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Feb 5, 2013

The Importance Of Having The Right (Social Media) Tools For Your Business

Social media is an integral part of marketing for pretty much any business these days. Whether your aim is to increase internet traffic to your website, influence brand perception, research your market or deal with customer complaints, you cannot get away from Facebook and Twitter.

Right Social Media Tools For Your Business

The question for marketing teams is not whether to use social media tools, but which ones to use, and how.

These days, it's not enough to post the occasional witty comment or update on your company's Facebook page. Even a respectable following on Twitter no longer impresses social marketing teams in itself. In fact, a poorly moderated or un-moderated internet forum can work against your business by being irrelevant at best (people creating conversations unrelated to your product or service) and actively damaging at worst (nothing travels as quickly as unattended customer complaints). And then there's the tricky issue of whether even a successful social media presence actually boosts revenue – the topic of whether even a sizeable accumulation of “likes” translates into money remains hotly contested.

These difficulties arise for various reasons. For a start, people are savvier about the way they engage with social media than they were even two years ago, and the tactics used by marketing teams for influencing brand perception and encouraging web traffic need to reflect this. Then there's the sheer volume of traffic. Even small businesses find that they simply cannot keep up with people's comments, good or bad. Finally, social media being, well, social, it's not always obvious how patterns of internet conversations relate to people's behaviour as customers.

Fortunately, a wide range of social media tools now exists to help businesses manage their internet presence.

What are social media tools?

Social media tools are automated processes that help you to manage your internet presence. Their range and complexity varies enormously. The simpler ones simply give you an overview of comments posted on different platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ are usually covered as a bare minimum). They enable you to do such things as track and respond to conversations you initiated, follow other people to track their conversations, schedule your posts, and identify influential people and follow their engagement with social media.

There are social media tools available specifically for forum moderation purposes. These may include profanity filters, interceptors to detect keywords (thereby prioritizing posts for human review), and features to enable users to report abuse, and so on.

Then there are high-end social media tools that offer complex analytics. They can tell you how internet content was distributed, how many people were reached and even whether the target audience was engaged; all generated as presentation-ready graphs. These are the tools used by bigger businesses that have a particular focus on return on investment, and are probably the best method available for establishing the link between internet presence and sales.

How do I find the right social media tools for my business?

There are two main factors that should guide your choice of social media tools: your budget, and what you need the tools to do. There's no point spending money on fancy analytics if all you need is some forum moderation. Conversely, you're wasting your time (if not your money) if you use free tools that aren't performing the functions you need.

FacebookIf you're just starting out in the world of social media tools, it's worth exploring some of the free options. Many rate TweetDeck as the best (though simplest) example of these, with its function of allowing you to connect across Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Google +. It doesn't do much beyond managing your presence across these forums, though.

If you want to explore a more complex tool without committing big money, there is also a free version of HootSuite. This is aimed at small to medium-sized businesses with a dedicated social media manager. It supports Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, MySpace, PinFm and WordPress, can provide details about your followers (such as their bio and Klout score and links to their social media profiles), and allows you to create lists of followers that you want to engage with more closely.

At the top end of the market, there are tools like Spredfast. Spredfast provides the sorts of complex analytics required by agencies managing social media for several companies. It is widely praised for its bench-marking feature that allows comparisons to be made across different marketing campaigns or the same type of campaign run in a different industry. Its cost reflects its complexity and power, ranging from $12,000 to $1 million a year.

The importance of a human touch 

Social Media tools have many advantages when it comes to managing the ever-evolving and increasingly complex world of social media presence. However, they are just tools. Tools in human hands. Businesses can and have run into difficulties when they expect automated tools to replace vigilant and creative people. Social media tools can only be as good as the actual people who are wielding them.

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