By: Jackie Neel, freelance writer, and professor at Temple University.
As a savvy nonprofit worker, you already know that you should be on social media. You might even know that you should have a strategy, segment your market, and plan your resources. But what about that most important of all resources: human resources?
Unlike Fortune 500 companies, many nonprofits can't afford to dedicate a specific person to monitor social media all day. Instead, locating and posting material is an additional job or a team effort. One way to maximize that effort is to use free online programs to post your most important messages across multiple media platforms at the same time and on your schedule. These social media management (SMM) apps are usually free or freemium (meaning that the basic service is free, but there are extras for purchase), and most of them are user-friendly; if you know how to use one social media platform, you will probably be able to pick up an SMM app.
The top two players in the field are Hootsuite and Buffer. Although they share similar features, including full integration with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more, a few important differences may make you like one more than the other. The most important is interface: Hootsuite’s dashboard looks more like Tweetdeck, Twitter’s own management tool, while Buffer looks more like a WordPress site. If blogs feel more natural to you, you might prefer Buffer’s interface.
Another key difference is the supported social media networks. In short, Hootsuite supports more, including some that your organization might find useful. Unlike Buffer, which integrates only with social media, Hootsuite will also connect to your Mailchimp account and with WordPress sites.
A newer entry to the social media management market, SocialOomph, also integrates and schedules blog posts as well as more traditional social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It even lets you email your posts to various social media accounts -- a huge plus if you live in your inbox! Unfortunately, this and many other advanced features are only available in the paid version, which is about $36 a month.
To decide on the best SMM tool for your organization, you should start by assessing the platforms you need to cover. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are very common, but maybe your organization also needs to support a blog and Pinterest page. Or maybe you need to allow multiple team members to access the same account (which is not always a standard option). Once you’ve made a list of needs, you can shop around. Try putting “social media manager” and the platforms you use into a Google search. When I did that, my first results were Buffer and Hootsuite (as mentioned previously, they are the two most common apps). But I also got several websites with alternative suggestions, and one of these might be the best fit for your needs.
Remember: you’re choosing a program to maximize human resources, not waste time with a huge learning curve.
When you’ve surveyed the possibilities, your next step should be to visit the SMM’s website to view screenshots or a tutorial. Make sure you’re getting a tool that you feel comfortable and confident using! If the instructions seem confusing, you may have trouble putting the tool into practice. Remember: you’re choosing a program to maximize human resources, not waste time with a huge learning curve.
While you’re on the site, you might want to check the app’s pricing structure and FAQs. If you have a budget for social media, can any of it be directed towards getting features that you want or need? If so, which of your preferred SMMs can give you a better deal? If you don’t need to make a decision immediately, it might be worth reaching out to see if the pricing or features are negotiable. A smaller startup may have some flexibility; a company like Hootsuite is unlikely to make changes.
Finally, make sure you read reviews before you commit! Another Google search (for “[SMM name] review” -- here are Hootsuite’s reviews as an example) will help you here. Reviews let you know whether the features you need are well-produced, user-friendly, and reliable -- or whether they could use another round of debugging. Sites like PC Mag and Capterra, which are in the business of reviewing rather than selling a product, are generally trustworthy.
With the number of social networks only increasing, many new SMM tools are available each year. Take the time to explore the market by looking at screenshots and feature breakdowns so you can pick the app that’s best for your organization’s social media goals.
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