Few things are as intimidating for entrepreneurs as maintaining their brand’s presence on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Social media management for small business owners can feel like a daunting process: you have to keep on top of trends, produce content, and promote your business without coming off as sales-y or promotional. Or, if you delegate your small business’ social media management to an employee, you have to make sure they’re keeping the channels active (and that their follower interactions stay pleasant!). No surprise then that social media management for small business owners seems like a lose-lose proposition: you either take on the additional responsibility of maintaining your brand’s social channels, or you cede control of your most public-facing publicity machine to someone else and hope they get it right.
Thankfully there’s a middle ground that allows you to retain control of social media management responsibilities, while also empowering your staff to pitch in with content and posts. In fact, there are a bevy of social media management tools for small business owners. Each of them offers the same basic services but incorporates different safeguards and handy features that take the legwork out of keeping up with your small business’s social media strategy on a daily basis.
There are a few major concepts and features to consider before choosing a social media management tool for your small business, however. You’ll have to decide on which social channels you want to pursue, how often you want to post, and how much control you want to maintain over what goes out (and when). We’ll break down the core features of every social media management tool, what advantages they provide, and which ones are the best for small business owners.
Every social media network allows its users to post from either their desktop or phone, whether that’s through applications or a web browser. You might wonder, then, why it’s worth investing in a platform that handles social media management for small business accounts. You could easily log in to Facebook or Instagram directly, write your message, and post away.
But consider the steps required when posting a social media update. You need to write copy, find images, log in, copy and paste your copy and photos, then hit publish. And before you even get to posting, you need to spend time writing and taking photos. Even if you’re really organized, you still need to create all your copy in advance, drop it into a spreadsheet, and then pull from that document every time you want to push an update. Plus, you’ll need to go back into your doc and mark off the posts you’ve already published so you don’t put them up twice. That’s definitely a decent amount of work.
If there’s one thing most business owners can agree on, it’s that they barely have enough time to manage business-critical tasks in the first place, let alone curating social media accounts. Thankfully, the tools that help with social media management for small business take most of the manual labor out of the posting process—here’s how.
Jumping between social accounts is a pain, especially if you have a robust social media strategy for your small business and publish across several platforms. Social media management tools allow you to manage each of your accounts in one place, which means that you get a bird’s eye view of what you post, as well as each reply, share, and direct message you get. This beats jumping between tabs in your browser and hoping that you’ve published each message successfully.
Most social networks don’t make it easy for you to schedule posts to go out in the future. Even when some of them give you an option to schedule, they don’t give you an easy way to look at all of the posts you’ve queued up to go out later. The best social media management tools for small business owners provide you with a robust calendar view of your posts. You can look at a daily, weekly, or monthly breakdown of your scheduled content across each channel (or individually, if you want to monitor one account at a time).
The cardinal rule of social media for small businesses is to limit the number of people who know your account details, such as the email address and password associated with your accounts. Any time you give out your credentials to employee, you open yourself to the risk of a misfired post, an unsanctioned message, or even a potential business social media disaster. Tools designed to help run social media management for small business owners add a layer of security between employees and your accounts, since they don’t need access to your credentials in order to post.
Sometimes it’s not enough to keep your employees from having the passwords to your social accounts. It’s also a great idea to make sure that the posts they create are ready for public consumption before they go live. Several social media management platforms feature authorization options that add an extra layer of review before posts go live. You (or another employee) can monitor every post before it publishes, which prevents potentially embarrassing status updates from going online.
If you don’t measure your social media stats, you’re flying blind. Worse yet, you’re missing out on valuable market research about your customers. Every major social media network provides you with a peek into the basic social media metrics for your account, such as likes, follows, and engagements. But great tools for social media management for small business accounts let you go deeper: they offer you broader historical data on your post performance, follower acquisition trends, and can even show you who your most influential followers are. These insights can help you maximize your social efforts, and pinpoint exactly what’s working for your brand accounts.
Social listening and customer support are two major pillars of a modern social media strategy for small business owners. Your social channels give you an unrivaled opportunity to speak directly with individual consumers, address their concerns, and create conversations that turn potential buyers into loyal customers. Even the least expensive social media management tools for small businesses include functions that let you reply to comments and direct messages. More sophisticated products can even help you measure the number of positive and negative mentions of your brand, as well as the time it takes for someone within your team to reply to a customer service query.
Now that we’ve established why social media management for small business owners is important, let’s explore the features and functions you should look for in your the social media management tool of your choice. There are plenty of options to choose from out there: some are bare-bones products that are usually free or inexpensive but offer limited functions, many are in the middle of the road in terms of features and cost, and a few are loaded with features but come with a hefty price tag.
The most obvious place to start when comparing social media management tools is features. You’ll want to strike a balance between having the features you know you’ll need for your social media strategy and the annual subscription cost of your social media management tool. If your company’s social media presence is in its early stages, you won’t likely need a feature-packed product. Instead, focus on the basic elements, such as post scheduling, multiple user support, and analytics. You can always scale up to a more feature-laden option once your strategy is more established.
Most social media management tools allow a certain number of people to use the platform at any given time. In social media parlance, these are called “seats,” since anyone can use them (but only one person can sit in them at a time, metaphorically speaking). The number of seats you get with your social media manager varies, depending on your level of service and the price of your plan. Be sure to get enough seats to accommodate the number of employees you expect to use your social manager—too few could make it difficult for employees to access the system, but too many could make you pay more for services you’re not using.
Learning how to use a new social media manager can be a challenge, even for seasoned social media veterans. Each platform’s features have nuances that are unique unto themselves, and it’s not always easy to find all of the functions you’d like to use. Most social media management tools come with a certain level of client support to help you overcome the learning curve. Some provide a set number of hours every month, while others might give you unlimited assistance. A good number of providers also create webinars and are willing to help you train your team on their platform, too.
The social media management tools for small businesses vary in price, both between providers as well as the levels of support and functionality each platform provides. Thankfully, most social media managers provide upfront pricing for their standard packages, so you can see what works within your budget. In some cases, you may even be able to negotiate terms with your prospective social media management platform. Be sure to compare the features you need versus the amount of money you’re willing to spend. Plus, if you right-size your platform to fit your business, you could devote more money to social media marketing and take your social presence to the next level.
Once you’ve accounted for your social strategy, the features you need to execute it, and the budget you can spend on a social media manager, it’s time to dive in and compare your options. As we mentioned earlier, every social media manager for small businesses offers different features and pricing. Here are some of the best tools to consider for small business social media management based on the financials, features, and ease of use.
Hootsuite was one of the first social media managers that let users monitor and post to all of their social media accounts in one place. The platform remains competitive to this day in terms of features, ease of use, and pricing. Users can manage their Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube accounts seamlessly within one environment. Plus, Hootsuite offers intuitive analytics, team management, post approval processes, and social listening tools. Multi-user plans start at $129 a month, which gets you support for 20 social profiles and three user seats. Larger plans start at $599 or more, depending on your needs. If you are the only person who needs access to the account, you can opt for the $19 a month plan, but note that you will not have any additional seats in the program unless you upgrade.
Sprout Social offers a specific social media management package for small businesses. This option creates a price-conscious package that lets entrepreneurs access Sprout’s exceptional content management, social listening, analytics, and post scheduling tools—as well as the right number of seats to let several employees access the platform. Sprout makes social media management easy with an intuitive workflow and the ability to manually set post times, or to let the program’s algorithm optimize your post time for maximum visibility. Packages start at $99 per month, but most small businesses may need to opt for the Corporate package that costs $149 per month (since it provides more than one seat in the platform).
Buffer offers an easy to use social media manager for small business owners. The platform is similar to Sprout and Hootsuite but includes a more robust mobile experience. Users can post on the go without having a limited set of functions if they’re on mobile. The entry level plan is free but does not include scheduling or social analytics functions. The pro level includes these features and more, and only costs $15 a month. Also note that Buffer does not offer social media monitoring or customer service functions at any level, however, so consider whether these features are important to you.
Everypost is a simple, affordable social media manager that provides its users with the basics of social media management. The tool supports social media posting, collaboration on posts, and scheduling options. Everypost doesn’t offer more advanced features, such as analytics or post approval processes , but it does provide a broader array of plans to help cater to your company’s needs. Although a free membership exists, almost every small business owner will need to purchase the $9.99 a month pro plan in order to make Everypost a viable option to run their social channels.
Sprinklr offers a suite of services, customizations, and audience analytics that no other social media management application can match. The platform supports customized approval paths for different kinds of content (and on different social channels), an audit trail for every post, social listening capabilities, and support for more social media channels than you’ve ever heard of. Sprinklr might be overkill for most small business owners—especially if they’re new to social media, but companies that have advanced social media strategies or a robust client acquisition network coming from social may find that Sprinklr best fits their needs. Be aware that Sprinklr’s bells and whistles come at a steep price though, with introductory plans beginning at $60,000 a year.
No matter which social media management tool you use for your small business, the most important thing you can do is your homework. We don’t just mean comparing prices, either. Your foray into social media needs to begin with a cohesive strategy, a reasonable sense of how often you want to post, and a good understanding of what your prospective followers want to see. Once you determine your social media plan, you can seek out a social media management tool that fits your needs.
Brian O’Connor is a contributing writer for Fundera.
Brian writes about finance, business strategy, and digital marketing. He is the former director of digital strategy at Morgan Stanley, and has worked at Foreign Affairs magazine, Student Loan Hero, and as a partner of a small consulting firm, too. Combined, these experiences allow him to offer a unique perspective on the challenges small business owners face.