Social Media Management: Breaking down 3 tools.
Social Media is close to the top of the funnel, we use it to bring users into our website and, hopefully, convert them into customers. Social Media is also an excellent tool to keep in touch with the community.
The Big Picture
If you are a business owner, you know that managing social media sucks.
Even for just an individual social media channel, it can feel like a full-time job: Think up content, make posts daily, and keep an eye on the inbound engagement and respond to users.
When you add more platforms, you are going to be aching. But wait! We can lessen this pain by automating the process with social media management tools.
While I can’t get into the specifics of what does or doesn’t make up a great business social campaign right now, we can talk about is one important component: consistency. (Check back later for more on that. You do follow me, right?)
The great Facebookathus will smile on us when we post regularly and lift us to more feeds.
How do we find time to manage our business social media this closely daily? Well, what if we took all of that work and pushed it into one afternoon?
The tools I am comparing today are self-described as social media management tools. These are web applications with features to help a business owner, social media manager, or agency keep the social media game under control.
In the most basic sense, these tools let us create and schedule content now, to be published later.
There are many options for social media management tools. Hootsuite, Later, and ContentCal are in the spotlight because I spent the most time with them while deciding on a platform for Deadhead.Design. I also think these three have great perks for some different use cases, and I feel I could recommend one of three to almost any user.
The ‘beginner’ price points on social media tools should be more than suitable for most businesses. As an example, I went with a mid to low-range package to begin to build an agency deployment.
However, scalability is important. Before making any buying decision it is important to make sure the workflow you are building can scale with your company. So even if you are not buying on to a package at that level, it is important to know what that will look like down the road.
Price: $17-$47 per month
Free Trial: 14 Days – Free Tier: Yes
- 1-2 Users and Calendars
- Independent Calendars
- 4-8 Social Profiles
- Pause Content
- Analytic Reports
- Search Past/Draft Posts
- Approval Workflows
- Video Upload
- Zapier Workflows
- Custom Backend Branding
- Content Hub
- Web Clipper
- Academy Training
- Visual Grid Instagram Planner
- Reusable Snippets
- Campaign Planning
- Dedicated Account Manager
- Google My Business
- Combined Social Inbox
- Facebook Drafts
- Cross Calendar Posting
- Advanced Analytics
- Custom Integrations
- Onboarding Training
Working with the application is genuinely pleasant, being simple, and easy to use.
Right off the bat, I love the easy to toggle dark mode. Why is dark mode yet to be a box standard feature in business tools?
The real unique selling point of ContentCal is collaboration. Other platforms do not quite offer the tools ContentCal does when it comes to working with a team at similar pricing. (Less than 10% of what you’d have to spend at Hootsuite!) ContentCal’s public road map even includes plans to have real-time live collaboration.
Speaking of the road map, this application is rather new, and they are coming out with great new features all the time!
Approval workflows allow posts to be composed by one team member before being passed to editors for approval before being published. During this time, one might take advantage of the ability to comment on and discuss each article.
Users can install a Chrome extension called ContentCal Web Clipper to grab links to content you might like to share while browsing the web. The one-click extension opens a prompt to write a post, and it will be saved into another feature, the Content Hub.
From the Content Hub, you can organize and brainstorm content for the future without worrying about scheduling it. You can then schedule a post to be made or send it to the Pinboard.
The Pinboard could be thought of as a final staging area. Once you have a post all hammered out, you can send it there to be displayed right next to your calendar in the publish view. I find myself using this as a staging area to build up a log of random filler content. If I have a gap in my calendar with no obvious content, it is easy to click and drag one of those over to get something out.
Campaign management is simple in both use and function. Setting up a campaign involves entering a name, writing the briefing, and selecting dates. Campaigns display a simple banner with the name and a link to the creative brief above the selected dates in the publish view.
Planning channels that are not automatically controlled, or that might not even be social media, can be added to the publish view. This makes it very easy to plan and collaborate on blog entries or anything else you could think of. Planning channels are totally open-ended, as are many features within ContentCal.
One feature I would like to mention is still up and coming: long-form content. Shout out to Natalie at ContentCal for letting me know about it and helping me out while I got to know the software.
Long-form content will allow you to create and edit blog posts and other long-form writing in the application. With long-form content and Grammarly, I could see moving all my blog writing into ContentCal.
The biggest negative blow to ContentCal is a result of being rather new to the game. As of now, they still have not received Instagram API access. Instagram is notorious for being very stingy about their API. This means no automatic posting to IG, which is instead done with a Zappier workflow or push notification and some small level of manual interaction.
As we will be seeing with again with Later, later (see what I did there?) ContentCal has a free tier that is somewhat respectable. The free tier includes one user on one calendar, with a limit of 10 posts a month. However, I feel most would find the post limit to be overly restrictive.
In summary, ContentCal offers great features for a great price. However, some workflows are still a little bit clunky, and there is no automatic Instagram posting. Companies with large online ad campaigns might also be missing ad management tools found in something like Hootsuite.
Price: $12.5-$33 per month
Free Trial: No - Free Tier: Yes
- 1-6 Users
- Visual Instagram Planner
- Linkin.Bio Integration
- Instagram Story Scheduling
- Instagram Best Time to Post
- Hashtag Suggestions
- Saved Captions
- Add Text to Images
- Content Collection Tool
- Instagram Tags/Mentions Monitoring
- Instagram Multi Photo
- Instagram First Comment
- Instagram Comment Replying
My early notes for Later included “INSTAGRAM”, underlined and written in all capital letters. This was an accurate first impression.
Later has Instagram down to a science. The free tier really does get you all the functionality needed in a social media management tool, if your content is mostly photos.
Later only interfaces with four social media platforms. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
These are grouped into ‘social sets.’ Most other apps use ‘calendars’ and support as many of each of many platforms as you might like to connect to that calendar.
When it comes to user experience, Later was the easiest of these three social media planners to start using. I had my first posts scheduled within a minute or two of logging into the application.
The training provided is simple, but that is not a point of criticism as the app is also simple. It walks you through workflows with sort, easy to follow videos.
The built-in Instagram visual linking tool, Linkin.Bio, is a great feature. It operates more or less automatically in the background, saving time and money. I also enjoy using the first comment and hashtag suggestion features.
Content can be gathered from tags, mentions, URLs, uploads, and your personal profiles. Content is consolidated into the Media Library. I enjoy the integrated media library allowing you to filter out what you have already used, reducing clutter.
Conversations view allows you to track and respond to Instagram comments and view information from the commenter's Instagram page, from your Later app.
The analytics for Instagram and Twitter are pretty standard, nothing special, but also nothing missing. Story analytics are great. I wish data would be shown for Facebook, as it complicates understanding and reporting social media analytics by forcing you to collect the information from multiple places.
Later is so Instagram focused that I often felt handicapped on other social media platforms.
Forget link or text-only posts, as every post must have a photo assigned to it. If your social media content is 80% or more pictures, this is not much of a problem. In fact, when planning with large amounts of photo content, Later is the easiest of the three to use.
The free tier with Later features one social set, and 30 posts per month, with limited features. This is perfect for small businesses and individuals just getting their feet wet.
Overall, Later is easy to use and good at what it was built for. It does not underdeliver at its price range. I love the free tier, and I will be recommending Later to businesses and individuals who use Instagram as the focal point of their social media marketing.
Price: $29-$129 per month
Free Trial: 30 Days – Free Tier: No
- 10-20 Social Profiles
- 1-3 users
- Automatic Scheduling
- Bulk Scheduling
- Shared URL Analytics
- $500-$2,000 Limit on Boosted Posts
- Customizable Report Templates
- Shared Social Media Inbox
- Proofpoint Integration
- 0-3 Hootsuite Platform Certifications
- Onboarding Training
- 35+ Social Profiles
- Client/Department Organization
- Approval Workflows
- Content Library
- Campaign Planning
- $5,000+/Month Boosting
- Ad Management
- Productivity Reporting
- Social Listening
- Message Tagging
- Security Notifications
- Live Training
- Employee Advocacy Posting
Feature-rich Hootsuite might look pricey, but the starting price point is rather in line with the other social media management applications.
The User experience is not the most intuitive of the three, with a more enterprise-application feel, but still easy to set up and use. As is common with these higher-level applications, there is less baked in; instead, a large plugin library exists. The idea is to build your workflow from scratch to better integrate with your other systems.
One of the greatest features, in my opinion, is the ability to create and customize report templates. Being able to customize analytics to highlight what you’re interested in tracking helps lead to insights.
Management of Boosted posts and other advertisements is convenient, and not really something we saw with Later or ContentCal.
Social media inbox is available at all price points, allowing you to see all the comments and messages coming in. ContentCal offers this at a premium, and Later only in the high end. That said, Later’s highest price plan is only $4 more a month than the entry-level Hootsuite offering.
Conversely, the approval workflows, content library, and department/client organization features are only available on the business and enterprise plans, $600+ a month!
Hootsuite can also be connected to your YouTube channels, allowing you to use the social inbox and analytic features. However, there is not an out of the box way to schedule and manage videos from within Hootsuite.
In review, I would quickly recommend larger companies, especially those with a sizeable online ad spend and large marketing team, to consider Hootsuite. Smaller teams with appropriately smaller budgets? Make sure you really need some of the exclusive features before pulling the trigger.
None of these tools are substantiality 'better' or 'worse' than the others. Then again, calling this article a comparison might not even be that fair. These tools are really optimized for different use cases, in my opinion. I will gladly recommend all three.
Later is great for Instagram, with a quite solid free plan. I’d recommend the free plan to individuals and small businesses. It doesn’t scale to the levels the other tools do, however.
Small Businesses, Small Agencies
ContentCal really can’t be beaten as the perfect middle ground of these three. Good tools for a team or agency without blowing the budget.
Medium-Large Businesses, Agencies
Hootsuite would really be the best tool for integrating smoothly with other workflows and is a must if you have a large spend on social media.
At the end of the day, I ended up going with ContentCal’s Business plan for Deadhead Design.
I will be using it to manage Deadhead’s social media, as well as some clients. For that, ContentCal offered everything needed and a good price while allowing me to expand easily and affordably as my company grows.
Upgrading to Hootsuite might make some sense at a later date, but for now, I feel confident with my choice.
Thanks for reading!
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