As any business owner will tell you, time is money and often you don't have much of either! My dilemma with social media is that I absolutely see the value and understand the need to use social media. I understand the need to approach it with a strategic mindset rather than as and when you feel like posting. I also have barely enough time to sleep as it is, let alone spending more hours on social media! When I do have time to manage my social profiles, it's often in short bursts - an hour here or there, share an article as and when I come across it, see what is going on and respond, but I've never really managed to accomplish a regular, sustained presence on social media channels.
I tried out a few systems I had come across before to see what had changed (and I was quite surprised to see that in several, not an awful lot had changed!) but then I came across Sprout Social. I'd heard someone mention Sprout Social before, so when it popped up on my radar I had a vague recollection of someone saying I should try it out. There was a free trial too, so what did I have to lose!
Ease of use
My first impressions were of a fairly easy to use interface that guided me fairly quickly to add my various accounts. I was disappointed to see that there was not any support for posting to Google+ personal profiles (only pages), but that is largely due to the API availability rather than Sprout Social, from what I understand. The next feature which I found pretty neat was the integration with Google Reader (and yes, I know it's being deprecated - and they are introducing support for Feedly which is pretty awesome!) - this allows me to see all posts of interest in one stream, but also to drill down into the individual feeds and my categories.
I've also had reason to contact the support team a few times, and I have to say it's been a very positive experience. There's always someone on LiveChat, and the ticketing system works seamlessly.
Having the feed reader integrated means that I can read all kinds of content in one place, from which I can share out to my social media streams - I also use several AllTop RSS feeds to pick up new and interesting material. As I am interested in quite a lot of areas, the categorisation works really well - I can either just scroll through the feed, or if I am looking for something specifically relating to Joomla! I can filter down to my Joomla! feeds.
Sharing content is where Sprout Social comes into its own. Not only can you share and schedule posts with ease, but you can also use the integrated feed reader to find content and queue posts up to share throughout the day. You set in your account profile how many times during the day you want to send queued messages (and I was pleased to see it has a ceiling of 5 times per day) and then you can select the times at which the messages will be sent. I'm not a big fan of automation, due to the fact that some people only use automated messages which is both boring and unnatural, but in my case it allows me to spend an hour or so in the morning (usually still in my PJs!) reading through the latest news, and rather than share everything there and then, I can schedule posts throughout the day.
The first thing this has done is meant that I have some structure. Every morning, I go through this routine of looking for new stories, reading interesting updates, and considering what I might want to share. It also means that because I know how much I can get done in that time, I work very efficiently. I find useful information which I can flag to read in more depth later, share there and then, or queue for later. I might pop on during the day to see if there are any new stories (and how easy is it now that I just come to one central place!) and if I find something useful during the day, more often than not I'll share it when I come across it, but the queue feature has definitely meant I am becoming more consistent with my social media activity.
One thing I'd never even considered before was the time I take to respond to messages on social media - if you were to ask me, I'd have no idea. I certainly couldn't tell you whether we were quicker responding on one account or channel than another. With Sprout Social I now have some fantastic metrics which tell me exactly that - what is my average response time on each of my social accounts? Does this change on different days? How many messages did I have this week, and how many new followers? How many posts do we make on average for our different social media channels?
All of these metrics are presented on a beautiful dashboard which is both easy to understand and simple to use.
Result = Increased Engagement!
Even after using Sprout Social for a week, and without significant changes in the time I dedicate to managing my social media, I have definitely brought some structure to my social media activity. I'm still really grumpy that personal Google+ posting isn't possible, and also that LinkedIn company updates aren't possible. I'm also exploring the keyword facility which alerts me in a message stream any time words of interest are mentioned - this has directly led to sales as I've picked up on people asking for help with Joomla!, and it's also helped with customer care as I've been able to respond to a range of customers across several social networks from one centralised stream.
It's also meant that I've been able to quickly pick up on new posts of interest, with tweets mentioning keywords being flagged for my attention, which has helped me find new resources quickly which may not pop up on my radar otherwise.
So, thus far I've had a very positive experience with Sprout Social, and I foresee it being a very useful tool for small business owners who want to take a strategic approach to their social media management while still managing their networks in-house. I'll let you know how I get on!