Social Sprout social media management platformLet me be clear: I love social media and especially the scope it gives me to amplify my marketing and general engagement with clients, prospects and colleagues.

Not to mention the pleasure of connecting socially with friends and colleagues around the globe, many of those being people I would never have been able to connect in the first place without social media.

But the truth is, managing it all in an effective and satisfying way has become a real challenge, a challenge that right now and actually for some time now I don’t feel I have been measuring up to.

Enter Sprout Social, an application which integrates with Twitter, Facebook Fan Pages, LinkedIn, Foursquare and gives me a range of tools and reports which offer the promise of helping me manage the whole process.

An application which could help me not just manage my social engagement in the sense of “keeping up” and not being swamped and demoralized, but actually leverage my engagement to get an amplified and deeper effect from my efforts. That’s all assuming the product’s promotion is to be believed, and the commentary and judgements offered in a couple of reviews I have studied today, for instance here and here.

In addition to communication tools, Sprout Social offers contact management, competitive insight, lead generation, reporting, analytics and more. And so far it seems true that, as claimed, the platform is intuitive and easy to use.

Last night I took one of the regular webinars the company provides to demonstrate the features. It was live, not pushy and quite informative: I liked the fact that the presenter paused from time to time to take questions via the chat box.

There are four packages, ranging from the Pro at $9 a month (10 profiles) up to Premium at $899 a month (unlimited profiles). At first glance, my guess is that:

  • the SmallBiz package at $39 a month, with 20 profiles, would be very good for, logically, small businesses
  • the DeLuxe at $69(59 a month would be especially good for agencies managing a few social accounts for clients and liking the idea of having their own agency corporate branding on reports to clients

The Premium at $899 a month has a number of special features that should make it quite attractive, other things being equal, at the enterprise level or for agencies with an appropriate number of clients.

But for my 30 day free trial (impressively, they don’t require a credit card in advance, so that old scam to catch the forgetful or poorly organized does not operate here), I’ve chosen the minnow package, the Pro, even though the free trial can be used for any of the packages. So why would I choose the one with the fewest features? Basically because I want to know how well or otherwise the product performs at the very basic level and if I am happy with that I can think later about switching to another level, whether during the trial period or, if I choose to subscribe, at a later date.

From what I’ve seen, I already like the monitoring and reporting tools, although I think I may have to be patient till Sprout Social catches up with my Twitter data: the report is currently indicating that I’ve had no new followers on Twitter in the past month, whereas my rough count gives me 223. Maybe that discrepancy is because I have only just now signed up for Sprout Social.

Sprout Social group trends

A couple of factors that attracted me to take the trial were about support and social media presence. From comments I read on reviews of the product I noticed a recurring theme of appreciation for the promptness and receptiveness of the support team: and it’s 24/7 support, so I don’t have to worry about the usual Antipodean challenge of trying to remember to contact US based support before I’ve had my breakfast! On social media presence, I was and am impressed that the SproutSocial people are on Twitter and connected promptly and appreciatively when I mentioned the product. Small things maybe, but to me they speak of a company of service-oriented people not self-protective bots.

And there are mobile apps, for Apple and Android.

So my plan is to report from time to time here over the next 29 days on how my trial goes and hopefully that will be helpful to others. Comments, shared experiences of the platform, will be welcome.

Update April 25, 2012: see Part 2 of this series here.

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).