Thursday, November 17, 2011

Five Social Media Tools

Choosing the most useful tools from among the wildflower garden that makes up today's suite of social media services and software is a game with a moving goal line. For one thing, the way we use social media is evolving rapidly. Another factor is that the field is so new (in terms of human history with technology) that we're scarcely certain about what we need or what we want.

These five tools are the ones that I find that I use regularly today. If we talk about this in three months, I believe that my answers will change.


Social Oomph

This service allows you to post to several social media platforms from one place. It also allows you to manage multiple accounts readily. Most of all I find it useful that it allows you to schedule your posts to suit your news cycle and your perception of readers' availability and attention.

One thing I know doesn't work in social media is to log in intermittently, create a mini-flood of content and then log out, not to return for many days. On the other hand, it may not be possible to be logged in constantly, or especially to be logged in right when you have important news to share.  Social Oomph allows you to work when you need to, and to have your posts and updates appear when you think they will do the most good.

Other tools that provide similar functionality: Hoot Suite, Tweetdeck, and Feed Burner

Bitly

This is one of the earliest of the class of services known as URL shorteners. The idea (described elsewhere in this blog, here and here.) is to present an address that is either shorter than the original link (useful for shared Google documents for instance, or for deep links into a blog or website) or that can be easily remembered.

Bitly allows you to take a URL and generate a short random link that will fit more readily into a limited message frame such as a Twitter update. It also offers the ability to customize the link so that it can be easily spoken.  (For instance, it's much easier to direct someone verbally to http://bit.ly/actors-sandbox than the original URL - https://sites.google.com/a/schoolhouseearth.org/tutorial--sites/Home/actors-sandbox)

One last thing that is very useful with such a service is the analytics provided to allow you to see the traffic generated by mentions of the URL in various contexts.

Other tools that provide similar functionality: is.gd, tinyurl, goo.gl

Tweetdeck

This tool was once the very best choice for managing and reading Twitter traffic. Its layout allows you to monitor several streams of twitter content at one time. It now also allows you to manage updates from multiple accounts (very valuable to social media and marketing professionals) and to delay the release of updates in a fashion similar to Social Oomph.

Now Tweetdeck is a part of Twitter and it continues to evolve. There are other platforms that perform a similar function and it may be that you'd find one of them to be equally effective. I find that Tweetdeck is still my first choice for how to read Twitter.

Other tools that provide similar functionality: HootSuite, Seesmic

Google Docs and Google Calendar

We don't usually talk about Google Apps as part of the social media fabric, but I find that we use these two parts of it extensively. Shared Google docs have so rapidly become commonplace collaboration tools that Microsoft found itself compelled to offer similar functionality built right into their Office product.

The thing to look for in this class of service is your ability to own and reclaim your data. Google makes it easy for you to take your content and download it to your local IT plant. If you consider other alternatives, just make sure that you an retrieve your content and move it to another platform readily. Microsoft does not have a good track record on this account.


Other tools that provide similar functionality: Zoho, ThinkFree


This is another service that is not often linked to discussions about social media, but it is a powerful tool for keeping in touch with your network. In addition to the two things that everyone thinks of when they hear of Skype (voice and video conferencing), Skype's ability to allow screen sharing, instant messaging (and instant messaging with groups,) make this utility a go-to app on my desktop and my mobile platform.

Two unexpected benefits of having Skype include birthday reminders and integration with Growl to allow you to see when your contacts come and go online. I've often thought that Growl is sort of like a worldwide water cooler that allows you to see your colleagues drop into the workplace, or notice when they check out. (I don't know if Growl is part of the Skype experience on Windows.)

Other tools that provide similar functionality: Google Plus Hangouts


Conclusion

There are dozens of new and emerging tools that help you manage your social media presence (or that of your brand). Many of them may prove to be valuable, but expect that many of them are poorly conceived efforts to get you signed up for a monthly subscription fee.

Before you sign up to give your money away to a technology startup with a bright idea about how to provide something useful in the social media fabric, see how much of the service they're willing to show you outside of the pay wall. See what your friends are saying about the service, and in this realm, it's okay to be skeptical at first.

Not every sprout in this field is destined to grow up into a lovely blossoming plant with utility that you reach for every day.

Come back in three months and I'll tell you what I think at that time. There's certain to be something new to say about this.