Katie Edmondson
Katie Edmondson
Assistant Editor

My Love-Hate Relationship with Social Media Tools

So many social media platforms to manageAs a community manager, I spend a lot of my time on social networking sites. And, while I tweet and post away, I often dream of a perfect tool—a unifying platform that will make my life easier and more efficient. Alas, this magical social tool does not exist. Some may claim to be my Prince Charming, enticing me with promises of quick publishing, built-in social insights and post review functionality. And yet, I am always disappointed in some way. Why are so many social media tools subpar for savvy community managers? The answer’s not so simple.

Let me start off by saying that there are plenty of useful, worthwhile social media tools out there. But most of these tools are only helpful to a small segment of the broader social media world. There are tools for following/unfollowing on Twitter, tools for measuring insights and tools for shortening links. These are all helpful. But my real qualm is with the more general, centralized tools that claim to be one-stop shops for all those involved in a brand’s social properties, from analytics and reporting to active listening and response work. While we won’t name names, these range from popular “freemium” choices to expensive, business-grade solutions.

The promise of their pitch—that short work can be made of a variety of tasks, on a number of accounts—ultimately appeals most to the audience management discipline and community managers like myself. Our days are anything but predictable and often require odd work hours be held in order to engage best with our core audience(s). A tool that could—reliably—lighten the load would come as a godsend. And, since more marketing budgets these days are doling out larger slices of the pie to social media campaigns and ongoing social maintenance, new reporting/responding/listening/scheduling tools are cropping up by the dozens.

But hey, how tough can it be to create relevant, engaging content? Industry commentators like Clay Shirky claim that publishing is not a job or a profession anymore. “There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done,” stated Shirky on Gigaom this past week. Any savvy marketer knows that it’s a bit more complicated than that. Once you “press publish”—something that’s accomplished in different ways on different channels—there is the matter of monitoring and syndication. Yes, publishing has changed dramatically, has become entirely democratized, but it’s at the heart of great audience management and every marketer’s content strategy. Each follow-up comment or response sent is a part of a new publishing process carried out by community managers and audience management practitioners everywhere. Social media tools try to make this process more streamlined, but they tend to be lacking in several areas.

WHY SOCIAL MEDIA TOOLS FAIL

1.) POOR FACEBOOK SUPPORT

The most essential part of any hub-style tool is Facebook Pages integration. And one of the biggest problems plaguing 3rd party social tools is Facebook’s protectiveness over its native functionality. For example: Facebook’s Application Programming Interface (API) does not always allow external sites to utilize its particular share functionality. When it comes to posting photos on Facebook through a social tool, the photo will not automatically go into the Wall Photos album. Instead, it may appear with a shortened link and be hosted on a non-Facebook site.

It may seem nitpicky, but as a community manager, these are the particularities that make or break a brand’s social profile in the eyes of consumers. If things don’t look quite right, followers may find your Page half-heated or disingenuous. For instance: updates published with a “posted via” indictor—which is the case with 3rd party tools—indicate that the content was likely scheduled ahead of time, which means the page has a pre-planned content calendar. Knowing the page has premeditated their actions cheapens the experience. (See: Post Advertising’s “5 Rules for Brands to Avoid Being Pruned From Social Profiles”)

2.) FAULTY SCHEDULING

Social media tools allow you to schedule posts well in advance. This is one of their primary benefits. (You know, in case a community manager wants to have a life and go out without worrying about finding a computer at 9pm to post from…) But because these tools rely on communication with external websites and apps, they are sometimes unreliable when scheduling posts. When posting directly on Twitter.com, an error message will instantly appear if the server is overloaded. These sort of notifications are often unavailable with a third-party tool. For a tool to be used consistently, it must be solidly reliable. Errors made by a tool when posting, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, can make the brand in question appear incompetent. Posting errors are unacceptable when a content calendar has been signed off on, or when a post’s effectiveness relies on its timeliness.

3.) NO MOBILE APP

Furthermore, many tools do not have mobile app versions. For a community manager on the go, this is absolutely essential. If I think of a brilliant tweet on a Saturday afternoon at the park (and c’mon, when are they not brilliant?), I want to whip out my phone and quickly post it before the thought slips away. Sure, I could use the Twitter app, but most social tools insist that you post from their platform at all times. You must stay faithful to the platform at all times in order for it to work correctly, and confusion can ensue when you stray from the path. Social tools must work in harmony with the social networks the sync with—and they must be offered on a variety of platforms (iPad, iPhone, Andorid, etc).

4.) AWKWARD INTERFACE

Although native social media sites are becoming increasingly complicated in terms of new functionality and services, their design still remains clean, user-friendly and well thought out. Social media tools, however, tend to be rather clunky and outdated. They simply cannot keep up with fast-moving, well-staffed platforms that have time to spend on user experience, design and flow. These tools are not as intuitive as they should be, and most people will not bother to go through a complicated training process to master them. The flow and interface of a social tool must at least be up par with the networks their potential users access on a daily basis.

5.) NEW FEATURES NOT SUPPORTED

Facebook introduces new features and functionality often. Since most companies developing 3rd party social tools for the platform are quite tiny, and given the unpredictable nature of Facebook’s updates, any Page management solution outside Facebook will inevitably lag behind and lack functionality for a good while. For example: direct messaging between Pages and consumers—a now-vital feature added the new Facebook Pages Timeline update—hasn’t been integrated into most 3rd party social tools, but it is yet another space (if enabled, which it should be) that must be monitored by community managers. This means that a community manager still has to spend time on the Facebook platform. And if you are going to be checking direct messages (through their new Admin Panel, which now acts as a built-in “hub”), then you might as well check recently activity on your Timeline. And respond to comments made on your photos. Soon enough, even the most competent social tool falls by the wayside. Developers: keep up with the times!

Still, many clients require that a listening/responding/reporting tool be used by whoever they’ve entrusted to manage their social presence. They may want access themselves, or the ability to approve copy and check statistics in real time. And community managers like myself also want a more robust solution—but a slow, cumbersome platform that lacks the features and interface necessary for great audience management will cause more problems and burn more time than it ever saves. The tools that are robust, full-featured and up-to-date are also—naturally—the most expensive to license, making them largely out of reach to the average social media professional. Popular freemium tools impress, but lack that extra bit of professionalism that’s needed to be taken seriously as enterprise-level solutions.

This much is true: there’s no single tool available that’s trusted by and readily available to community managers everywhere. Will this change? Will platforms like Facebook and Twitter eventually develop their own fully integrated software for social media professionals? Only time will tell.

Which social media tools do you use? What functionality would you like to see in a tool?

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  • joelovell2

    The Awareness Social Marketing Hub is pretty good! Have you had a look at it at all? There is no mobile app, but we are assured that this is something in Awareness’ roadmap.

  • http://spudart.org/ spudart

    I would love to be able to schedule posts on Google Plus. Often I’ll have a bunch of things I want to post, but I don’t want to overload my audience with a lot at once.

    It would be nice to have scheduling of Facebook Pages too. I know hootsuite can schedule Facebook posts, but then you have that big “posted by hootsuite” logo by your post making it seem like it was just an automated post from an RSS feed. Then again, I haven’t tried the hootsuite/facebook posting since the pages were redesigned. Maybe it’s less glaring now.

  • Katie_Edmondson

    Hi there,

    Social tools are definitely lagging in the Google Plus department; many of them don’t post to this platform, which is unfortunate for brands and people who use it!

    With the new Facebook Timeline format, the “posted via” copy is just as prominent, if not more so because the posts themselves are larger. And you wouldn’t want anything to seem automated or non-human – very off-putting. Personalization and humanness are super important in the social sphere!

    Katie

  • Katie_Edmondson

    Hey Joe,

    Yes, we have explored Awareness. The lack of mobile app was an issue, but the dashboard itself was also pretty clunky. For example, it is also impossible to “Like” a single comment on a photo or a single post on the Timeline. These kind of timesavers are imperative for a good social tool.

    Katie

  • http://twitter.com/DanHesmondhalgh Dan Hesmondhalgh

    Hi Katie, nice article and very true! Have you come across Conversocial previously?

    We’re preferred developer partners of Facebook which means we’re told as soon as there is any new functionality (we were the first tool to integrate direct messages – less than 24 hours after Facebook had released the API).

    The only one of your 5 points I’d say we’re not getting top marks on just yet is the mobile app, though this is in the pipeline…

    I’d agree that no one app is able to do everything a community manager is looking for at the moment, but would say that when it comes to a reliable and straightforward tool for engagement Conversocial is doing ok ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523631589 Lynette Chiang

    If third party tools really want to be helpful, they’ll post without trumpeting their own logo. A bit like no-one knew that Chipotle was owned by McDonald’s. And Speaking of impersonal, I’ve never understood the nature of the Facebook “Poke.” It seems the antithesis of being social and connected, and when anyone poked me my instinctive reaction was one of annoyance and NOT to poke them back. Now, if they had a range of options like “beat with a twig,” “jab in the eye with a hot stick,” “pummel with a Pomeranian” – then I would have come to the party!

  • superior marketingllc

    Superb
    document! There can never
    ever ever
    take
    place to
    be enough
    content
    such
    as this mainly
    because
    any
    individual really
    should know
    what they’re
    going to talk
    with reference to…
     

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=756246039 Shahab Zargari

    Supposedly a lot of people are into Sprout Social. Any likes/dislikes with their tool specifically? 

  • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

    Totally agree Lynette (and I actually had no idea that McDonald’s owned Chipotle). I get the need for branding, but if you’re paying for the solution then you shouldn’t have to advertise it at the same time. I’m sure it has to do with Facebook and Twitter’s requirements to show where the post has come from, but tools should make it SUPER DUPER EASY to make this change. 

  • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

    I tried it. Was good looking but ran into some of the problems Katie outlines above. I’m still wishing for a tool that allows me to monitor my channels, or at least Twitter (a la Hootsuite) from within the tool. I don’t want to go to one place to work on my content and then load up Tweetdeck, Seesmic or Hootsuite to actually see my streams. And no, the ability to import lists isn’t enough. I need the expansive dashboard. 

  • Katie_Edmondson

    Hi there, Dan. I haven’t had much experience with Conversocial, so I can’t say whether or not it would fit our needs. It looks like it has a cool automatic prioritization tool, although I tend to think that only humans can really judge whether a comment needs to be hidden, escalated or addressed. Our clients get a ton of “general noise” comments – and we don’t want to filter it out cause we love it! We usually try to converse with users casually, not just as customer service reps, which means the dashboard look and feel is super-important. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Katie_Edmondson

    Amen. The only thing brands should have to “advertise” on their social networks is themselves. And even then, only in moderation!

  • http://twitter.com/DanHesmondhalgh Dan Hesmondhalgh

    Hey, thanks Katie. Our prioritization engine makes it quicker and easier for our clients to process content by picking up the vast majority of the comments or tweets that need responding to. We’re never going to pick absolutely everything up though so the ‘general noise’ still gets pulled into the inbox, just not the priority queue. We allow you to then manually sift through this content, archiving content away and responding to the comments that need a response, giving a clear visibility of what is outstanding and what has been dealt with.
    Conversocial’s dashboard is designed to be simple and intuitive – we also give a full conversation history for each user, useful for maintaining ongoing ‘casual’ conversations with users over time (I agree a more informal and personal tone of voice is so important in social)

    Let me know if you’d like any more info :)