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Social media has changed the marketing game in ways that were imaginable just ten years ago. In an age where traditional advertising is no longer the golden ticket it once was, community management and social engagement have emerged as some of the best ways to reach an increasingly resistant consumer.

But perhaps the sheer number of social networks to manage and keep up with has become a bit of overkill for both consumers and brands. While the average consumer will not feel a need to be on every social network that’s out there, brands have little choice. To reach the most prospects, they must try to connect on as many platforms as possible.

And that’s where it can get tricky. Posting messages, responding to comments, analyzing the impact and return from your social media efforts can be daunting without the right tools. And there are as many social media management tools as there are social networks. Today we will run the rule on the top five. Your choice will, presumably, depend on your individual needs.

· Buffer

The first real social media management tool, Buffer will always be in front of the queue for some people. If you are looking to test the waters with a tool with a clean interface then Buffer is a good stop to make. The Buffer dashboard allows you add and remove social networks, as well as connect your profiles and pages. One of its biggest selling points is its image creation tool, Pablo, which allows you to create images for your posts.

The next tab is the Content tab, from which you choose the social networks you want to post to. Once done with that you can then craft your post, and insert links from the same page. Buffer is probably the best tool out there for staggering your posts’ publishing schedule across different social networks.

You can choose to quickly hop over to the Scheduling Tab and assign a posting schedule for your post. This tab enables you to set an automatic and daily posting schedule. The tool’s algorithm can also determine the best posting times for your posts. The Analytics Tab will help monitor your posts performance and to streamline your social engagement efforts.

From the settings Tab you can add and change accounts, as well as add and remove team members who can access your social media accounts. You can also shorten links from there and get a few more characters’ space to make your posts more comprehensive. Buffer operates a free plan with limited features and a premium plan that unlocks even more features.

· HootSuite

A more like for like substitute for Buffer, but perhaps suitable for a more evolved social media manager, HootSuite is one of the most popular tools on the market. And for good reason at that! The HootSuite platform has some of the best content publishing features with scope for a publishing schedule across 25 different social networks. The posts themselves can be targeted for time zones, language, and location. This enables a deeper connection with each target audience.

The HootSuite interface allows members in your team to access the account and respond to messages and keep up to date with mentions and comments from your network. There is a free plan available, but if you are looking for more detailed reports and fancier features you should consider upgrading to the pro plan.

· Sprout Social

After you have tried most of the more popular tools and are now looking for something more in depth this could be the tool to try. Besides giving you a bit more analytics data to work with, the interface itself is more detailed. However, it is probably not as clean and would require people who have had a bit of experience with the other tools.

On your right will be all the linked social networks and the team members working together to manage them. Just above, on the horizontal menu, are tabs for messages, tasks, and feeds, as well as your analytics reports. But it is the discovery tab that sets Sprout Social apart. The tab enables you to check who has followed and mentioned you in their posts and interactions. From there you can also search for people to follow and deepen your social reach.

The publishing tab can be accessing on the top horizontal bar as well. The tab does more of the same as most other tools. You can draft posts, shorten links and images and make a publishing schedule. The left side of the interface lets you get a deeper insight into your audience by breaking down their demographic profiles. It details the impressions you have made that week and lifts the lid on trending topics.

· Percolate

We like Percolate for its superior content curation capabilities. It perhaps owes its place on this list to that single capability. The tool’s content suggestion tool, the Brew, trawls the web to find and suggest content that it feels your followers could be interested in. This enables you to share targeted content to enrich your engagement with followers.

Another smart feature is its marketing calendar from which you can schedule content for publishing across different social networks. From the same calendar you can track and interact with team members and collaborate on pending posts. The content publishing tab has a link to Getty images and a gateway to your own media storage. The published posts can thus be as visually appealing as possible.

· Spredfast

While providing the usual content publishing and scheduling capabilities, it is with the analytics reports where Spredfast has really set the standard. Its analytics are easily superior than those from the other tools. Apart from being more advanced, the reports are presented in formatted graphics that are easy to understand. The reports can be exported for further review and sharing.

Content can be created, scheduled, and published across several social networks. The tool goes a step further to suggest an optimal publishing time, in keeping with your audience’s demographic makeup and location. This will help to maximize reach and avoid posts being published when followers are unlikely to be online. You can easily monitor how your posts are performing so you can make necessary adjustments to upcoming posts.

The Bottom Line

There really is no point doing it all alone now. Besides doing a far better job at curating and publishing content, monitoring, and reporting, social media management tools make it a breeze to manage multiple social channels from the same portal. With new social networks sprouting up all the time, managing the task would be progressively harder. Managing them all individually will quickly prove a futile exercise.

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