Most small business owners know that using social media effectively can increase sales, customer service and success. Ask them which tools create the strongest digital marketing efforts, though, and that confidence wanes.

Indeed, which ones are the best?

Well, it depends. There’s no one gauge. But, there are a few essential ground rules to apply in selecting social media management tools. This piece will discuss how. It builds on ideas presented here (a post authored recently by Brett Relander, which features a great infographic, too.)

In this post, we’ll discuss how a small business owner or entrepreneur can specifically select the best tools to manage social media to customize the management of digital outreach so it aligns with the management of the business.

Even intuitively, that makes sense. But doesn’t that take an agency or full-time social media manager to do? The answer is that business owners, themselves — who know most intimately, the focus, growth and goals of the enterprises they run — can do this.

But they need clear guidance and then some simple steps to take.

Goals first. Then tools.

As many entrepreneurs know, unchecked, the process of managing social media can swallow time like a black hole gobbles gas in outer space. That is especially likely when the social media goals are not clear and specific.

It’s a common misstep: starting at the end. Asking which tool is not the first question. What you want it to do and why makes more sense.

Tip #1:  Don’t assess any tools until your social media goals are specific and related to your business objectives.

This will not only help you manage your time, it will also force you to articulate what you want to achieve from your social media efforts.

Is is more customers? Which ones? New buyers? Or, repeat purchasers?

Is it more sales? Of which products? Through what purchase channel?

These questions might sound simple, but answering them is not that easy. It requires clarity of purpose. They are related, strategically and directly, to the health and growth of nearly any business.

Social media should always help a business owner meet already established and sound objectives. Starting with social media and working backwards is a black hole waiting to expand and waste time and resources and spew frustration in its wake.

Simplify the job

With a clear sense of what a business owner wants social media efforts to do, then it’s time to turn to the topic of prospective tools. That part is much easier, now. Why?

The desired result from the digital marketing and other online efforts is clear. Search only among tools that can do that. This automatically eliminates many options that wouldn’t work, but could’ve become distractions. In other words, it narrows choices of “shiny new things” to only those that can meet an existing need!

Tip #2:  Do shrink the population of prospects to tools targeted to advance the business goal, or goals, selected.

Okay, but how do time-strapped business owners figure out how to whittle down the intimidatingly huge options to a smaller, customized set?

web-engine searches will help you find the best tools

Finding the best social media management tools doesn’t require expensive software or a ton of time.

Start with the way most people find information on anything in the non-virtual world: by searching the Internet!

Type into a Google search (which is my preferred search engine) one of the business objectives selected in the first step. Then, add applicable words or phrases, such as “social media” and “tools” and “apps.”

Think that sounds too easy to work? Well, have a look…In less than a second, Google found more than 500 million suggestions — many of them social media tools. Yes, this requires further inquiry about the tools’ performance, functionality and other attributes — to shrink the pool of winning prospects. That’s what next tip discusses.

Filter and crowdsource

The aim, at this point, is to be super efficient. Take advantage of other users’ insights and experiences. Scan reviews to see why the others liked a tool. Why waste time? Zero in on only those that offer insight on pertinent performance aspects.

Think of it like the filtering a search: add specifications so the options shrink, again, but get even closer to a match. It’s like looking not only for good Italian restaurants, but one that is cheap, nearby and has great chicken parmesan.

Tip #3:  Do look for ratings on tools with extensive user experience, that are free or low cost and whose functionality will advance the business goal.

For instance, let’s say the goal is to increase repeat customers. Business owners can save time by disregarding reviews on digital tools aimed at customer service that don’t directly address functionality and performance around that specific area.

Don’t shoot for a complete or perfect scan. Two broad guidelines for this stage: Business owners should focus on tools available for free, with many reviews (crowd-sourcing almost always increases the accuracy of data) about functionality that directly relates to their goal.

Testing is next

The process, so far, has been designed to save time and also deliver. Now, it’s time to verify the tool selected really is one of the best.

Download, open and explore. See how easy it is to track data. Use it in-house. Is it simple? Does it do what it’s supposed to?

Most important, will this tool advance the business objective driving its selection in the first place?

Tip #4:  Don’t forget to check that the homework paid off and the tool really does rock!

Best case scenario is: Yes! But, the process prevents a worst case. A ready source of alternatives should be ready to try, instead, based on the steps followed up until this point.

Real-life case

This post was inspired when a client recently asked me about choosing a new social media management tool.

This client is a nonprofit. So, cost was a crucial criterion. And, it wanted to make sure it got a winner. A do-over, after the adjustments are in place and the staff trained, is the worst kind of waste of time, energy and resources. Plus, this post shows it’s possible to choose the best social media management tools simply and swiftly. 

By creating, and then walking them through these steps, we selected the free version of Hubspot’s Sidekick tool to give the nonprofit much better intelligence about its email marketing. Data such as: What was getting opened, where, by whom, how many times, and which links got opened, too. 

Sidekick gives website dashboard-like analytics through simple notifications. At a glance, very likely donors or volunteers are easier to spot, now. Staff at the nonprofit can eyeball the likely prospects — by scanning the specific data regarding interactions with the email marketing appeal sent.

Also, the tracking of the data can be turned off or on by checking a box. So email messages that don’t need close scrutiny don’t get tracked. Simple.

Most importantly, this low cost tool met the business objective: finding easier, no-cost, and more efficient ways to target the best prospects on their email lists.

If that part of the process still seems hard to pin down, here are posts about tips and tools aimed at using digital marketing and social media to achieve specific business objectives, such as more sales or loyal customers.

Also, this infographic, created with Canva, shows the tips in succession.

this infographic shows the steps for picking the best social media management tools

Follow these steps to pick the best tools