By Maria Chilcott. 3 min read
If you aren’t already using a social media scheduling tool, it could be because you just can’t decide which one to choose! There are soooo many of them available, it’s completely understandable!
Or maybe you’re not sure you actually need one? Let me make it easy for you: you do. A scheduling tool can not only help you use your time more efficiently (posting on SM is very good at sucking time out of our day!), it can also help you to be strategic in how you publish your content, so that you’re delivering the best mix of content to your audience.
Too expensive? Most scheduling tools have a paid subscription model, with many also offering a premium version, but there are some free ones available that might just have all the features you need, without the bells and whistles that you don’t.
When deciding which one, ultimately it’s about finding the tool that suits you best, including your budget, and has the features that you need.
Here are four of the most popular scheduling tools for not-for-profits and small businesses, and that we at the Content People like best.
Hootsuite is probably the best known and, like all the tools here, it offers automated publishing on several social media channels, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.
Hootsuite’s features range from the basics, like a calendar for scheduling posts, to using it to assign tasks to your team members, manage approvals, and even create a content library. The dashboard is quite intuitive (always a big plus), and the analytics are cross platform, so that you can see what’s working best on a number of different channels.
The more complex version will get you the listening tool to keep up with comments and at-mentions of your organisation or business across social channels.
Free option? Yes, it offers a free plan, although limited, with two social accounts and one user, and allowing for five scheduled posts at a time. So that might work well for a small one-person operation. Or the paid monthly plan has a not-so-pricey option, starting at $29 per month, for unlimited scheduling across ten social accounts, for one user. The higher-tiered (higher-priced) plans are suitable for teams and also offer robust analytics data.
Buffer is one of the more affordable, and flexible, scheduling tool options, so it’s especially appealing for not-for-profits and small businesses.
One of the key features of Buffer is indicated in its name. At the heart of Buffer is a queue of posts, also called a buffer. This allows you to build up a selection of relevant posts, which you can continue adding to, which can then be scheduled to go out at your designated time.
Buffer’s dashboard is simple and intuitive and, if Instagram is a priority for you, Buffer has an Instagram direct scheduling feature. It also has a social media calendar and RSS feed, social analytics, plus a video and GIF uploader and image creator (although these are on the paid plans).
Free option? Yes, Buffer’s free plan allows for three social accounts and one user, and you can schedule ten posts at a time. It’s a good free offering for not-for-profits with one user. The free plan also offers a calendar view, a link shortener, and Twitter hashtag suggestions. Their paid plans start at $5 per month, but it’s per channel, which gives you flexibility to build a more personalised plan. With that you’ll also get access to analytics, reports, and data storage.
I’ll be honest, Sprout Social is not going to appeal to those on a tight budget, but this is a scheduling tool that, if you’re able to pay, will give you some stand-out features that are worth paying for. Not only will it provide you with the usual scheduling automation but also allows for deeper insights and higher-level engagement with your customers, clients, or donors. Overall the Sprout Social interface is easy to navigate and the publishing calendar is user-friendly.
Sprout Social offers three levels of plan options, and at a basic level you can schedule your content across multiple social channels and view it in a content calendar, and you can schedule across five social media channels. The higher-paying levels offer some smart features like an all-in-one social inbox, analysis tools for Twitter hastags, and response rate analysis reports. For those who like even more data in their life, there are robust analytics and reports available, and you can even set demographic and geographic indicators to help measure how your content is performing with your audience. Another handy feature of Sprout Social is that if you’re short of content ideas, it offers you content suggestions and also includes an asset library.
There isn’t a free option with Sprout Social, but you can get a free 30-day trial. The (pricey) plans start at $99 a month, with the most expensive costing $249 a month, but it’s a powerful tool if you’re looking for the one with all the bells and whistles! It’s not for the faint hearted though, and you have to keep up with WordPress and plugin updates.
Meta Business Suite
If free is your only option, and/or your main focus for social media is FB and Instagram, then you could simply look no further than Facebook’s own scheduling tool. With the recent company name change, it’s now called the Meta Business Suite, and it’s likely got all the features you’ll need, and yes, it’s free. And of course, being integrated, you can view both of your FB and Instagram activity and insights side-by-side.
As well as scheduling posts to both Facebook and Instagram at the same time, you can manage and receive messages, notifications and alerts in the one place. The Unified Inbox is where you can see your direct messages from both accounts, so it’s easy to engage with your donors, clients or customers. I especially like the features here. You can not only read and respond to private messages from your Facebook page, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram account, but also create auto responses to help streamline the process. And you can assign responses to different admins if you have a team (lucky you!).
Don’t confuse the Meta Business Suite with the Creator Studio. That’s still there, to help you create the content, whereas the Business Suite will help you manage the way you publish your content. But if you’re stuck for content ideas, the Business Suite will highlight Stories from other brands similar to yours, so you can learn from them and be inspired.
The insights on the Facebook Business Suite are quite detailed, and include reports on the trends and performance for each account. You also get a view of organic and paid posts, and information about your audience on both platforms.
Of course the Meta Business Suite is limited to Facebook-owned properties, but can be a handy, free option. And even if you do have other channels you use, you could schedule those via a free option on one of the other scheduling tools here.
So too much choice, but I hope this helps narrow it down for you. If you’re still unsure, all the tools offer a free trial period, so you can try before you buy! Or try the free version first and you may just find that it has everything you need.
And as always, if you need some guidance with any of this, give us a call!