralheat - Slick Design, Sweet Package for Very Small Businesses
I really loved Viralheat's set-up. The layout is extremely smart - aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate. The reports and analytics were what this part-time writer wanted. Like BuzzBundle, Viralheat has the capabilities to monitor topics or keywords.
Navigation was a snap and the cross-posting and publishing tools were just what I was looking for. Then, I hit a snag in my test run.
The Pro Package ($9.99 USD/month) is good up to 15 accounts. If I only ran a music studio with a single blog, no problem. However, with multiple Twitter and Youtube accounts, two Facebook business pages, a Google+ page, Linked In, Soundcloud, Flickr and seven blogs - 15 is not enough. Unfortunately for me, the next level up (the "Premier") is $99/month. That brought the test run to a screeching halt.
And then there was one. Stay tuned for my HootSuite Pro experience, coming up next.