social media tools

Using Hashtags on Social Media: The How, When, and Why

Today’s post comes from my friend, Jennifer Wilder. Jen is a social media marketing pro, and a constant source of information and inspiration. She’s the first person I turn to when I have questions, and she even set me up on Smarterqueue last year, so that most of social media is automated.

Using hashtags is something I frequently talk to people about when they’re working on their social media strategy. Too many cause-focused organizations seem to leave them off completely, but they can be a great tool for helping new people find you. Otherwise, those already in your tribe will be the only ones to see your post . . . and still only a percentage of them. (Thanks, algorithms!)

So, do yourself a favor and read up on why hashtags should be a part of your social media strategy. This post is #allthethings when it comes to using hashtags, so be sure to bookmark it for referencing again later!

Using Hashtags on Social Media: The How, When, and Why

Are hashtags a part of your social media strategy? Do you even know what a hashtag is? Hashtags are a means of finding conversations in social media around desired topics. They are keywords preceded by the hash (#) or pound mark. Within social media platforms, hashtags are clickable, so that you can find all posts that include the hashtag on which you clicked. 

These small indicators within your social posts can start conversations, attract customers or donors, and change public sentiment. Are they powerful tools? When used strategically, you better believe it.

 

The Power of Hashtags

We’ve all seen that picture of someone holding up a coffee cup in front of a clear blue sky accompanied by hashtags like: #love #coffee or even #instagram. How effective do you think those hashtags are in helping someone get discovered on social media? Here’s a hint: not at all. But there are hashtags that could be used with that picture that would drive engagement and possibly attract customers or donors

When we think of hashtag strategy, we most commonly think of Twitter and Instagram. Recently, though, LinkedIn increased their promotion of hashtag use on their platform by allowing users to search and follow hashtags through a feature called “Your Communities.” In addition, you can pin hashtags so that posts within that topic appear first in your LinkedIn feed. When searching hashtags, there is also a new discover feature that shows how many people are following that hashtag, as well as various features to dive deeper into insights surrounding searched hashtags.  

Another platform that is now embracing and promoting hashtag use is Pinterest, where up to 20 hashtags are allowed per pin.

Though the capability for using hashtags exists on Facebook, they are not recommended unless you are posting from an event with only the event hashtag so that the event organizers can find you and possibly reuse your post—taking into consideration that you must change your privacy settings to public for those specific posts.

The space in your social media posts is precious, so let’s use that space to find customers and donors. Here’s what you need to know about hashtags to enhance your posts, as well as search out potential supporters.

 How to Find Hashtags for Your Business

  • Create a list of keywords (or common words) associated with your organization and mission—these are the things that you want to be known for. Some examples include nonprofit, social enterprise, modern slavery, homelessness, or social impact. It’s likely those keywords are already being used as hashtags, so give them a search on Twitter or Instagram. You’ll want to scroll through each hashtag to determine if the conversation around each keyword is a conversation you want to enter.

  • Hashtags should not include spaces or punctuation. If you wish, you can camel capitalize—capitalizing the first letter of each word—a hashtag for easier reading, like this: #ThisIsCamelCaps

  • As you search keywords as hashtags, look to see what other hashtags people are using. Perhaps some of the keywords they’re using would better resonate with your potential customers, or should also be used by your organization.

  • Search for other people or other organizations that are like yours, in your industry, or that are the type of organization you want to become. Read through their social posts to find hashtags not already on your list.

  • Once you have a large list of hashtags, you’ll want to know a little bit about each. Search each hashtag on the respective platform noting how many posts are using that hashtag, and noting the types of images that are most popular. You will also want to pay attention to context. Does the hashtag mean what you think it means on the Internet? It might not.

  • When using hashtags for Instagram, be sure to use a variety of counts. Meaning, use a few hashtags that have 250,000 to 350,000 posts; use a few that have 100,000 to 250,000; use a few that have 50,000 to 100,000, and a few that are less than 50,000.

  • Broad subject keywords with 350,000+ posts are not going to get you seen by potential customers or donors. With that number of posts on a hashtag, the posts are coming so fast that your post will constantly be pushed down the feed, getting very little eyeballs on it. That’s why it’s best to use a variety of post counts on each hashtag, not using those over about 350,000. An example would be #event, which is extremely general and won’t help you gain any traction.

  • If you have a storefront, or if you are serving a particular region of the country, then you want to be sure to include hashtags that are location specific.

  • If you want to work with or get noticed by particular brands or organizations, use their personal hashtags. Many times organizations create their own that they use often within their social media, which you can likely find by viewing their Twitter or Instagram accounts. Since hashtags can’t be owned or sponsored by any company, you are free to use their hashtags to get their attention, or to align yourself with their message. Use this tactic mindfully—hitting their hashtag too often with irrelevant content is off-putting. A popular example of this is #EndItMovement, which is used by not only the End It Movement itself, but partners and people who are trying to raise the awareness of modern-day slavery.

  • If you choose to use the maximum number of hashtags allowed on Instagram—which is 30!—sprinkle in a few hashtags that are funny, or that share additional funny commentary about the image you’re posting. Going back to the picture of the coffee cup that I referenced, you could add the hashtag, #NeedISayMore, to show off your brand’s personality.

  • Using all 30 hashtags on Instagram may seem excessive if this is a new process to you, but you’re already doing the work of posting, so why not use the opportunity to be seen by more people?

  • Once you have a list of hashtags you want to use, you can rotate through them with each post. If you prefer, you could create a different, or customized, batch of hashtags for each day of the week that you’re posting. Use the notes feature on your smartphone to keep track of your hashtag list. Then copy/paste into the first comment on Instagram.

 How to Use Hashtags in Your Social Media Posts 

On Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, it’s more acceptable to use hashtags within the body of the post more so than it is on Instagram.

Just be sure to pay attention to hashtag limits on each platform.

  • For Instagram, 30 hashtags can be used for posts appearing in your feed.

  • For Twitter, there’s only a limit to how many characters you can tweet, which is now 280. However, a maximum of three hashtags is recommended, and can be used in the body of the copy or added to the end of the copy.

  • For Pinterest, 20 hashtags are allowed for each pin, though 10 is considered optimal. Frequent users of Pinterest use three to five per post.

  • For LinkedIn, there is no limit to the number of hashtags that can be used, but pay attention to relevance and aesthetic. You don’t want to make your reader weary with a large amount of hashtags. And please note: While editing articles is allowed on LinkedIn, editing or removing hashtags within a published article is not allowed.

    For Instagram Stories, there is a hashtag sticker that will accommodate one hashtag. Additional hashtags can be added as a text block. You can then reduce that text block down by pinching together your fingers until it is barely seen. Or you can color the block of hashtag copy as the same color as your background using the eyedropper tool in the bottom left while within the editing block of the hashtag copy. Or, you can reduce the hashtag block and hide it behind a block of copy that you do want people to read. This would be done so that the hashtags don’t distract from the photo, video, or other content you’re highlighting in the Story.

Additionally, it’s common practice on Instagram to add hashtags in the first comment. The reason many people do this is to keep their captions looking neat and tidy. Another option is to use one dot on a line for five lines in order to push the hashtags down, either far away from the caption if they add them there, or to push them down from being seen in the first comment.

This can make for a cleaner, neater post on Instagram. However, if you’re going to use the one-dot-per-line method of paragraph breaks on Instagram, you can create your post content in the notes feature on your smartphone, and then copy/paste to Instagram since there isn’t a paragraph break button on that platform, or hit the period key and then enter repeatedly to manually create breaks.

When using an event hashtag on Facebook, be sure your posts are set to “public” so that event organizers can view your posts and possibly reuse them on their brand’s social accounts.

 

How to Use Hashtags to Create Connections and Find Potential Customers and Donors

From your master list of hashtags, choose one to search and scroll through. As you find posts and images that interest you, leave a genuine comment on that post—preferably 8-10 words.

Be sure your comment adds value to the post. This means you shouldn’t just drop a heart emoji or say “Nice job!” It’s unlikely anyone will check out your account or interact much with you without any effort on your part. And for bonus points, ask a question in order to start a conversation.

Because Pinterest is a discovery/search engine (they do not consider themselves a social platform), engagement on pins is not weighted the same way as it is on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn. Meaning, it’s unlikely to produce a lot of results. Pinterest isn’t a place you go to in order to interact with people and have conversations.

Next, if you find a post within a hashtag search that is getting good engagement with many comments, dig deeper into who is leaving those comments. Click the username of the person or business leaving the comment, go to their account, find a picture within the last three or four posted to their account and leave them a genuine comment.

Likewise, you can go to the account of a similar organization to your own, find a recent post with good engagement (multiple comments), and click through to the accounts of people leaving comments on their post. Then, leave a genuine comment on one of their recent posts.

What you’re doing in all of these instances is connecting with people, nonprofits, and social enterprises who have liked something similar to your own business—so why wouldn’t they want to follow you too and eventually buy from you?

Helpful Tools

If you’re still struggling to come up with the right hashtags for your brand, or simply need more options, check out Hashtagify.me. This site allows you to type in a keyword search term, and give you related options that people are already using.

Additionally, if you’re looking to add some oomph to your Instagram strategy, I recommend PeopleMap, which lets you track influencers, create lists, evaluate campaign engagement, and more.

Finally, posting on Instagram can definitely eat away at the time in your day. If that’s an issue for you, consider trying out a social media scheduler like Hootsuite, Later, Planoly, Smarterqueue, or any number of other options.



For what some may think of as a throw-away or a random portion of a social media post, the hashtag can be quite powerful when content creators take the time to be intentional and strategic.  

Now that you have this power, what good are you going to do with it?

Jennifer Wilder is one smart cookie. If you like this post, you might like one of the previous guest posts she’s written for Signify:


Jennifer Wilder

Jennifer Wilder is a social media professional who helps brands reach customers through online conversations. Over the last decade, she has worked with LifeWay Christian Resources, Leading The Way, The reThink Group/Orange, and The John Maxwell Company. Jen and her husband Nathan live in Kennesaw, Georgia, with their soon-to-be-Instagram-famous Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Copper.

Jennifer is available for freelance social media consulting and voiceover work.


PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

These small indicators within your social posts can start conversations, attract customers or donors, and change public sentiment. Are they powerful tools? When used strategically, you better believe it.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How to Max Out Meaningful Media Relationships

Me: “Yeahhh, I’ll take the McGriddle combo meal…”

“Courteous” McDonald’s Cashier: “Anything else for you today, sir?”

Me: “Oh right, yeah, about that. I have a HUGE favor to ask. I kind of need to borrow your car. Is that okay?"

“Courteous” McDonald’s Cashier: "Umm...I’m sorry sir, but we just met."

Me: "Yeah but we really jived! There was energy between us! Didn't you feel it? Please can I borrow your car?"

“No-longer-so-Courteous” McDonald’s Cashier: “Sir, I don’t think that’s on the menu…”

Our reputation often determines the quality of our relationships. In a similar vein, the quality of our relationships determines the favor we might receive from that individual.  

If you try to borrow someone’s car—like in the analogy above—you’ll most likely be stiff-armed, ridiculed, or greeted by a befuddled expression. I didn’t actually try to borrow the cashier’s car, but if I had, I can imagine the trouble that would ensue.

Just like our friendships, we must establish personal credibility with the media. Personal credibility showcases the quality of our work and enables us to establish relationships with media outlets and other syndicates. Media relationships can be divided into two categories: Media Outreach and Media Relations.

Media Outreach entails reaching out to journalists and publications in order to pitch content to them that increases the buzz around your nonprofit or social enterprise. Media Relations is the practice of maintaining relationships with businesses partnerships and journalists to promote your organization.

How to Max Out Meaningful Media Relationships

First let’s analyze how to reach out to the media.

Reach Out: Writing a Pitch, Connect with Journalists

Reaching out to journalists and other publications can get messy quick. There are a number of keystone websites like Just Reach Out that you can use to find journalists in your area. However, what we want to focus on in this blog post is not where to connect with the media, but rather, how to connect with them.

To ensure that we aren’t ignored, blocked, or missed, we have to strip down our message to its most simplified version. Remember, brevity.

Keep. It. Simple.

Edsger Dijkstra says, "Aim for brevity while avoiding jargon.” Take it from this Dutch systems scientist, programmer, software engineer (AKA one of the farthest things from a PR practitioner or marketing guru): to communicate effectively, don’t assume that the audience you’re in communication with understands the jargon of your field or for that matter, even the field itself.

As individuals trying to build the reputation of our nonprofits and social enterprises, we must not deceive ourselves. Do not expect the journalist to whom you reach out to understand or interpret the jargon of your company or field of expertise. If it’s not simple, they just won’t waste their time trying to decipher the meaning or substance of your message.

It’s essential to make sure that you articulate your mission clearly, however, on the opposite end, you must also do adequate research. According to Cision Ltd., a leading global public relations and earned media software company, “82 percent of journalists say PR professionals can improve by researching and understanding their media outlet.”

To connect with the right journalists and engage them effectively, we should have a good understanding of their work—both who they've written for and what they've personally written.

For example, don’t simply encourage a journalist to write about your organization because you are practicing cutting-edge technology to help the local community. Encourage them to write about your technological advancements that help the surrounding community in light of other articles they have written about the social welfare of your city.

Research what they’ve written about and show genuine interest in their topics. By doing this, it's more likely that you’ll discover the correct journalist to write about your small business.

To keep it simple, there’s a general guideline of rules you can follow to keep your pitches to journalists simple and sweet.

 

The Parameters of the Pitch  

When writing a pitch, follow steps that will ensure you are practicing simplicity. Write an alluring subject line complete with strong, driving verbs. If you can provide names and locations in the email pitch, those will catch the eye because of their specificity.  

Between 20-100 words is acceptable when constructing your message, but fewer is preferred. If you can limit content to one to two paragraphs, you’ll be more likely to receive a follow up email. Of course, keep in mind it does need to provide the relevant details as well. But remember, you are trying to catch their attention, not explain the entire history of your organization all in one email. 

Avoid attachments, if possible. If the journalist receiving the information has to go through an additional hoop sifting through hundreds of emails, they’ll be less likely to open your email. You may include a link or two, however, if it helps explain or build your case. And at the end of each pitch, make sure that your contact information is clear (phone number, email, etc.).

 

Connecting on Social Media: Who and How to Follow

Email isn’t the only way to connect with numerous media outlets, news syndicates, and journalists. Social media platforms are crucial for engaging with the media. Twitter has revealed itself as a favorite among large networks, journalists, and young marketing professionals alike.

Twitter’s concise use of text and images creates the perfect platform for journalists to share their content. And Twitter’s platform reflects the same practices applied to journalism—short, sweet, and to the point.

Connect with journalists on social media through major news networks and then find specific writers that pique your interest. Starting points on Twitter include traditional news outlets like @NYTimes, @AP, or @washingtonpost. You can additionally follow broader worldwide networks such as @bbcworld and @AJEnglish.

However, it is most likely that you'll discover the greatest amount of success in connecting with local media syndicates in your city. For example, a social enterprise or nonprofit in Atlanta might try to connect with writers from the @ajc, Atlanta’s largest press news outlet, @11AliveNews, a local TV network or @AtlantaMagazine, a specialized magazine in art and culture of the city. Locate the outlets specific to your city, county, or region and then connect with those media personnel specifically. You can often find a directory on their websites, or search stories that fit your organization to find the authors.

Follow the writers who you are most interested in connecting and reach out to them via social media DMs (direct messages) and email. Just remember that they are people, and not just someone who can offer you exposure, and take that into account with how you establish the relationship.

After you’ve connected with media outlet and, journalists, it’s crucial you learn how to maintain those partnerships.

 

Maintain & Organize: Long-Term Relationships, Cross Promotion, and Spreadsheets

Never undermine the power of a spreadsheet. When it comes to getting organized spreadsheets are your best friend. Using spreadsheets, organize your media outlet contacts via several categories. Have consistent writers that you can reach out to for each category and stay in touch with them consistently. If you need a how to, look here. 

To understand the importance of organizing your preferred writers, let’s look at an example. Consider a coffee shop operating as a for-profit social enterprise which benefits the well-being of it’s community. This company might organize writers into different writing topics based on the following categories: cutting-edge technology, special offers its shop, expansion and location (ex: new storefronts), and company culture and mission. Categorically organizing each writer in this way will allow you to easily and effectively pull from a pre-arranged list of writers and media personnel when you have news to announce.

Find a journalist for each category and organize your spreadsheet accordingly. Have a column with the contact information for each writer via email, phone, and social media. Each column following the person's name can contain specific information. For example: the name of their publication, the specific location of the publication or the location of the writer, and finally information about whether the syndicate is national or local. This can be as detailed or basic as you like, but more information will help you connect to the right person when the time comes.

It might also be useful to use this spreadsheet to track stories written for organization in your industry or a similar industry that caught your attention. You can share these stories via your social media accounts and if you like the content that is being created for brother and sister organizations, you might even reach out to the journalist or blogger that is creating stories for that company.

When reaching out to that journalist (aka the pitch) you can mention the story that they wrote for another company and how much you admired it. It will stroke the ego of that journalist and potentially set you up for an awesome story about your company!

In the wake of practicing new skills and connecting with the media, don’t forget the importance of maintaining pre-existing relationships. While we’ve mainly covered outreach to new journalists and media outlets in this blog post, it’s also important to remember the media relationships we already have because people who already know you are more likely to cover you.

Cross-Promotion: A Tale of Two Businesses

This is a sure-fire way to expand your reach and your audience. Even corporate foundations engage in this style of behavior. Nike and Apple worked together to create the “Nike+” sports kit. Through this dual promotion, Apple and Nike were able to reach a wider audience. We can do the same with our small businesses. Let’s look at the example of a small business in Athens, Ga., that is doing exactly that:

Athens is a city known for its eclectic mix of food outlets. Because of its size, many of the small business, restaurants, and social enterprises eagerly cooperate with one another. 1000 Faces Coffee promotes the values of social responsibility to create organic products.

1000 Faces Coffee works with many of the businesses in the local area (especially those that are cause-related) to cross-promote other social enterprises in the surrounding Athens area. To ensure that it is actively engaging brother and sister businesses, 1000 Faces Coffee promotes an event called “Biscuits and Coffee Love” once a month to raise money for local charities. Encouraging cross-promotion, it invites other organizations such as Farm Cart Biscuits, a local organic breakfast vendor, to participate in the cause.

As nonprofits and social enterprises, we can apply these same methods to our business tactics. Invite another organization within your niche or industry that has a complementary mission to co-host an event. Cooperate with one another, but keep it simple. You can even help promote one another on social media. There are ample opportunities for cross-promotion.

To effectively maintain our relationships with the media, we must engage in the perfect balance of media outreach and maintaining already existing relationships. Reach out to journalists, bloggers, reporters, and other media personnel using these ideas, but don’t forget the impact of partnering with other small businesses in your area and industry.

 

Read all posts in this PR series:


Michael Banks

Michael Griffith Banks is a fourth-year Public Relations Major at the University of Georgia with a minor in Spanish. He’s throughly involved with UGA’s Office of Admissions, most recently serving as an Orientation Leader for the University.



How to Max Out Meaningful Media Relationships

Top 5 Blog Posts of 2017

Since I pump out new blog content every week, it stands to reason that you may have missed a post or two in the hubbub of your workdays. But my goal is to continually provide marketing and communication information, resources, tools, and tips for nonprofits and social enterprises—and the people who lead and run them. I do this because I want to see you get noticed and grow.

However, if you're short on time and playing catch-up, I've done the hard work and narrowed it down to this year's top five posts. So, grab some coffee, a snack, and start reading . . . 

Signify's Top 5 Blog Posts of 2017

1. A COMPARISON OF 13 POPULAR SOCIAL MEDIA SCHEDULING TOOLS

Even as a marketer, I know that I should be marketing my blog posts much more than I am actually writing them, but they both have to get done, so my time is always split. It's a common frustration many of us share, right?

There are, of course, a lot of ways to get traffic to your site, but for most of us, the day in and day out formula revolves around social media. And if you spend several hours writing a blog post, but only promote it on social media a couple of times, it could easily go to the internet graveyard. #RIP

So, what's the solution? I think it might be a social media scheduling tool, especially if you do not have someone who is solely dedicated to your social media strategy. There are a lot of popular options out there, and I took the time to review 13 of them. None were perfect (though some come close!), and several were quite similar, but I think you'll find some great choices for your nonprofit or social enterprise.

Read the full post . . . 

 

2. 8 WAYS YOU'RE SABOTAGING YOUR LAUNCHES (AND HOW TO FIX THEM!)

Every launch is a big deal. It takes your valuable time and resources, not to mention oodles of effort. So, whether it's the launch of a new website, a book, a campaign, an event, or a product, it needs to get the job done. After all, you don't have time to waste. I know this because I know many others like you, and you've got too much on your plate for missed opportunities.

But what happens when a launch is just okay? Or maybe it's good, but it wasn't as good as you'd hoped. Or, sadly, what if it flops? (FYI, even successful launches have room for improvement.)

No matter which of these situations you find yourself in, I've observed a number reasons throughout my career in marketing, PR, and events (among other things) that may be causing you to unconsciously sabotage your launches. I'll touch on eight of them here. But don't worry, there is hope! I'll also show you how to fix them so that your next launch is your best yet.

Read the full post . . .

 

3. WHAT YOU NEED TO CONVINCE POTENTIAL SPONSORS AND PARTNERS

Whether you're a nonprofit or for-profit social enterprise, chances are that you're on the hunt for a corporate sponsor or partner. It could be for a long-term initiative, upcoming event, or special campaign. 

And why wouldn't you be? Corporate sponsors and partners bring in new revenue, as well as a new audience that is potentially untapped by your organization or cause. The benefits to you are crystal clear.

However, have you stopped to think about what you bring to the table? There's plenty in it for the companies you're asking as well. Never sell yourself short.

These kinds of collaborations are called "cause marketing," and friends, I have really good news. There is no better time for it, and I'm about to tell you why. The bad news is that you may have the wrong approach.

Read the full post . . . 

(By the way, do you need a sponsor/partner presentation template?)

 

4. 10 TOOLS TO MAKE YOUR SMALL BUSINESS LOOK MORE PROFESSIONAL (MOST ARE FREE!)

I'm not sure running a small business will ever get easier, because I don't really know anyone, anywhere, at any size company who wishes they had more to do. But when you have a larger team, you at least have more of a division of responsibility. So, it can be challenging to look like a larger organization when it's just you at a desk in your guest bedroom, or just you and a few friends who decided to jump in and solve one of the world's problems over coffee one afternoon. However, looking more professional, like a large business would, can often mean more sales or donations, more support, sponsors, and more attention. 

So, how do you make that happen? I still have a lot to learn myself, but here are just a few of the tools that help my one-woman show look a wee bit bigger and more professional.

Read the full post . . .

 

5. HOW TO EASILY INVEST IN YOURSELF AND YOUR ORGANIZATION

First of all, I'm not just talking about throwing money at the latest software, or buying fancy computers, or getting team t-shirts, though that would be snazzy. I'm talking about the "deeper" investments for personal and professional growth, which leads to added value and growth for your organization.

When you invest in yourself personally, you knowingly—and unknowingly—apply that new knowledge and experience everywhere around you. So, even then, you're benefitting your organization. And when you invest in yourself for your job, or on behalf of your organization, your directly applying that new knowledge to your role and your cause. Intentionally investing in yourself also often provides renewed energy, focus, determination, know-how, and purpose. So, why not get on board?

Read the full post . . .

 

And those are this year's top five posts! What did you enjoy? Did you have a different favorite?

PSST: Don't forget that you only have a couple more days to try and win a Communications Strategy Session, valued at over $500! Details here. Resolve to make your marketing better in 2018.



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

my goal is to continually provide marketing and communication information, resources, tools, and tips for nonprofits and social enterprises—and the people who lead and run them.

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


The Two Most Significant Investments I Made This Year

The last couple of weeks we've been talking about end-of-year budgeting, looking ahead to 2018, and some wise places to consider spending some of that hard-earned cash. Those decisions aren't easy, but sometimes they totally pay off.

First, we compared social media scheduling tools. It's only been a couple of weeks, but I'm already seeing a good ROI from Smarterqueue! Then, last week, we talked about the pros and cons of co-working spaces for those of us in nontraditional office environments. It's a hot topic in my corner of the world, and may be in yours as well.

This week, as we wrap up this series, and November, I wanted to discuss the two most significant investments I've made in my business this year. They may just surprise you, especially considering one of them is free!

Here are the two most significant investments I've made in my business this year. They may just surprise you, especially considering one of them is free!

Getting Accountability

If asked in a job interview—yes, I would describe myself as a self-starter. I've always been a pretty determined person, full of hopes, goals, and dreams, and the initiative to pursue them. So, working from home as a solopreneur was not a problem. I've had friends who said they'd get distracted easily or never get anything done, and yes, that does occasionally happen. But, for the most part, I'm good at checking things off my list. (And I love checking things off my list!)

However, I think there are times when a little accountability can benefit us all. It's certainly worked for successful programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, and many others. Even the most motivated of us need a little extra skin in the game from time-to-time.

So, this summer, the opportunity to have an "accountabilabuddy" presented itself, and I jumped at it!

Jen Gordon and I met through a mutual friend, and hit it off immediately over breakfast. A few minutes into our conversation, she told me that she'd read my website and wanted to hire me for her launch. However, after talking about her skills and knowledge, I knew I could benefit from her expertise as well. So, I proposed that we meet twice a month for three months to exchange insights that would help us both build our businesses.

That three months is still going strong six months later! It has been the absolute, best, hands-down decision I made in my business this year. We are each flying solo, so we act as sounding boards for each other, share what we're learning, offer suggestions, and hold each other accountable for deadlines both big and small. 

It's very unstructured for the most part, but we each leave with our action steps that we'll be responsible for at our next meeting. And we check in with each other throughout the month as needed.

This summer I did a two-part series about "working ON your business, rather than IN your business" because it's just so darn easy to get "admined" to death by all the little things that need to happen. So, it can be really difficult to maintain vision for large goals and initiatives at your organization. Having Jen around helps me get the small things done, while staying focused on the big picture—and she's there to ask me about both.

I would highly encourage you to find someone that you can develop this relationship with. Much like a mentor, these people don't often fall from the sky. But they are certainly worth the search!

Even if you're at a larger nonprofit or social enterprise, I still think having an accountability partner could be really beneficial. If you lead a team, you can still use peer-to-peer feedback. And it's good to have someone that will let you vent and be yourself, which you may not get when you lead a team, or an organization. Plus, an outside perspective is always helpful, because we often don't see our work as clearly as someone from the outside. 

If I could give you any advice as you start thinking about the New Year, I would tell you to find an accountability partner. Think about it, and someone may come to mind. Or ask around to friends, family, or even in Facebook Groups. And be patient if it takes some time. You'll get so much out of this relationship, and it will be worth the time and effort it may take to find him or her!

 

Getting Help

Despite my best efforts, I just can't do it all. I don't have the time, skills, or experience needed to accomplish every task on my plate. And, while helpful, endless hours of research on Google may not be the best use of my time. So, once-in-a-while, I have to ask for help. (And I have a really hard time asking for help.)

Over the past year, that's mostly been in hiring others to do some of the things that I'm less capable of doing or don't have time for. Yes, there may absolutely be times when you can get someone to help you for free, like a volunteer or intern, or even by bartering, which is also essentially what Jen Gordon and I do in our accountability partnership.

However, sometimes you just have to suck it up and pay someone. Yes, those decisions are harder for some of us than others, but I don't think they should ever be off-limits. Why? Because hiring someone, even in a short-term capacity, can:

  • free up your time,

  • potentially create something better than you could've created on your own,

  • expand your network,

  • increase your knowledge,

  • provide that much-needed outside perspective,

  • and let you focus on the things that need your personal attention.

Those bullets are part of the speech I give to my clients, but I occasionally have to give it to myself as well. :)

The two, big areas that I've paid for additional help this year are in graphics and managing my social media accounts. Mad+Dusty beautifully executed my branding and design, and on several occasions, I've also hired them to help out with smaller projects. One of the cooler things they've done for me is create templates in Canva that I can use again and again. (Ex: social media and testimonials) That way, the "short-term" project has some staying power, and allows me to build on what they've done professionally. So, consider an option like that when you need some graphics help. Have your designers create some templates, or at least some simple designs you can mimic when you don't have the ability to hire them for every little project that comes along.

And hiring someone to manage my social media just wasn't on my radar six months ago because it was something I already knew how to do. I'd never call myself a social media expert, but I feel pretty comfortable with it, and even give advice to clients about the subject. 

But the truth was that it just took too much of my time. And we all know that time is money! I needed to do more writing, finding clients, and taking care of tasks that genuinely required my attention. Social media just didn't fit the bill. So, this month, I've been in a 30-day experiment to see what my friend Jen Wilder could do with my channels. (I know a lot of talented Jens. :) Additionally, I've had her set up my social media scheduling tool, Smarterqueue. Again, something I knew I could do, but my time was better spent elsewhere. And it's been another great investment!

 

Your Turn

I can honestly say that these two items were the best investments I've made this year for Signify. They're allowing me to grow and scale, and setting the stage for a better 2018. I would also recommend the same types of investments for you.

Find someone that can hold you accountable, and return the favor. And hire out some of the tasks that need to come off your plate for whatever reason. 

And did you catch the other take-away? Both of these were experiments. We all feel a lot more comfortable taking risks when they have an end date. With Jen Gordon, we were only testing the waters for three months. We reassessed, and both agreed that we wanted to continue.

With Jen Wilder, it's been so fantastic learning from her, seeing her in action, and having her set up SmarterQueue. Right now, I just don't have the cash to pay her as an ongoing contractor, but you'd better believe I'll have some more experiments for her in the future!

What's your action step? Or what were your best investments this year? I'd love to hear!



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

There are two significant investments I made in my small business this year. They may just surprise you, especially considering one of them is free!

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


A Comparison of 13 Popular Social Media Scheduling Tools

Anyone else ever feel like they're caught in a perpetual catch-22? As a small business owner, I feel that way A LOT. For example, I know I need to increase my website views because standard conversion rates are at about two percent, meaning if you have 100 people visit your site, only two will take whatever action you've designated for them, like purchasing, signing up for your email list, or making a donation. But I have so many other things on my plate that are also important. So, which do I choose? Which do you choose?

Even as a marketer, I know that I should be marketing my blog posts much more than I am actually writing them, but they both have to get done, so my time is always split. It's a common frustration many of us share, right?

There are, of course, a lot of ways to get traffic to your site, but for most of us, the day in and day out formula revolves around social media. And if you spend several hours writing a blog post, but only promote it on social media a couple of times, it could easily go to the internet graveyard. #RIP

So, what's the solution? I think it might be a social media scheduling tool, especially if you do not have someone who is solely dedicated to your social media strategy. There are a lot of popular options out there, and I took the time to review 13 of them. None were perfect (though some come close!), and several were quite similar, but I think you'll find some great choices for your nonprofit or social enterprise.

A Comparison of 13 Popular Social Media Scheduling Tools

First, let me address a hesitation you may be feeling, which I also had for months. This all sounds good, you agree with what I said, and you share the same frustrations, but you know it's going to cost money, which makes it feel more like a luxury, and something you should probably put off for "later." Sound familiar?

For those of us at small organizations, every dollar counts. And this is especially true for those of us running solo businesses or may even be all volunteer-led. We want to look more professional, but we also need to stick to our budgets. I get it, and like I said, I debated with myself about it as well.

However, recently, I've decided to put this in the "you've gotta spend money to make money" category. That, my friends, is unavoidable. And that's also what I'll be talking about for the next three weeks here on the blog.

In order to scale your nonprofit or social enterprise, you just have to be willing to put out some upfront cash knowing that it'll pay off in the long run. If I don't pay for the social media scheduling tool, I will either need to hire someone to manage my social media, or I will always be minimally promoting my blog posts, unless I slow my blogging frequency way down to make time in my schedule for it. 

Granted, my traffic will likely increase organically with time, but it will take a very long time. Like I said, there are certainly other options for increasing your traffic, but for everyday efforts, I think this is the way to go.

So, here we are. This is where I've arrived, and I wanted you to benefit from my research and experience. 

Two other things to note before we dig into the social media scheduling tools.

First, pretty much all of the services below have free versions and higher tiers, but as I am a small business who works mostly with small nonprofits and social enterprises, I had us in mind when I did my research. None of the free versions had the features I was looking for, so I knew I would have to pay. Prices below reflect annual plans, because that is cheaper than paying month-to-month. Also, if you are a nonprofit, most of them have discounts, so be sure to ask!

Second, in case you were wondering, it is always more effective to post "natively." So, for example, scheduling Facebook Page posts directly in Facebook. However, most of us just don't have the time to do this long-term or ongoing with our other responsibilities. But platforms will generally show your Tweets and posts to more people when they are published directly from their own site or app. I get it, I wish I could, but I just can't. 

 

THE WINNER: SMARTERQUEUE

My biggest priority for the search was having the ability to auto recycle content. Meaning, not just schedule Tweets and posts, but once the queue was empty, it would start all over again on its own. This really allows you to "set it and forget it," and just add new content as you go into the mix.

Cost: $17 per month

Pros: 

  • Auto recycling

  • Excellent amount of features without being overwhelming.

  • Works well with short-term promos. For example, you can set a post to expire after a certain date or number of times.

  • Drag and drop content calendar.

  • Utilizes categories for different types of content. (ex: quotes, promos, blogs, etc.). And each category can have its own schedule, and you can set a ratio of how often each category should be recycled. Categories can also be paused and customized per profile.

  • Has content curation features, which allow you to easily add new content from other places you follow or find, which aren't already part of your mix.

  • Easy set-up by analyzing your profile history and creating a schedule you can customize.

  • Helps you find a posting schedule based on analytics. It's always difficult to know "the best" time to schedule per social channel, and sometimes the "experts" disagree on when it is.

  • You an tag others in Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

  • Has a competitor analysis feature so you can see what others like you are doing, and how they're performing.

  • Monitors the mentions you get from other social media accounts. Who doesn't love a shout out!

  • Easy migration from Edgar.

  • Smaller plans don’t have as many restrictions on features as some services.

  • 50% discount for nonprofits—wow!

Cons:

  • Doesn't auto schedule. It won't pick the best time to send your posts so you don't have to. Unless you are really good at reading analytics, this is a big guessing game. So, it's nice when a service chooses for you.

  • Can't upload video directly in the program at this time. I imagine they'll fix this soon, though, since video is winning the Miss Popularity contest right now. They do have workaround instructions in the Help section for now, though.

  • This one seems a little silly and stingy to me, but if you downgrade from a higher priced tier or cancel your account, there are no refunds. Most of the others offer this, I think, so I was surprised to see it.

Lots of pros, am I right? This was only the second tool I originally checked out, and I was pretty smitten with their site. It had enough information to keep me reading and interested, but no so much that I was overwhelmed. I'm really looking forward to using it! You can sign up right here with my affiliate link, which gets you a 30-day free trial instead of 14 days. (By the way, if you need help, my friend, Jennifer Wilder, can help get you set up. She did mine!)

(Update 5/7/18: This year, Twitter, Facebook, and it seems like every other social platform has introduced all kinds of new rules and regulations to keep haters, spammers, and fake newsers at bay. This is obviously a very good thing, but has also been a bummer for those of us who schedule social media using these third-party platforms. However, I'm still sticking with SmarterQueue for two reasons.

First, they have implemented "fixes" so that their software still works. Second, even though I know manually scheduling and posting will yield better results, I maintain my position that if posting frequently on social media is going to happen, then right now, it's going to happen through a scheduler. Maybe that'll change when Signify grows up a little more, but for now, here we are. And I'm grateful to SmarterQueue for their updates and fast, friendly customer service team.)

 

Edgar

Edgar came in at a tie for second place with Viraltag, but I'm listing it first because probably more people have heard of it. It is a really solid option.

Cost: $49 per month

Pros:

  • 30-day money-back guarantee

  • I feel like everyone I talk to that has it loves it.

  • Has content curation through a browser extension

  • Expiring content feature for limited-time promos

  • A bargain for larger businesses since there aren’t other tiers. I actually think they've come down in price since I seem to remember them being $79 when I've looked at them in the past.

  • Has categories

  • Getting started guides and a support forum

  • I've been on their email list for a few months, and find it helpful. I really love it when service providers like this have helpful forums and emails. :)

  • For those who’d like an extra special on-boarding experience, every Edgar account comes with free account setup assistance and a free social media strategy call!

Cons:

  • This is the most expensive option I looked at.

  • Doesn’t sync with Bitly, a link shortener, which I use a lot.

  • Sends performance reports, but no analytics at this point.

 

Viraltag

This was my other tie for second place. It was a much tougher decision once I'd narrowed it to these three! And if you're wondering how I arrived at these 13 social media scheduling programs when there are so many others out there, it was because I asked some social media pros I know as well as in some Facebook groups with social media managers and people more likely to use these kinds of tools. I actually hadn't heard of Viraltag until someone suggested it in one of the groups, and I was very impressed. I think you'll start to see it pop up more.

Cost: $24 per month

Pros: 

  • Learns the best times to post and which content drives more engagement—LOVE this!

  • Specializes in visual content, though you can have plain text posts for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

  • Connects with Google Drive and Dropbox and Canva

  • Provides image editing directly in their interface

  • You can customize images per network

  • Has the content calendar feature so you can see how everything fits together rather than just in a list.

  • Really helpful customer service chat, even on the weekend.

  • You can schedule a demo to begin.

Cons:

  • Not sure I like the interface as much from the little I saw on the site, but of course, this is a preference.

  • Managing Facebook Groups is "in the pipeline."

  • You have to manually handle any short-term promos, which means deleting them after you don't want them posting anymore.

  • The site says that this plan has only 30 days of analytics, but the customer service woman told me they could remove that restriction, so just be sure to ask.

Missing Lettr

This is another one I hadn't heard of until I posed the question to a social media manager Facebook Group, and I find it very fascinating. For the right person, I think it would be awesome. 

Cost: $15 per month

Pros:

  • It's good for people who need social support to keep their blogs out there circulating the internet. The gist is that it takes your blog post, cuts it up into bite-sized pieces, and distributes it over the course of a year to your social networks. Cool huh?

  • Looks extremely easy to use, and does a lot of the work for you. You do get to double-check and approve everything before it goes out.

  • It even suggests hashtags for you! #winning

Cons:

  • It does what it does, and that's it. So, it doesn't work with other promotions or content you may want to push. You'd need another service to manage that, or if that's a rare occasion for you, just post directly to your social networks as needed.

 

Social Jukebox

Okay, so your brain may not work the same as mine—fair assumption. This was one of those that several people recommended, but just didn't give me much of an impression after looking at it. It's a very simple site, which sounds like a good thing, except it didn't "sell" me. And because the website is so basic, I didn't really want to contact them with the dozens of questions I had.

Cost: $19 per month

Pros:

  • You can set targeted posts, which seems cool. (ex: send a birthday Tweet to someone every year, etc)

  • Has orientation video

Cons:

  • Again, I just didn't have much of an impression. However, for people looking for a straight-forward way to get the job done without bells and whistles, this will probably suffice. But, for a couple bucks less per month, look at how much more I'm getting with SmarterQueue . . .

 

Recurpost

Even though it's still somewhat basic, this site has a nice layout and design that worked for me. It didn't have all the features I wanted, but a solid option for people wanting to keep things simple while adding some oomph to their social or launch strategy.

Cost: $0-25 per month

Pros:

  • With so many services offering free accounts, you may be wondering why I put the goose egg in this cost category. That's because it actually offers some pretty good features for the free accounts, so if you are really concerned about the price of a social media scheduling tool, or want to start slow, you might check this one out.

  • They predict the best times for you to send, which is nice.

  • Seems like a fairly simple way to recycle posts.

  • Categories, calendar feature, and analytics

  • Has a knowledge base

Cons:

  • Even though it checked a lot of boxes for me, it didn't wow me. Obviously, this is just an impression, and not quantifiable. It may be just the thing you've been looking for.

Buffer

This is one of the more popular options. I've used it myself, once several years back on behalf of a nonprofit and also earlier this year for my Facebook Group (before you could schedule posts there). This is another pretty solid option, depending on your needs.

Cost: $10 per month

Pros:

  • Nice, low cost

  • Probably the simplest tool to set up and use

  • Has image editing and video uploading

  • Lots of resources (blog, emails, guides, webinars, FAQs) to help you get better, and to answer questions

Cons:

  • Less impressive

  • No categories

  • No recycling or auto scheduling

  • No analytics on lower plans

 

Hiplay

Hiplay serves as an add-on to Buffer.       

Cost: $5 per month

Pros:

  • For people who love Buffer, and they do have a big fan base, you can recycle your posts on a service you love without a lot of additional effort or training.

Cons:

  • You're now having to use two programs, yuck.

 

Hootsuite

This is one of the other big dogs on the social scene. I've used Hootsuite for many years, even just for my personal profiles before I had a legit business. Their free plan works pretty well, and served me for a long time. But it just isn't going to get the job done anymore, now that I need to step up my game.

Cost: $19 per month     

Pros:

  • Basic scheduler with analytics

  • Calendar view

  • Integrates with other apps

  • Auto schedules content

  • Analytics

  • 30-day free trial (That's a lot!)

Cons:

  • You get unlimited scheduling with paid plans, but they recently introduced limits on free plans.

  • Doesn't recycle content

  • Once you go past that $19 plan, you're looking at $99 per month!

 

Dlvr.it

They skipped adding some letters in their funky company name, but didn't repurpose them on their website. This is a super basic site, which just gives you the absolute minimum information. As such, it didn't impress me.

Cost: $9.99 per month

Pros:

  • Integrates with Google Analytics and Bitly, which is really nice.

  • It says it's "the easiest" way to post on Facebook and Twitter, so perhaps no explanation needed. ;)

  • Works with lots of social platforms, where others have more limited options.

  • Auto scheudling

  • Affordable

Cons:

  • I just don't know much about them because they didn't take the time to put it on their site.

Everypost

I'd heard of this one, but not much about it. And, honestly, there's not all that much to talk about, in my opinion. Some of the big plans seem to be good options for team collaboration, but I don't know many people that need that. 

Cost: $9.99 per month

Pros:

  • Customize content per channel, which is nice

  • You get 10 channels for $10 per month. Most of the plans I've been touting here are only for three to five profiles at that lowest price plan.

  • Unlimited scheduling. Some of the plans in this post have a limit as to how many posts you can schedule at that price, like 100, 500, or 1,000.

  • You can request a demo.

  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Analytics only for two profiles at that price

  • Nothing super special

 

Social Pilot

One of my friends who is a social media manager loves this one. And it does have quite a lot of features for the price tag.

Cost: $8 per month

Pros:

  • Excellent, affordable option if you don’t need auto recycling

  • Connects to Bitly and Canva

  • Calendar feature

  • Content suggestions if you need some help

  • Analytics

Cons:

  • Again, the big drawback for me was that it doesn't recycle content. I don't want the well to run dry, and me have to go set it all up again.

  • No categories

 

CoSchedule

I've been on their email list for probably at least a year. But if you aren't into marketing or really honing your social skills, it would probably just be overwhelming. They'd definitely fall into the "more is more" category. However, I do recommend their Headline Analyzer for writing titles.

Cost: $40 per month

Pros:

  • They definitely want you to be well-resourced through emails, blogs, webinars, etc.

  • Full marketing calendar available

  • Integrates with Wordpress, Google Analytics, Evernote, Google Docs, and more

  • Live demos regularly

  • Drag and Drop calendar

  • Categories

  • Recycles content

Cons:

  • Second most expensive option I looked at

  • Pricier plans have much more advanced features for entire marketing efforts, not just social

  • In all that information, I couldn't figure out how many profiles or posts the $40 per month got you.

  • Whereas some of the websites only had one or two pages that didn’t impress me or provide me with enough info, this one had so much it was kind of overwhelming to get the full picture. I can see growing into it maybe, but it’s just too robust for now.

  • With a plethora of features, I find it funny that it doesn't work with LinkedIn.

 

And one to grow on: Hopper

This one was also recommended in my research, but in looking at it, Hopper is only made for Instagram. However, it says it schedules "automatically," which I didn't think was possible. It's $19 per month for one account, so I'll let you check it out of Insta is your jam.

 

Whew—are you exhausted!?!? I am! But hopefully I saved you hours of research, or at least narrowed things down for you. A lot of it comes down to what you need, or think you'll need, as well as your preferences. 

Before you go, I want to leave you with a couple other things to consider:

  • While I don’t list every feature here, also take note of things like FAQs and support forums so you don’t always have to reach out to customer service, especially if you work a lot on the weekends when they may not be available.

  • If you are just starting to explore this idea, but aren't ready to make any moves yet, ask to get added to their email lists. Then you can learn more about the company, the culture, offers, and get more information about features. I love to see how people treat their email lists. #marketingnerd

  • If you are somewhat ready to make the leap, almost all of these services offer free trials with requiring a credit card. So, check them out, or at least poke under the hood. You can take a look at the systems and interface without having to upload a bunch of content.

  • Think long-term! This is super important. Look for options you think you might need or would be nice to have as you grow, so you don’t have to through the entire set-up process again. For example, even before I sent my first company email, I knew that I'd want to switch from MailChimp to ConvertKit at some point. But, in the interest of saving a few bucks and avoiding a learning curve when I was already overwhelmed, I went with MailChimp "for now." But I have kicked myself multiple times, and of course, every month goes by, and I will have more to set up later when I do make the switch! Ugh, I'm getting hives just thinking about it. Anyway, learn from my mistake!

See you out there in the social sphere! 

And don't forget to try SmarterQueue! Remember, my affiliate link gets you a 30-day free trial!

(PS: I am a busy solopreneur with limited time on my hands, so my friend Jen is the one who got me set up and running on Smarterqueue. She is available to help you too!)



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

A social media scheduling tool might be for you,  especially  if you do not have someone who is solely dedicated to your social media  strategy . There are a lot of popular options out there, and I took the time to review 13 of them. None were perfect (though some come close!), and several were quite similar, but I think you'll find some great choices for your nonprofit or social enterprise.

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.