The opportunities for even small businesses to access better-than-basic social media management and monitoring tools got a lot bigger last week as Viralheat launched what I believe to be the first free social media management platform. The long-time social media monitoring provider has added publishing and engagement as well as a fair set of analytics pass throughs from Facebook, Twitter and the like to form the basis of a simple SMMS platform. And they’re not charging for it. Sign up for free and try it if you like!
The core functionality most small businesses have always wanted but could only get in bits and pieces from freemium tools like HootSuite is there. You can publish, schedule posts, read and respond to mentions and followers, conduct cursory social media monitoring functionality and output reasonable metrics reports, all for the basic, free account.
While It still doesn’t have the full range of what we’ve discussed as a complete offering (see more in our discussion of social media management platforms and their feature sets), it is the first I’ve seen that offers at least four (and with some connectivity and additional work through bit.ly, a fifth) of the SMMS core functions.
The interface on Viralheat is very Facebook-like. Left-side navigation helps you easily bounce from a dashboard that shows an overview to your specific accounts (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for my testing purposes) where you can find your messages and analytics for each network, your messages and your profiles. Here’s the Facebook Brand Page engagement page through Viralheat’s lens:
This is a little confusing if you’re not used to the Viralheat environment. “Profiles” is their label for the topics you’re monitoring on the web. Keep in mind they started as a monitoring service. This is where you can dump in your Boolean keyword searches to find what people are saying about you or your brand online. “Accounts” is where your social profiles are kept.
Then there’s “Messages” which shows you a list of the out-bound messages you’ve sent through the tool. It doesn’t do much else, like show you analytics for each message, but you can see what you’ve posted, have scheduled to post and such.
One of my biggest hang-ups with Viralheat has always been user experience design. While the interface is very Facebook-like and some might find it easy to find things, there are some little things that would be nice that don’t seem to be there. There’s no real social inbox where you can see all your streams together in one place. Or at least I couldn’t find it. You have to go into each account — Twitter, then LinkedIn, then Facebook, etc. — to see and interact.
The individual messages you post don’t seem to show metrics for them — retweets, shares, etc. — though there is a neat widget on the dashboard that shows you by network what messages you’ve sent that have “gone viral” with numbers of shares. Still, individual drill downs on messages don’t appear to be there.
The metrics offered within each of the social network portals in “Accounts” are well presented. They bring in cursory analytics for Twitter and all Facebook insights. If Facebook is your primary network, you should be pleased with the analytics panels Viralheat offers. But their LinkedIn integration only brings in your core news stream and lacks any analytics or integration with LinkedIn Groups, Answers and other areas you might need to monitor.
While I think my role here is to establish some expectations for you, it’s probably time I remind us they’re offering this up for free. At the end of the day, it’s more than you can get elsewhere for the same price. For no charge, Viralheat allows you to offer a total of seven social media accounts (LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter accounts) and up to 5,000 mentions of you across accounts. For $49 per month, you can upgrade to 15 social accounts, two monitoring profiles to search the web and up to 10,000 mentions. THen there are prices for $149 and $499 per month for larger entities.
Overall, Viralheat has evolved from a monitoring platform to a social media management platform. And the fact they’ve offered a cursory set of features for free is noteworthy. Small businesses have an option. In many ways they didn’t before. If you’re looking for a place to start, Viralheat is a good one. And you can’t really beat the price, now can you?
Do you use Viralheat? If so, let us know your thoughts, tricks and tips in the comments.
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