Social media can be an important marketing tool for many local businesses, helping them talk to new people and promote their business. However, it can be difficult to find the time and energy it takes to run great social media channels if you’re a local company.
For independent workers, sole traders and other local businesses where your main focus is on day-to-day work, tools to help manage your social media are very useful. These tools help you plan and schedule social media updates. For example, using one of these tools you could spend 30 minutes on a Monday morning writing and scheduling updates for the whole week, saving you time (and stress).
Many of the tools work with more than one platform, while some focus on just one. Whichever tool you choose, it’s important to spend some time investigating all of its features so you fully understand how to use them.
This free social media management tool helps you organise who you’re following on Twitter and allows you to schedule Tweets in advance.
Sign up using Twitter and you’ll see a screen of columns. Each of these columns is a different aspect of your Twitter account: you can choose to see your mentions, retweets, direct messages and more. You can also set up extra columns to track hashtags or what’s trending.
Using Tweetdeck, you can write an update and schedule it for later on in the day, week or month. However, Tweetdeck doesn’t have any options to analyse what you’ve been doing on Twitter – so you won’t be able to see a report letting you know which updates have worked well and which haven’t.
Best for: Local businesses eager to keep an eye on news such as local estate agents or car dealers.
Hootsuite is a social media management tool with free and paid versions. The free version allows you to have three social media profiles and gives you a useful analytics report.
Just like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite’s display is organised in vertical columns. Unlike Tweetdeck, Hootsuite allows you to add social media accounts which aren’t just from Twitter – for example, you can add a LinkedIn and Google Plus account. This means you can schedule updates for three profiles from one place, plus track how effective they are.
Each social media profile has a different maximum length for status updates, so you’ll need to make sure you stick to the shortest character count if you’re updating more than one channel. For example, if you’re sharing an update on Twitter and Facebook, keep both updates to under 140 characters (Twitter’s limit).
The character count limit now excludes images and media files as part of the post which gives you the opportunity to say more on Twitter – so make sure you make those characters count!
Hootsuite’s paid-for versions start at £6.99 a month and give you enhanced reports on how well your updates are doing as well as letting you add up to 50 social media profiles. For local businesses who rely on social media to promote their business, Hootsuite could be the best option to save money and time.
Best for: Busy but organised local businesses such as coffee shops, boutique stores or independent clothes stores.
Buffer is another social media management tool where you can add multiple social media profiles. Using Buffer, you can only see scheduled updates for your social media – you can’t see any other users, hashtags or other lists.
In the free version, you can have up to 10 scheduled updates per social media profile. However, the paid version (around £8 a month) bumps this up to 100.
One of the unique features of Buffer is that you can schedule Pinterest updates, which could be particularly useful if you have a visual or creative business, such as floristry or crafts. If you’re just starting out with social media scheduling, Buffer could be a good choice – the website is simple, easy to use and focuses attention just on your updates, making it a bit easier to use than Hootsuite.
Best for: Local business owners who are new to social media, or particularly creative and visual businesses such as florists.
Later is a specialist social media tool for Instagram. It allows you to schedule updates in advance, then sends you a notification to remind you to post them at a specific time. Later is available on your phone and computer, so you don’t have to just use photos from your phone.
There aren’t any tools which update Instagram automatically due to the way it’s built. But Later is a great alternative and potentially very useful if your target customer spends a lot of time on this platform.
Best for: Local businesses in the fashion, health, food or lifestyle industries.
If you have a business page on Facebook, you can use the built-in tools on the social media channel to schedule posts. Scheduling posts means you can automatically update your business page outside of business hours – which might be when your fans are most likely to check Facebook.
Once you’ve written your update as usual, click ‘schedule’ next to the ‘publish’ button. Choose the date and time in the future you’d like the post to be published, then click ‘schedule’.
Best for: any local business with a Facebook profile – it’s important to be active when your customers are, so this is a great tool to help ensure that.
Social media management tools can be very useful in helping you take control of your social media marketing, freeing up time so you can concentrate on running your business. But it’s important to remember social media also works spontaneously, so keep an eye on what’s happening regularly through the day and respond where (and when) it’s appropriate.