Since my big goal for the year is 500,000 words worth of new writing, and I share most of that through my blog, I also need a way to then share stuff through my Facebook profile, Twitter account, and Google+ page if I want to “get the word out” about anything I’m blogging.
There are essentially two ways to do that. First, the manual way, I just paste something into FB, Twitter or G+ to say “hey, here’s a post”, or second, the automated way, which is to use a social media post manager.
A social media manager (SMM) is usually set up as a site or an app that you give permission to so that they can post to your FB, Twitter and G+ profiles/accounts for you. Put simply, you post in the SMM site, and it populates the feeds to FB/Twitter/G+ or a host of other media sites. You choose, you grant permission, you post. Sounds simple enough. But there are three complications to that simplicity. Call them “features”, if you will, as most sites pretend.
First and foremost, if you were only doing it with FB or Twitter or G+, it wouldn’t make much sense to use it (one exception below). Generally you would just go into the main social site and simply post. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. No muss, no fuss, no need for a manager. But if you have more than one social site to target (I have the three I mentioned above), it helps. But with that service comes the complication — cost. You can do it for free on the social site, or pay for options on the manager site. I am not willing now to add much cost to my web presence. I already pay for the internet registration for three sites (PolyWogg, ThePolyBlog, and AstroPontiac) plus a business package for hosting (unlimited sites, unlimited storage, unlimited bandwidth, 24/7 support, unlimited emails) that works for me most of the time (occasional technical limitations). Add in unlimited internet at home, with a decent speed, and some online backup storage, and it adds up. Most of the social media managers run anywhere from $10 to $25 per month to run their full options. So, for me, I had to choose one which had a free option (with all the limitations that go with it).
Second, this won’t apply to most people, but I had to use one that wasn’t likely to end up being blocked by my workplace firewall. From time to time, I suddenly realize that something I posted the night before, and which I thought was ready for “broadcast”, actually has a nuance or something about it that means I need to cancel the post. There are lots of examples online of groups or organizations that ended up with ill-timed posts — maybe announcing Bill Cosby for a fundraising activity on the day the more recent news broke about his alleged sexual transgressions. Maybe it was a “Meet at the top of the tower for a blast!” invitation back on 9/11. Not always “big” oops like that, but just things you don’t want to post because of something else. Or maybe you just realized there’s another angle to something you wrote and you want to stop it going live. Whatever the case, I need to access it via my phone (sometimes limited access for the apps) or if necessary, my desktop at work. One of the managers takes a very different approach from the rest, heavily tied to Google+, might even have been an option except my work blocks G+. No access at all. Not even for me, and I have access to a lot of sites most people don’t. Ergo, not a sustainable option.
Finally, the last complication really comes down to features. I gave a try to four separate social media managers, and here are the results.
I was already using HootSuite. I confess I thought it was “okay”, seemed to be doing the job and I used it easily for a whole week. But there was a problem with the scheduling feature. Most of the sites are somewhat similar in allowing you to “schedule” a post for the future. After all, that’s part of the game. Setting it up so that you don’t send 10 posts out at the same time and look like a spammer. Instead, it spaces them out throughout the day. Some professional sites have it set up really aggressively. For example, a goal-setting site might send out a “start your day right” tip at 6:00 a.m. Maybe then, around 8:00 a.m., it sends out a reminder of anything you entered into their tracker that’s due that day. Going further, at 11:00, it might send you a tip about eating healthy if you follow their “EatRight” twitter account. Late in the day, it then sends you a tip about “What to think about on the drive home”. A communications strategy tied to your day. And almost all the sites allow you to manually set a time and date for a post to go out.
For me, the problem with Hootsuite came in the “after-scheduling” management. Most of them also have an “auto-schedule” feature. You tell it, for instance, you only want to send messages between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and no more than 3 during that time. It will then figure out a good time to send the message in there, auto-scheduling it. If you pre-write five or six on the weekend, and auto schedule them all, it will put the first three on Monday and add the next 2-3 on Wednesday. Easy peasy. But suppose then you decide that you have a NEW one that you really want to send on Monday. This gives you two options — either manually schedule it as a 4th one to send on Monday or schedule it for Monday and reschedule one of the other ones. If you do this latter option, HootSuite fails miserably at the change in schedule. You see, Hootsuite didn’t manage it as #1,2,3 to go on Monday, it manually set the time for those three. So you can’t simply “bump” it down in the queue, you have to edit the time itself. Which if you had them going on Wednesday in a set order (i.e. 1,2,3,4,5 should go in order), then you have to edit #3,4,5 manually. Not a huge deal for some people, but critical for the way I write. I also went in and changed my scheduling to only do 3 a day, only in the afternoon, expecting the auto-scheduled ones to update. They didn’t. I couldn’t find a feature to fix that. I also have some concerns with the way the site handles shortened URLs, but all the sites are the same on that front, so hardly a deal-breaker.
After searching for alternatives, I gave MavSocial a try. Set up was relatively easy for Facebook and Twitter. I ran into a problem with Firefox and my anti-virus that it thought one pop-up looked like MalWare but the scan was clean, and I popped over to Chrome to complete the FB account addition. With paid membership, the site has an interesting collection of extra features such as allowing an RSS feed to be posted automatically (so for example, my blog feed could link to the site and get auto-shared) or managing photos that would go with the posts. They even have options to buy/link to some stock photo sites. A social inbox turns comments and retweets into an email-like interface. Nifty. But auto scheduling is almost non-existent, although it does have manual. A must for me, and the end of its consideration.
FriendsPlus.Me has one of the most interesting approaches of all the social media managers. Rather than give you an interface that has you post your info into the site, it pulls your info from your Google+ page. If that sounds cryptic, here’s the difference. For most sites, you go in, add your accounts, and post on that site instead of G+, Twitter, FB. You post to MavSocial or Hootsuite, and it sends your updates to the other three. For FriendsPlus.Me, it has you enter your posts on your Google+ page, and if you add certain hashtags, it will then pull those posts into F+ and copy them to your other accounts. The benefit is enormous. If you use Google+ for your email, and regular contacts, you’re already on that site or in that app. Once you set up FriendsPlus with the links, you never need to go to that site again until you want to change something. FriendsPlus will just follow you on Google+ and if you put in a special hashtag, it will copy that entry and that entry only to another account.
For example, suppose I only wanted to share my TV reviews to my Twitter account and not my FB account. On FriendsPlus.Me, I would add a control hashtag that said “#TVreviews” for Twitter. Then, when I write a post in Google+, if I add the hashtag “#TVreviews”, F+ will copy that post to Twitter. A very different approach than the other sites. And while I like it, and I might even be willing to try it, it’s a no go for me. Google+ is blocked at work. I can’t access it. So if I wanted to block a post, I would have to do it on my phone only. Equally, it also complicates the scheduling features (since you would set any scheduling on G+, not on F+).
That left me with what some consider the biggest rival for Hootsuite: Buffer. I was a little disappointed with FriendsPlus and MavSocial, so my expectations weren’t high for Buffer either.
Sure, it has a “free” option to get you started. Like most of the sites, it limits how many accounts you can add for free (usually one FB profile, one Twitter account, etc.), but it is usually enough for personal, non-commercial use.
I quickly found a nice feature I wasn’t expecting — it lets you post to Google+ pages. Hootsuite doesn’t. There’s a limitation on the Google API control that won’t allow direct posting to Google+, and most managers are itching for access, but so far they only allow linking to the G+ page and not the full G+ profile. I confess that I haven’t done much about G+ since I started using it. I feel it is a huge untapped resource or channel delivery, but I just haven’t spent the time figuring it out. I kind of feel the same about Pinterest and the new Ello. They’re on my list to check out in more detail this year, see if I want to be involved in any of them.
Buffer also has a pretty simple interface. Not a lot of “extra” features cluttering up the landscape. Almost all of which I don’t need, at least not yet. The sidebar contains your list of accounts, pretty straightforward. Across the top is CONTENT / ANALYTICS / SCHEDULE / SETTINGS, plus your own MY ACCOUNT link and the requisite “click here to upgrade” to a paid option.
In the CONTENT menu, it’s relatively simple too. There’s the list of your scheduled posts — but unlike the other sites, they are in a queue. Not formally scheduled, queued. Which means I can move them around, rearrange order, etc, and it doesn’t affect the overall posting schedule for when SOMETHING goes out — that’s up to another tab to handle. Fantastic option for me. The only downside is if you want to create a custom schedule for certain days (i.e. 2x on Monday, 3x on Wednesday, 1x on Thursday), you have to upgrade for that option. The other limitation is you can only schedule 10 items in the queue. When I’m blogging, that’s not a problem, I wouldn’t have that much content queued. However, the tweet reviews of individual TV episodes don’t take very long, I don’t care exactly when they go out other than not all at once, and I tend to write them in batches as I clear stuff off my PVR. So now, I have about 15 pre-written, ready to go. Except the queue is limited to 10 in total. Small annoyance, easily made up for by the benefit of better management within the queue.
The analytics aren’t terribly useful to me as most of my posts also track the other end at the blog, but if I got into more curation, it might be nice to know how much is being clicked. Not essential though. Under Settings you can customize Link Shortening, using 3 different shorteners. I suspect I’m going to use my own off the PolyWogg domain, but good to know the options there. There have been challenges with both Twitter and Facebook that at different times they have blocked certain links. Not a huge concern for me as there are workarounds (including 3 different types of links to my site just from my site itself), but a cautionary concern. The MY ACCOUNT option allows for email settings (post from email), and some extra browser / phone and tablet app options.
I skipped over a feature that I’ll need to explore … it’s called SUGGESTIONS, and it is links that Buffer suggests I might find interesting. I don’t know if they’re tailored in their recommendations or not, probably not as I just joined, but the list wasn’t bad. Out of 25 suggestions, I saw at least 10 that were of clickable interest to me.
Overall, I think Buffer wins for now. I’ll give it a go this week and see how the bugs shake out. I like the idea of scheduling 3 general posts per day, maybe between noon and 5, and then doing “custom” posts for the 8-12 shift. Haven’t decided yet, and I’m not in full meme mode yet, will have to see if that changes things a lot (the links will go to my PhotoGallery page).