As 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?