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Social Media Trends for 2013: Part 1

It’s obvious that social media is evolving at the speed of light. Platforms are constantly changing to accommodate user habits, satisfy shareholders and maintain a competitive edge in a dog-eat-dog industry. So as a business, where do you spend your time? Where do you put your resources?

Video in Social Media

Instagram and Vine are a part of social media trends in 2013Video is a phenomenon at the forefront of social media trends. Especially services like Vine and Instagram’s new video service. Millions of people devote hours and hours and hours to watching quirky 7 or 15 second videos on these networks.  There are even professional Viners out there who specialize in making videos for companies. As a brand, this is an excellent chance to show your creative side. For next to no investment, a company can start an account on one of these social networks and put together a video. If it’s good enough, it will get some interaction and get shared. If it’s really good (which isn’t that hard if you’re thoughtful), it will get shared a lot and garner your business some well-deserved exposure online.

Integrated Social Campaigns

Definition of IntegratedSome people may remember the subtle way the Internet started to invade our lives. Back before and during the dot-com boom, we started seeing companies on television including URLs in their marketing. It was becoming more important to let people know that the business had resources and valuable information on a website. Fast-forward 15 years and social media has become the ubiquitous symbol of the information revolution. Even if a company isn’t actively promoting a presence on a social network, they at least have icons present in their advertising.

The simple fact is, more and more people are using social media networks to communicate. It is not just a novelty anymore, but a practical means of connecting with friends, family and old acquaintances. Instead of picking up a phone, people are sending instant messages, tweets, or status updates. For many people out there, if a company doesn’t have a presence on the web in the form of a social media account, they aren’t relevant. More than having logos in their offline ads, businesses are combining activities in social media with campaigns that occur offline and vise versa. Sometimes these are meant to drive engagement online or off.

Less Checking In?

Foursquare LogoSocial Media Examiner reported earlier this year that use of geo-location websites like Foursquare had declined from 17% of respondents in their survey saying they used the websites to only 11%. Some are noting that these types of websites are starting to split up and focus on niche markets. Also prevalent are geo-location services right inside of the social media platforms we are already on. You can check in just as easily on Facebook and let all your friends and acquaintances know where you are instead of logging into a whole other account to do so. Some networks will even add location data for you without you even thinking about it. The novelty of “checking-in” at a location and receiving recognition in the form of virtual badges and trinkets seems to be wearing off.

Social and SEO

Social and SEOThis is less of a trend and more of a reality. There is not really a question anymore as to whether social interactions influence rankings in search. They do. For example, if you are logged into a Google account, and are at least somewhat active on Google Plus, when you search for something that your network has interacted with in some way (whether plus-oneing, commenting or sharing content), it tends to show up in your feed as relevant to your query because of content as well as because someone you are connected to also found it relevant enough to interact with. That same result may have never been seen by you or other users that were connected to the people that interacted with it but because they did, Google thinks you might find it useful, as well.

It isn’t as clear how Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any number of the other social networks that are out there impact search. One thing is very clear, though – Google and other search engines are constantly searching for ways to deliver more relevant content to their users, and one way of doing that is listening to what the people you are connected to are doing. In theory, people who are connected to one another tend to like similar things, have similar interests, and think in similar ways at one level or another.

What trends do you see forming for social media for the rest of 2013? Do they help you? Hurt you? Join in the conversation by commenting below.

7 Reasons You’re Failing at Social Media Lead Generation

Social Media Lead GenerationAre you struggling to generate a steady flow of strong, qualified leads through social media? There could be a reason for that. In fact, there could be several.

If you think you’re doing everything you possibly can to attract leads, but your tactics simply aren’t working, consider these seven common reasons social media lead generation campaigns fail to ensure you’re not making a critical error.

 

Reason #1: You Don’t Have a Social Media Lead Generation Strategy

 

If you wouldn’t start a business without a business plan or implement marketing initiatives without a marketing plan, would you really expect to generate leads via social media without a strategy? When you think about it like that, the answer is likely ‘no.’ Yet, you wouldn’t be the first social media user to do so.

If you haven’t yet mapped out your approach to gaining reach, qualifying prospects, and enticing them with a compelling offer in exchange for contact details, then that should be your starting point. Plan to succeed and you probably will.

 

Reason #2: You’re Casting Your Net Too Wide

 

Social Media Lead Generation Strategy

In your effort to satisfy everyone, you may be jeopardizing your ability to make real connections with the decision makers in a business or home. While it’s great that you’re trying to reach as many people as possible, this approach is almost doomed to fail as a lead generation strategy because it’s unfocused and confusing to your target audience.

You don’t have to be on every social media platform, and you don’t have to market to multiple buyer personas at once. You do need to be where your prospects are, and you do need to deliver targeted messages that help them relate to your unique value proposition. Once you nail down a targeted approach that actually works, you can think about expanding your reach.

 

Reason #3: You Haven’t Mastered the Art of Persuasion

 

Constructing a persuasive social media message is a tough job—if you don’t know your target audience. Learn how to appeal to their reason, emotions, beliefs, interests, and values, and you’ll find yourself halfway to overcoming their resistance. Practice your copywriting skills and you’ll find your killer calls-to-action will take you the rest of the way to a growing list of leads.

Reason #4: You’re Not Being Seen or Heard

 

Standing out on social media platformsAlmost every business has a social media presence these days, which makes it harder than ever to rise above the ever-increasing noise. The result is you have to work harder than ever to ensure you’re building brand awareness and recognition.

Besides establishing compelling social media profiles that are optimized for search engines, you should consistently share and seed content that’s optimized for the social web. An effective social seeding strategy will ensure natural influencers share your message with their communities and that your lead-generating content spreads like wildfire. Get your message found and heard and you’ll greatly increase your chances of capturing targeted leads.

 

Reason #5: You’re Not Taking an Active Role

 

Thanks to social networks, word-of-mouth marketing has never been as important as it is right now. Besides the fact that these communication channels have increased the speed at which conversations take place, as well as amplified the volume of dialogue being created every minute, they have also changed the landscape of advertising. Since people now trust personal recommendations more than they do ads being broadcast via a TV screen, brands have to rely heavily on consumer recommendations to spread their message and influence potential buyers.

As a result, you have to take a proactive approach to word-of-mouth marketing so that the right people receive the right message. It’s no longer enough to claim your social property, shoot off a post, and then hope a conversation will develop. You have to engage your community, dedicate enough time to meaningful interaction, and make sure people have a positive experience when encountering your brand online. When done correctly and used alongside other inbound marketing tactics, you’re almost certain to succeed at social media lead generation.

 

Reason #6: You’re Not Sharing the Right Content

 

Sharing the Right ContentContent is the most powerful tool you have to draw in leads and then nurture them through the sales cycle. Where most businesses fail is in the content’s focus. You see, buyers don’t want to hear about your business or its products. They want to hear about solutions to their most pressing problems. When you start to share helpful information that focuses on the needs of your target audience, you should begin to see an improvement in your lead-generation efforts. Keep in mind that your social media content strategy should link to multiple sources—not just your blog and landing page.

 

Reason #7: You’re Not Fully Leveraging a Platform’s Tools and Features

 

How well are you leveraging the tools and features each platform provides? Are you using targeted social ads to generate leads? Are you creating or taking part in LinkedIn Groups, Google+ Hangouts, Twitter Chats, or Facebook Groups to build relationships with prospects and influencers?

Your interaction shouldn’t be limited to your Twitter Stream or Facebook Timeline. Look for ways to reach out and connect with the right people on these platforms. After all, many of their features were built for exactly that purpose.

No one ever said becoming a lead magnet was easy. As with anything in life, you have to persevere before you get it right.

What social media lead generation tips can you offer your fellow marketers? Join the conversation below…

How to Create the Ultimate Social Media Editorial Calendar

Social media marketing is overwhelming. Unfortunately, that’s no excuse for a poorly executed strategy. These days, businesses can’t afford to randomly fire off tweets and Facebook posts with the hope that something will stick. You need a social media editorial calendar that’s not only going to keep you focused, but that’s also going to help you maximize your social media investment. Follow along as we explain how to develop a calendar designed to meet your business needs.

The Basic StructureSocial Media Editorial Calendar

While every social media editorial calendar has a slightly different structure, there are common elements you’ll find in each of them. When developing yours, consider adding row or column headings for the following:

  • The day or date on which you intend to update your feeds, post content to your business blog, or engage in forum activity. Depending on the intensity of your strategy, you may even want to break down your calendar hour by hour.
  • The category or theme you want to follow for a particular day, week, or month. Creating and curating content based on a topic can make social media marketing easy for you and your team.
  • Profile updates. Many business owners forget they need to maintain their social properties when things change. If you plan to move premises, add new products or services to your offering, or change your phone number, you’ll want to ensure you take time to update your profile information to reflect those new details.
  • The social media platforms you use to market your business and communicate with your followers. Whether you communicate through one platform or many, it’s important to create an editorial calendar that keeps you focused and on track to achieving your company’s goals. Keep in mind that if you engage your target audience on industry-related forums, you can add them to your calendar and schedule time for interaction.
  • The responsibilities of each social media team member. When you have more than one person managing various areas of your strategy or campaigns, you should outline the profiles or updates for which they are responsible.
  • The important reminders you want your team to take note of during the calendar period. These can include things like campaign launches and promotions.

Types of Content to Include

Social Media Editorial Calendar LegendThere’s almost no limit to the type of content you can share via social media platforms, which means you can keep your feeds fresh and interesting for higher engagement levels. Common content examples include blog posts, videos, news articles, polls, tutorials, questions, infographics, promotional materials, repurposed content, quotes, podcasts, reviews, and images. Consider using a color-coded legend to ensure you post a good range of material across the day, week, and month.

Tips for Filling in Your Calendar

Tip 1: Keep your marketing goals in mind. Social Media Editorial SchedulingThe objectives you outlined when developing your social media strategy should drive the amount of content you share and the time you take to interact with your audience on each platform.

Tip 2: Pay attention to optimal posting times. If you’re tracking your social campaigns properly, you should be able to pinpoint the best times to update your networks for maximum engagement. When filling in your calendar, make a note of those times next to each planned update.

Tip 3: Integrate social media with your other marketing activities. Your social media platforms should support your other promotional initiatives. Therefore, you should construct relevant snippets that can be scheduled for release at appropriate times via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and any other platform you leverage.

Tip 4: Don’t forget your keywords and buyer personas. Integrating your search marketing strategy into your social media efforts will boost discoverability, while a customer-focused message will ensure you appeal to your ideal buyer. If you like, you can add additional rows to outline the keywords and buyer personas you’re focusing on at any given time.

Tip 5: Keep it simple. A social media editorial calendar can become complex and confusing very quickly. This is especially true if you’re posting multiple times per platform each day. Make sure your entries are concise and that your calendar is well-organized.

Tip 6: Be consistent. If you’re a one-person operation, you may want to take a break every now and then. While there’s no problem with that, you shouldn’t leave huge gaps in your communications. The great thing is there are plenty of social media management tools you can use to schedule posts weeks in advance. These tools can automatically distribute your content when you decide to go off the grid for a few days.

Ultimately, the most effective social media editorial calendar is going to keep you and your team accountable and consistent. It’s going to help you maintain an ongoing stream of interesting and enticing content designed to achieve your overall business objectives. Create your calendar today and start planning for success.

 

Have you created a social media editorial calendar for your business? Share your tips, struggles, and successes with us. If you have a question, feel free to pop it in the comment section below…

Social Media and Personal Branding: 6 Sure-Fire Tips for Success

There’s no denying that social media platforms offer a powerful tool for personal branding campaigns. However, you’re not simply setting out to increase visibility or generate awareness. Yes, self-promotion does play a role, but building a memorable, positive image and reputation goes far beyond that.

The following tips will ensure your brand is authentic and purposeful so that you can have a greater impact on your community.

#1 – Understand your objectives and intentions before you establish a presence.

Social Media Personal Branding Strategy

Like any marketing or branding initiative you decide to pursue, you need to figure out what your goals are and how you can best serve your community while attempting to achieve them. Keep in mind that once you create a social media account and begin engaging others in conversation, you should not stop. Personal branding is a journey that requires consistency and commitment, so make sure you have a strategy in place and that you’re prepared to deliver value at every opportunity.

#2 – Take control of your personal brand before someone else does.

Are you happy to let others label or define you? Probably not, but that’s what you’re doing if you’re not living your authentic self. The last thing you want is to live someone else’s perception of the person you are, so claim your social media property today and start molding your profiles and interactions to reflect your true identity.

#3 – Leverage social media to build your relevancy offline.

It’s great that you’re establishing your credibility in the virtual world, but you’ll make an even bigger impact and add value to your brand if you can provide an identical, if not better, experience of “brand YOU” in the real world.

#4 – Find a comfortable mix that works for you.

The reality is that we’re not all built to be Youtube stars or Instagram legends. Introverts may fear the prospect of a profile picture while extraverts usually can’t wait to post a video of their latest keynote address. Once you figure out your approach to personal branding and understand your intentions, you need to identify the platforms that make you feel most comfortable while effectively communicating your brand message and personality.

#5 – Connect with the right people.

Social Media Personal Branding - Who Are You

You can tell a lot about a person based on the company he or she chooses to keep. Therefore, aligning your brand with the wrong individuals can mean disaster for you on both a personal and professional level. Don’t accept unsavory behavior, negative thinking, or mediocrity. Associate yourself with people who will elevate your brand and help you achieve your objectives.

# 6 – Evaluate your brand and assess how much value you truly add to society.

Be honest. Are you contributing enough? Do others perceive your personal brand the way you do? There may never be a way to gauge your social capital, but the chances are you’re doing something right if your social media communities are growing.

Ultimately, your personal brand is an asset. Make sure you protect it by being mindful of your community, positioning yourself in a way that allows you to be a role model, and creating a positive experience for anyone who encounters you in both the virtual and real world.

Are you actively building your personal brand through social media? Do you think there’s room for improvement? Let us know what you think…

Surviving a Social Media Disaster

Wrench in the gears representing social media disastersSometimes they’re funny. Sometimes they make us cringe. Other times we feel bad for those involved. One thing is for sure: they always draw attention. I’m talking about social media PR disasters. Before the Internet (and especially social media) was so ubiquitous, PR snafus were generally confined to mainstream media. A company had to make a pretty big mistake in order for the press to take notice, but now even the slightest misstep can potentially result in droves of Internet users sharing a company’s misfortune gleefully and without restraint. I’d like to offer some suggestions on surviving a social media disaster.

Before we explore options for mitigating a social media image problem, I’d like to draw attention to a classic example of a social media misstep.

Is That Your Account?

A notable example of a social media blunder happened back in March of 2011 when a Chrysler employee accidentally used the company Twitter account to bemoan the driving habits of Detroiters.

Chrysler's Social media Disaster

Incidents like this underscore an important concept that is easy to lose sight of in the rapidly growing world of interconnectivity. It is far easier to promote a brand, and along with that, far easier to damage it with careless oversight. At the time of this tweet, Chrysler had about 7,500 followers. Reaching and engaging with that many people directly used to be an incredibly costly and time consuming process that involved many seasoned professionals and industries. Today (and probably not in Chrysler’s case), some companies leave such power in the hands of interns, entry-level employees or those who simply don’t respect the fragility of the brands they’ve been trusted with keeping.

What Can We learn?

Obviously, from the Chrysler scenario, you should be aware of what account you are using to post a tweet, post, status update or what have you (especially if you’re using derogatory comments about a business’ audience). For my company’s presence, I don’t even like to log in to a company account on a personal machine or device if I can help it. More importantly, though, as marketers, we have to understand that the brands we manage online for our employers or our clients are delicate and are tied to the livelihoods of other people. With that being true, we should be forever mindful of how we portray a brand online.

Tips for Surviving a Disaster

  1. Image of Blueprints Representing social media disaster planningHave a plan: This tip doesn’t really relate to what you should do in the aftermath of a mistake, but before it happens. The very best thing you can do if your business is just starting out in social media, or even if you have been doing it for a while, is to create a crisis-management plan. This should outline very specifically what you are going to do in the event of a negative scenario. Naturally, you can’t plan for every possible hiccup, but you can at least get the obvious ones out of the way. Include very specific procedures for what you will do and who you will contact, as well as their contact information. For example, a person leaving negative feedback on a Facebook timeline may not warrant contacting anyone and simply responding to the person quickly. Conversely, if an employee is sharing sensitive company information maliciously via Twitter, that may warrant calling the CEO on a Sunday so that you can get out in front of the situation. When social media problems arise, time is of the essence, and having a plan saves you time.
  2. social-mediaReact Quickly: As mentioned before, time is of the essence with social media. Problems get bigger, stakeholders get angrier, and more damage can be done to a brand the longer it takes for an appropriate response to be executed. The very worst thing you can do as a business in the social media realm is to ignore things. For instance, a business might simply choose to ignore negative feedback on a social media account rather than respond to it. Most of the time people posting negative comments simply want to be acknowledged, and doing so often resolves the issue. Configure social accounts so that you will be alerted whenever someone mentions you, posts to your account or otherwise interacts with the brand. Consult your plan and act accordingly as fast as possible. Obviously, you don’t have to respond within 30 seconds, but leaving things hanging for a day is unacceptable.
  3. Be Transparent: Don’t try and cover things up; this typically backfires and could potentially cause more damage to a brand than was being done in the first place. If (as a business) something was screwed up, acknowledge that and then offer solutions to fix it. Don’t blame, don’t shed responsibility (if it is your fault), and definitely don’t lie. Work with customers or other stakeholders on fixing the issue. Also, it is important to leave comments out there even if they were negative. Trying to hide things from public view will also backfire on you. This can also be an opportunity to show prospects and customers something special about your business. It shows them that you are able to deal with customer complaints and problems appropriately and that the business wants to work with people and not against them.
  4. Take it somewhere else: You can’t control who is going to use your public forum to start something with the company, but you can control where it goes next. As a rule of thumb, if someone has an issue with a service, a product or the company in general, always attempt to take the conversation offline. For instance, if someone has a bad experience with a product that they bought from your business and they decide to vent on Facebook about it, acknowledge the issue quickly by apologizing for any inconvenience and invite the person to speak by phone or email in your response. Obviously, it’s their choice as to whether or not they take you up on the offer, but you still need to try. Most of the time (if it is a legitimate grievance and not just someone with a vendetta), they will agree and the situation can be resolved in a non public way. Naturally, you can still solve issues publically (assuming no sensitive information is involved), and this notion relies even more heavily on being transparent as a company.
  5. customer-rightThe customer is always right: As marketers, we often play a lot of different roles. Sometimes we are web masters, other times we are sales people and more often than not, we are customer-service professionals. When dealing with social media problems where customers or employees are disgruntled, you always have to give them the benefit of the doubt and take whatever they have to dish out to you. You may not like it, and even if they are wrong, you have to agree with them.

Of course, there are other social media disasters with solutions not mentioned here, such as Burger King’s recent Twitter password security breach. Often things like these offer their own obvious lessons (like keeping your password safe and non obvious). Or in the Chrysler example above, we can plainly see that someone was careless. Above all, I think the best way to survive a social media disaster is to be open and honest. You can’t un-ring a bell and people realize that organizations are comprised of people; and people make mistakes. As long as those mistakes are handled with grace, humility and intelligence, brands can survive a social media misstep.

 

Do you have experience dealing with social media disasters? What are some of the techniques that you rely on when you need to extinguish a problem in the social media realm? Let us know what you think by dropping us a line or leaving a comment below.

The Best Social Media Management Tools (Paid Solutions)

Earlier in the week, we looked at three of the best free social media management tools available today. While a free offer is awesome, the limitations imposed on social media marketers and businesses can hinder the progress and success of a social marketing campaign. Although the tools provide you with features and insights to improve your effectiveness, they do not provide enough to supercharge your efforts and maximize your ROI. That’s why we’ve decided to take a look at some of the best social media management tools with paid solutions.

The following services not only cater to businesses of every size, but they’re also affordable, provide a robust set of features, and cover a wide range of networks. Although current pricing is included below, many of these services offer customized solutions with a relevant cost structure.

Hootsuite (http://hootsuite.com/)

Spend a few hours touring Hootsuite’s interface and you’ll quickly see why so many people love it. This social media management system is ideal for executing social campaign tasks across multiple networks, as well as identifying and growing your online audiences. In addition to geotargeting functionality, Hootsuite allows for team collaboration, conversation tracking, post scheduling, and performance measurement.

The service also offers the most extensive social network integration you’ll find in a tool like this. Besides Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Pages, Hootsuite offers integration with content apps and platforms like Instagram, Flickr, Slideshare, Reddit, Tumblr, Youtube, Nimble, Hubspot, and more. One negative aspect of the software is that there are additional fees for analytics reports, as well as for adding more users than a plan covers. Make certain you keep these expenses in mind when budgeting for Hootsuite products.

Price: Hootsuite’s Pro plan is currently set at $9.99 per month while its Enterprise plan starts at $1499. There is a 30-day risk-free trial period, so you can easily test out the service before committing to it. Also important to note is that you can cancel or change your plan options at any time.

Sendible (http://sendible.com/)

Manage, engage, and track—exactly what one of the best social media management tools should do. This great service effectively combines email, social media, and SMS capabilities to help individuals and businesses grow, monitor, and track the results of their brands.

Sendible offers a comprehensive suite of features, including those that enable you to manage multiple social accounts in one place, monitor conversations about a brand, manage workflow approvals, measure every piece of content, as well as analyze and track email and social media campaigns. Users can access the platform via a web-based dashboard or mobile app.

Price: Sendible packages range from $9.99 for Solo to $99.99 for Corporate. Their Marketer and Business packages are perfect for those who need a little more than the basics but don’t want to break the budget. A 30-day trial period is available for all solutions, so feel free to try it out with zero obligations.

SproutSocial (http://sproutsocial.com/)

This social CRM and management tool offers a rich collection of features that help you minimize your time on social media while maximizing output. Its functionality includes account management, customer relationship management, lead discovery, and content publishing across multiple networks. Although SproutSocial is a little more expensive than some of the other tools available, it can be customized in ways that other tools can’t.

Price: SproutSocial’s Standard plan is $39 per user/month, its Deluxe plan is $59 per user/month, and its Premium plan is $99 per user/month. Like Hootsuite and Sendible, you can test-drive the platform for a free 30-day trial period. You can also upgrade, downgrade, or cancel your subscription whenever you want.

ArgyleSocial (http://argylesocial.com/)

Designed for clever B2B marketing, ArgyleSocial helps you nurture relationships on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ Pages, and LinkedIn. The tool merges social data with marketing and sales data for greater engagement, improved lead generation, and better relationship building. It also offers social monitoring, automatic publishing, social tagging capabilities, and web analytics integration. Whether you’re an individual in a small marketing firm or a big marketing team in a large organization, ArgyleSocial’s software is definitely worth a second look.

Price: The service offers three main packages. The Marketer package starts at $200 per month, the Professional package starts at $600 per month, and the Enterprise package starts at $1100 per month. These plans include both marketing automation and social media management features.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud (Radian6) (http://www.salesforcemarketingcloud.com/)

As one of the best social media management tools available, Marketing Cloud has become a popular tool for both established enterprises and small businesses just entering the social media game. The service offers an impressive social marketing suite that includes social listening, workflow and automation, real-time reporting, social advertising, social content, and engagement features. It also supports multiple networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Youtube. Even though this tool is a little pricey if you’re just starting to implement a social media marketing strategy, the features you gain access to are well worth it.

Price: The pricing starts at around $600 per month for a Basic plan and increases as you upgrade to the Professional, Corporate, and Enterprise plans. Tailored solutions are also available, along with customized pricing.

With the tools mentioned above in mind, it’s important to realize you’re not going to find everything you need in a single piece of software. While the best social media management tools offer publishing, engagement, and measurement capabilities, they do differ in terms of features, sophistication, and price point. Therefore, it is critical to test tools and find a perfect blend of free and paid solutions that not only provide the features and data you need, but that you’re also comfortable using.

What do you look for when you evaluate potential social media management tools for your business? We’d love to know how you make your software decisions, as well as what you love and hate about the tools you’re currently using. Share your thoughts below. 

3 of the Best Free Social Media Management Tools

Managing multiple social media accounts while sticking to a limited marketing budget is one of the biggest challenges social media marketers and entrepreneurs face. Despite incredible advancements in monitoring, management, and analytics technology, very few tools combine a full spectrum of features that eliminate the need to use more than one social media management service. The cost of leveraging several pieces of software can add up quickly, which is why we thought we’d take a look at some of the best free social media management tools available today.

While these free tools may not offer a comprehensive set of features, they do provide core capabilities that allow businesses and individuals to manage their social media accounts effectively. As the needs of your business evolve along with its budget, you might consider upgrading to paid plans that are more in line with your requirements. For now, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars you don’t necessarily have.

The following tools were selected based on their ability to schedule posts, shorten URLs, manage multiple accounts, and track basic analytics data.

#1: Viralheat

Although Viralheat began as a social media monitoring tool, the service has extended its offering to include publishing, engagement, and analytics capabilities. The company’s free plan offers more than you’ll find elsewhere, which is why it has become one of the best free social media management tools and a popular starting point for entrepreneurs without a budget.

While the service is a web-based application right now, the company does have a mobile app in the works. In addition, it currently offers a Chrome extension called Flint. With a single click on the Flint icon, this extension lets users share articles, stories, and links from any Chrome page.

Features of the free plan:

  • Manage up to seven social media accounts: Viralheat’s free version makes it possible to add and manage a total of seven Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts.
  • Unified stream: Use one smart stream to access your main or custom streams, filter a combination of sources, and engage your audiences directly.
  • Convenient URL shortener: Integration with bit.ly allows you to shorten URLs without needing to leave Viralheat’s platform.
  • Post previews and rich media uploads: Besides seeing what your post looks like before making it public, you can use the post preview feature to update your content. This includes the ability to edit your image, video, and accompanying text.
  • Post scheduling: The software lets you schedule an unlimited amount of updates for LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. It also offers time zone support so you can schedule your content’s release well in advance.
  • Geotargeted publishing to Facebook: Probably one of the best features of the free plan, geotargeting lets you specify which Facebook updates you want to target according to country, region, state, or city.
  • Analytics dashboard: Leverage Viralheat’s analytics feature to measure the performance of your accounts in real-time. For Facebook, you can measure performance in terms of engagement, likes, stories, page reach, page views, and impressions. For Twitter, you’ll not only be able to track data on favorites and followers, but you’ll also be able to track reach, influencers, and more.

Ultimately, Viralheat is a versatile, efficient, and powerful social media management tool that offers many of the core functions a small business will need to implement and maintain a strategy across main networks. While the service does offer paid plans with additional features and a robust set of analytics, the free version is ideal for anyone without money to burn.

#2: Hootsuite

A firm favorite, Hootsuite is a social media management tool that offers an extensive range of features for team collaboration and campaign execution across several social networks. It’s also one of the few tools offering Google+ Pages integration.

Features of the free plan:

  • Access to Hootsuite Conversations: This nifty feature lets you collaborate with users, team members, and colleagues in real-time.
  • Add unlimited apps: The software gives you the ability to add content management and social network apps, such as Instagram, Youtube, and Evernote, to your dashboard.
  • Manage five social network accounts: Create a custom mix of social profiles, including those from Google+ Pages, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, WordPress, Foursquare, and more.
  • Add 2 RSS/Atom Feeds: Auto-update your social network streams from your blog or news feeds. These updates will include a trackable link created by Ow.ly (a Hootsuite-owned URL shortner).
  • Schedule messages: Schedule messages that Hootsuite will deliver to your audiences at times when engagement levels are at their highest.
  • Access basic analytics reports: Measure your social media efforts with custom reports based on your network stats, Google analytics, and Facebook Insights.

Other noteworthy features include those that give you the ability to create Twitter lists; publish images to Facebook Profiles and Pages; view trending topics; utilize the Retweet and Twitter Reply All functions to set up messages quickly; and conduct real-time search.

Hootsuite’s solution is perfect for constructing streams to track the keywords, messages, and mentions your business or brand cares about most. It has an easy-to-use interface, a mobile app for social media managers on the go, a solid set of free management options, and impressive network integration. What more could you ask for in a free tool?

#3: Jugnoo

Available in both web and mobile versions, Jugnoo is the social CRM tool that is being hailed as a leader in its market. Although it isn’t as well known as tools like Hootsuite, many users would agree it’s far more powerful. With a user-friendly interface and a strong suite of features, the free version gives you just enough to monitor and manage your social media marketing in one location.

Features of the free plan:

  • Link multiple social media accounts: This includes three team members, as well as the management of 20 accounts.
  • Access to analytics data: Jugnoo combines social, web, and Google Analytics to help you track performance.
  • Post scheduling: This feature is enabled through the BufferApp, which means you can benefit from automatic posting at optimal times.
  • Link previews: Now you can see the content a link leads to before clicking through to the page. Besides greatly reducing the amount of time you spend sifting through irrelevant content, this feature can help you avoid phishing scams.
  • Rich Media Embeds: This convenient feature allows you to watch videos and view images in your stream, so there’s no need to open additional tabs or leave the Jugnoo dashboard.

There have already been several major changes since the launch of Jugnoo, and it appears the company is constantly developing its service offering. This is certainly a tool to keep your eye on, even if you choose to go with another for now.

The bottom line: social media management does not have to be exorbitantly overpriced in order to operate effectively. The three tools mentioned above offer a great start for small businesses and individuals who understand that social media is an integral part of any marketing campaign, but can’t afford to allocate financial resources to social media management.

Which of the best free social media management tools are you using? Are there any you’d add to our list? We’d love to hear how they’re making your social marketing efforts easier, so drop us a line or two in the comments area. 

Google+ Improved Features

Google Plus HangOuts – Businesses Should Use Them To Their Advantage

 

While Google+ may not yet be available for businesses, the recent changes to the Google Plus HangOuts are reason enough for tech savvy business owners and managers to jump on board. Individuals still have to sign up for Google+ using their real names (no pseudonyms allowed), but smart business individuals who wish to build their corporate profile can easily use this to their advantage. While building their brand online, a wise business owner can become the face and voice of their firm by using Google+ HangOuts to their advantage.

Google+ Updates

Google recently rolled out updates to HangOuts, which include screen sharing as well as the ability to broadcast a HangOut. A recently released Android app allows users to participate in HangOuts from their mobile device. From corporate meetings conducted simultaneously in cities around the country to impromptu meetings broadcast to a network of followers, these changes offer all sorts of opportunities for businesses to make the most of Google+. The Google news is coming fast and furious, so companies that want to make the most out of Google’s new social network are well advised to keep their ear to the ground and their eyes on the horizon. It is rumored that Google+ for business is just around the corner, so companies that make the most out of the current system will be well poised for the eventual Google+ Business rollout.

Is Google+ Losing It’s Share?

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Is Google+ Declining In Popularity?

There has been some online chatter regarding the number of individuals dropping out of Google+ (said to be approximately 40% of initial users) but this gradual slipping away of users needs to be balanced against the Facebook users migrating to the new Google social media network. Following the recent major revamping of Facebook following the F8 Developers conference, a growing number of individuals are balking at the intrusion of Facebook’s social sharing implementations. Unless users are completely aware of the permissions they are granting, a simple click of a mouse can instantly grant third party applications ongoing access to most of their Facebook actions. Click on a risqué song title that a fellow Facebooker shares, and that song title can end up being broadcast in their Timeline for the rest of their network to see. Check out a scantily clad image of a Hollywood celebrity that a cousin shares and chances are good that others in their network will soon learn of the image they have viewed. Unless they completely lock down their privacy and sharing settings right from the start, these unexpected “shares” can have long-term ramifications on both their business and personal relationships. It is due to this automatic sharing of data that Facebook users have to “choose” to opt out of, that is sending a growing number of individuals in Google+’s direction.

With so many social media options available to them, it is easy to see how businesses can become overwhelmed at their abundance of choices. Rather than feeling like they need to choose between the likes of Google+, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the smart business owner or manager will use all of these tools to their advantage. Rather than just having one or two tools in their social media arsenal, a savvy business will team up all of these options together in a multi-pronged approach to cross marketing. By using a multi-faceted approach to social media, businesses can reach customers that they might miss otherwise. Most individuals do not make use out of all of the social media channels at their disposal, so casting a wide social media net is a wise move for business owners. Cross promoting their multi-channeled presence on their websites, blogs, and email signatures is a great way to advertise their contact info regardless of where their customers choose to engage with them. Google+ is the latest weapon in their social media arsenal, but it is by no means the only wise weapon at their disposal.

Facebook Page Insights

The Newest Utility: Facebook Page Insights

 

Social networking is a real time communication tool that has taken the world by storm. Individuals mass communicate their whereabouts, their current mood, and even what they are eating in their status updates, leaving every one of their “friends” knowing their current condition, without so much as a phone call. One half of a billion, yes – with a B, people in this world have a Facebook page. Within that number, half of those people logon daily, to catch up on, or report, the happenings in the world. This market is not lost on businesses worldwide, who create their own Facebook page, in an effort to be “Liked” by the conglomeration of people who maintain the flow of traffic on the site. The magnitude of marketing possibilities is astounding, considering the sheer volume of traffic Facebook enjoys daily. Businesses across the globe have answered the bell as opportunity knocks in the form of Facebook ads. Facebook has responded in kind by developing a measurement apparatus to help its page owners and advertisers keep track of their page’s traffic through Facebook Page Insights.

 What is Facebook Page Insights?

Facebook Insights is a program that allows Facebook page owners to evaluate the traffic on their page, based on user type and demographics, allowing users to measure their page’s traffic and growth on a day to day basis. Facebook Insights is a free service provided by Facebook that allows its users to view updated information every 24 hours, and allows for easy data exportation from the site to other programs, granting the accumulation of records for review. However, weekly and monthly record accumulations are not yet available, primarily due to the programs infancy. New reports will be established as the program evolves.

 Measuring Success

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Facebook Page Insights

In all aspects of marketing, it is necessary to measure the benefits of advertising regularly. Although Facebook pages are, in effect, free, Facebook ads are not. If your company advertises on Facebook or even promotes their page by listing the ever famous Facebook “F” logo on their website, emails or marketing collateral, it is important to know who is visiting the page. Facebook Insights provides measurable results to page owners in real time, allowing companies to know exactly who is connecting with them online, through this social media outlet.

 Who Can Use Facebook Insights?

Facebook Insights data, much like other behind the scene operations of a website, can only be viewed by page administrators, application owners, and domain administrators, specifically germane to the properties they own or administer. This allows the information provided to be kept within the departments who measure the application’s success. The information provided by Facebook Insights allows its users to collect demographic data on the individuals who visit their page, resulting in increased marketing efforts, targeted at these specific groups.

Facebook is more than a social media outlet. It is an accomplished program that allows its users to marketing their products and services to an extremely large pool of consumers, while still targeting a specific market. Casting a larger marketing net, at very little expense, allows companies to zero in on their target market triumphantly. Target marketing is a large part of any company’s success, and Facebook has provided yet another effective tool that allows companies to employ the data provided to cater to their target markets more successfully. Successful marketing tactics are always those that can be measured, allowing companies to place their money in the correct areas, reaching the largest amount of consumers, benefiting their bottom line. Although companies cannot control who visits their Facebook page, they can certainly benefit from knowing which demographic it should be catering to, if it is not already.

New Changes for Facebook

Facebook News – How Do Recent Changes Impact Upon Your Business Page?

 

There has been a great deal of information available as of late in regard to Facebook’s new redesign and implementation of additional features. While much has been openly debated about the impact of these new changes on end users, their impact on businesses has not been as widely discussed. Without being aware of the impact of Facebook’s new features, many business page administrators could be left in the dust of more socially savvy Facebook business page administrators.

Facebook “Like” For Business

An almost imperceptible change that could have a major impact upon Facebook business pages is the new “open” comment implementation. This topic has barely caused a ripple in the sea of Facebook news that has been generated as of late. Whereas once upon a time a Facebook user would have to “like” a business page in order to be able to comment on their wall, this is no longer the case. With the newly redesigned social media superstar, Facebook users can now comment on any business page without having to “like” the company first. While this might make it easier for comment posters to engage with their favorite brands on a one-time basis, it also has the potential to cause a rise in the number of not so positive feedback comments as well. For administrators that are not in the habit of checking their Facebook page on a continual basis, leaving negative feedback without a conciliatory response up on their wall for an extended period of time could be harmful to the overall impression that their page gives to visitors. Not only does the negative feedback give visitors a poor impression of a company (negativity as well as lack of a timely response) it is also a missed opportunity in terms of turning that “frown upside down”. A company that is engaged enough to respond well to all sorts of feedback is just the type of firm that many socially connected consumers are more than happy to engage with.

Facebook Posting Changes

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Facebook Changes for Business

Another change that is going to have an incredible impact on how administrators post to their business pages is the ability that Facebook end users now have to “vote up” Top Stories. If the posts that a business makes to their own wall are continually seen as self-serving and not very useful, Facebook’s algorithm will pick up on the consistent downgrading and will gradually begin to see those posts as unworthy of being featured in Top Stories. Just because an end-user “likes” your business’ page once upon a time, if they never engage with your wall posts in a meaningful way, your posts will gradually drop in importance in their Timeline. Surveys have shown that over 40% of Facebook users who originally “like” a business page eventually remove it from their “liked” favorites. When you factor in that number and combine it with the new ability for end users to effectively demote your wall posts, the impetuous is definitely on business’ to make their wall posts engaging, informative, and shareable.

Frequency of posts is also going to become an important factor. If, as a Facebook business page administrator, you continually post to your company’s wall throughout the day, you run the risk of having the Facebook algorithm pick up your content as less than useful if your followers find your posts a nuisance and downgrade them. Businesses are now going to have to be VERY mindful as to how their wall posts serve their customers and post accordingly. By focusing on the needs and likes of their followers, businesses that succeed on the “new” Facebook will be the ones that are truly tuned into the needs of their audience. After all, is that not what social media is supposed to be all about? Instead of using social media as a way to broadcast your wares to the world, use it instead to create relationships with your followers. Well-tended relationships convert into sales much more readily than seeds scattered upon the wind.