Bringing a business onto social media in a meaningful way can be a scary prospect. Social media gurus and ninjas are in ready supply and willing to help, but the wide variety of best practices and 'secret sauces' make it hard to know exactly what will work for you.
While most of the platforms are free, social media can get expensive very quickly. The tab will likely include consultants, agencies, community managers and advertising.
There are also tools to consider. Industry-leading social-media and Internet-monitoring tools can easily cost $5,000 a month to listen in on what's being said about your brand.
Because so much of social media success comes from trial and error, it is imperative to have a good grasp of analytics and metrics. Thankfully, the creative powers of the Internet have built some amazing free tools that can provide powerful insight into your company's social media activities.
Simply Measured offers a variety of free and paid tools to analyze social media performance through great-looking and easy-to-understand graphs and charts. Its free products include a Facebook content analysis, Facebook fan page report, Facebook competitive analysis and a Twitter follower report for any public Facebook fan page with fewer than 250,000 fans or Twitter handle fewer than 10,000 followers.
Facebook administrators can also link their page insights to Simply Measured for an infographic-style report based on the rough data.
Twitter can also be difficult to measure, as companies of all sizes from all industries are trying to centralize the discussion around a particular event, product or announcement with Twitter hashtags.
If they catch on, hashtags can be difficult to track with Twitter's built in functionality. That's where services like HashTracking can be handy.
Its free version will track up to 1,000 results for a hashtag and produce a high-level view of who was participating in the discussion and how much, as well as offer a breakdown of tweets, @mentions and retweets.
Engagement tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck provide functionality and analytics above and beyond what's available from the social networks themselves, making them the tools of choice for many community managers.
Crowdbooster, an emerging player in this sector, is also free (for one Facebook page and one Twitter account) and provides a full suite of insights.
Crowdbooster includes a recommendations function that gives you advice on what you can do to improve and optimize your approach to social media. It will suggest peak times for posting and influencers to pursue based on your data.
Just this week, Google Analytics announced that it is adding new reports to measure and analyze social media activities and how they drive value for a business.
Housed on the same platform that so many website owners are familiar with, these new tools will give users a better view of traffic coming from social sites, understand social activities happening on and off of their sites, and provide additional social media data points to inform marketing efforts.
As with many other things, there is a certain element of "you get what you pay for" with social media tools. The major players offer full-time customer service and dedicated account reps to help you get the most out of their products, and some of them are remarkably powerful.
If you're willing to put some extra work into researching what's out there, you will be able to combine some of these great free tools to create a custom solution that can work for you.
And rest assured, if you can't get exactly seek for free, the growth of social media makes it likely that there is a team of developers out there working on it right now.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.
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