How to manage social media on the cheap

Stop throwing money at expensive social media management tools. These options do a good job at little cost.

A while back I wrote a post on the best social media management tools for small-business owners. I researched and reviewed a handful of the least expensive, most versatile options, but the comments included some lesser-known alternatives that seemed worth investigating.

I checked them out, using the same parameters I used to gauge the initial set of tools. Any tool I considered must enable you to:

  • Schedule posts.
  • Connect numerous social media accounts.
  • Provide analytics.
  • Shorten URLs.

Here are some additional options for small-business owners in need of a cost-effective social media management tool:

1. Sendible

Price: Sendible starts at $9.99 a month for eight accounts and offers plans up to $99.99 for 120 accounts.

Platforms: Sendible offers a Web application, mobile apps for iPhone and Android, and a mobile Web version.

In addition to offering low-cost plans, Sendible enables you to manage your Google+ pages, which is still a rare feature among social media management tools. (Note that this is limited to Google+ pages, as opposed to your individual profile or stream.)

The service also supports Facebook (profiles and pages), Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Tumblr, Ning, Bebo and a number of other options. The full array of services you can connect to Sendible is impressive, so most business owners should be able to manage their social media efforts quite easily. Sendible does not offer a free plan, however, which is a drawback.

2. Viralheat

Price: Viralheat is free for seven social accounts, and offers plans up to $499 a month for 50 accounts.

Platforms: Viralheat has a Web application (Chrome extension available).

Viralheat also connects a robust assortment of networks (including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+), offers robust analytics (including sentiment analysis for paid accounts; basic account analytics are free), has URL shortening via integration, and enables scheduled posts. My favorite feature is that it enables geo-targeted sharing to Facebook.

In short, Viralheat is a versatile social media management tool, and well worth considering.

3. Jugnoo

Price: Jugnoo is free for up to three team members managing 20 accounts, and $20 a month for five team members and unlimited accounts. Custom pricing is available for larger teams.

Platforms: There is a Web application and mobile Web version.

What you get for free with Jugnoo is impressive. You can link up to 20 social media accounts managed by up to three team members. You also get access to Web, Google and social media analytics, which makes Jugnoo highly appealing. And if you need to connect additional accounts or give access to more team members, it costs just $20 per month. Jugnoo has a custom pricing model as well.

Fresh out of beta, this lesser-known option added some new features recently, including link previews and rich media embeds.

Scheduled posts are enabled through BufferApp, which is also a good way for business owners to manage their social networks.

Among free and low-cost scheduling options, HootSuite is still the reigning champion. This is in part because its widespread use means there are many plugins and informational resources available. There are some other viable contenders for small-business owners to consider, however.

I investigated some of the platforms mentioned by commenters on my previous post. Although helpful, they do not fully meet the criteria outlined above:

1. Agora Pulse

Agora Pulse offers granular management of your Facebook pages, from scheduling posts to managing contests, but it’s limited to Facebook.

2. Engagio

Engagio is a discovery tool, as opposed to a social media management tool. This service enables you to monitor and engage with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and more through an inbox message format. Although helpful, this service lacks analytics and the ability to schedule posts, both of which are critical to small-business owners.

3. Bottlenose

Still in beta, Bottlenose is a helpful tool for monitoring Facebook and Twitter feeds, LinkedIn, and more. The service offers some ability to engage by posting to linked accounts.

Although Bottlenose is potentially useful for individuals, small-business owners need a tool that provides a more holistic management capability (this includes scheduling posts). The company is planning a pro version, which might have additional functions.

4. Bundle Post

This service takes your existing RSS feed and makes it easy for you to select stories that would be of interest to your online audience. You can export prepared posts to a spreadsheet that Bundle Post will upload to HootSuite.

With minimal effort beyond scanning your news feeds, you’ve scheduled informative, helpful posts to go out over the course of the day, keeping you top of mind for your audience. It’s a great tool, but it works in concert with HootSuite as opposed to providing an alternative to it.

Options abound for small-business owners to customize no- or low-cost social media management solutions.

What tools do you recommend?

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone, JD/MBA, teaches New Media Marketing in the Internet Marketing Master of Science Program at Full Sail University. Follow her on Twitter @KerryGorgone.

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