Turns out I listened to @hanelly' s advice on digging into my work to find blog inspiration. In the process of trying to leave Hinda on as good of a note as I can, I dug through and wrote out what I do on different social network platforms. Then I thought, "why not blog about it too?" Outside of my day job, I've spoken to several people in small businesses who are wanting to get started in social media. Two barriers to entry include a time and money scarcity. The beauty of social is that you can do a lot of cool stuff for free. However, if you want to jump into something a little more professional looking, it's going to cost you a bit of money to get in there.

From my own experience, I've found several free or really cheap brand monitoring and content creation tools that are great resources for jumping in with. Hopefully this will help some of you all as well (or at least know someone who may want a brief roundup).

For Blogging...

Squarespace

I used to run this blog on Squarespace and still have Hinda's blog through the site. If you want a clean, professional looking blog that you can customize without knowing any code, this is a great place to start. The platform is extremely user-friendly and has a lot of custom widget options for social media, HTML, RSS imports and contact pages. I've blogged about it before on Brain Wads before. It's not a free platform but the cost is fairly minimal. You can host and map your own custom URL in a very simple process. The service has several really cool templates, killer built-in analytics, great mobile apps and excellent customer service. I believe its the easiest thing to host on.

Wordpress

I currently host my blog on Wordpress but not the free wordpress.com version. If you want a free blog with a decent amount of templates, wordpress.com is a good place to start. My mom hosts her blog on it and has been quite happy with it so far. It provides decent analytics, several theme options that rotate, and a easy-to-use dashboard. The only drawback is that, with the free version, you can't host your own custom URL on it (unless you web-map the URL to your wordpress.com address on your server).  If you have enough tech skill (which isn't a ton) to go through a domain host and set up a Wordpress.org blog using a custom theme, then it's an amazing tool. Wordpress offers an insane amount of plugins to make your page stand out. It just takes a bit more money and time to do it that way.

Blogger

I used Blogger (Google's blog platform) way back in 2008 when I was on a summer project in Gatlinburg. Outside of that, I haven't used it much but from what I have seen it's not my favorite. However, they did just re-launch a new version of it that's supposed to be really cool. Anybody have any good info to share on that? Let me know in the comments...

Social Monitoring

This is where things actually have a shot at being expensive. There are some dynamic monitoring services out there that are really cool but require a decent amount of investment. If you're a large enterprise, then things like Radian 6 are worth looking into. However, if you're a small shop, these things are good too. I wrote not that long ago about Sprout Social, which is my favorite tool for the money. You can read more about that by clicking here. In addition, here are a few other tools:

Postling

For overall brand monitoring, this is my favorite free tool so far. It's a web app that allows you to plug in your Facebook fan page, Twitter account, blog (Wordpress, Blogger, Tumblr or Squarespace), and even track keywords....all for free. You can compose blogs from inside the app so that there's hardly even a reason to leave the site. If you have one user monitoring one brand, it's perfect. They do however have paid tiers if your social monitoring needs exceed the free version. I ran Hinda's stuff out of it for a long time without ever really needing the upgrade. Even still, the premium versions are fairly cheap. There's a cool infographic on "why Postling?" found here.

Hootsuite

This isn't quite as comprehensive as Postling in regards to covering all the bases but it does have some really cool features. You can monitor multiple social media accounts (minus a blog), schedule posts and even track analytics to see which posts get the most clicks when and even compare that data with your Google Analytics data...all within their dashboard. Users can even save streams of certain keyword and brand lookups to monitor conversation outside the fan/follower stream to help build an audience.

Other Cool Tools

Timley App

Found at http://timely.is and created by Flowtown, Timely allows you to schedule Twitter posts in accordance to when your account is statistically more likely to get retweets, clicks and replies. I've only played around with it but if you're into the occasional automated brand message, it's an easy tool to use.

Pagemodo

One of the necessities for Facebook Fan Pages is a custom landing page. This is your first impression for non-fans but unless you have a designer or ability to code a page, this may be easier said than done for some. Pagemodo offers a free application for Pages that allows you to build one custom landing page based off of an easy-to-design template. You can get more extensive with designs but that's when it starts costing some money, though the costs are minimal.

Also, if you build a fan page for a business with only one location, be sure to merge your Places page with your Fan page. Aggregates all of your brand activity into one spot. Good stuff. We did that with Hinda's Fan Page.

ContactMe

If you have a small customer database you want to keep up with, this is a great tool. It's like a really watered down version of Salesforce.com. You can track emails, messages, tasks and notes per contact all in this app. ContactMe also has a cool Facebook page integration to help collect more leads and automatically dump them in your database.

There are several other tools but those are some just to get you started. What are some other tools out there that I left out?

Enhanced by Zemanta