Metrics, Metrics, Metrics.

Data rules, guessing drools.

If you’re using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook (or… shudder… Google+) for professional purposes, you need to get a handle on what works and what doesn’t.

First, what are you trying to do? Attract followers/fans? Improve click through rates? Gauge your social reach?

You should be doing all of these, at the very least. And to gauge your success, you should be using a metrics package. After all, you’re much more advanced than that guy over in the corner trying to divine ROI by waving a wand at his pet rock… right?

I’ve evaluated a few social media and metrics packages in the past year: HootSuite, SproutSocial, and an as-yet unnamed package using the Viralheat API.They’re all great. Detailed, and cost-effective for small businesses that are invested in social media in a big way. But what if you don’t need multiple people managing multiple accounts tracking the effectiveness of every letter inside your Tweets or Facebook posts over the past month?

Easy answer: Buffer.

Buffer is built on a simple, but powerful principal – there are no shortcuts to social media success. That resonates with me. I shun the gain-followers-by-praying-for-a-followback strategy (you can identify these people easily: they often have 10 or 15 thousand followers, and are also following 10 or 15 thousand people). They also tend to mark their profile with #TeamFollowback or something similar.

Aside: if I don’t follow you back, it’s nothing personal- I use Twitter primarily for business networking and self-promotion. If you’re not from my city, don’t tweet about business, finance, or communications (and no, teaching regular joes to make millions with Google AdSense isn’t real business) OR you’re a mouthy celebrity (sorry, @piersmorgan), then odds are I won’t follow you back. I’m sure you’re a lovely person. It’s not you… it’s me!

Anyway, back to Buffer.

If you’re a freelancer, SME, or startup with severely-limited resources (and really, they all are), check out Buffer’s free plan. That’s right… they have a free plan. In addition to being able to schedule your tweets for self-autonomous launch into cyberspace (yeah, I’m old-school Gen-Y and remember when people used that word), you can add tweets to your Buffer directly through the handy browser extensions (I’m a Chrome user, and it’s a pretty slick experience). Plus, you can now integrate your Facebook account with Buffer (it started out as a Twitter-only tool).

Simple analytics are also included directly in the account dashboard (# retweets, # clicks, total reach). Will you be able to tell what kind of Kawartha Dairy ice cream @mdhiggs prefers? Or count the daggers coming from @ChefBrianHenry’s eyes when you tweet about sprouts? No. But, why do you need to know that anyway?

… unless you work for Chapman’s. Or the National Sprout Picker’s Association.

The basic (free) package includes management for one account, analytics, space to hold ten tweets in your buffer (which you can increase by signing up friends), and native link shortening. If you’re more serious about social media marketing and need additional features and buffer space, you can opt for the Pro ($10/month) or Premium ($30/month) packages. I hear that the $30/month package guarantees you direct contact with the founder, Joel (presumably using a method more advanced than carrier pigeons or smoke signals).

Nothing’s perfect, though. What’s missing from Buffer’s service? Native mobile apps (for me, BlackBerry). Personally, I’d pay a premium for that- about 70% of my social media time is managed via mobile while I’m on the go. There is an email-to-buffer mechanism in place (I hope it’s just an interim fix while native apps are under development), but it doesn’t fit into the social media workflow on mobile all that well. With a native app, I’d switch from UberSocial in a heartbeat to gain mobile integration into Buffer’s platform (if the UX and UI were as good as the browser extension, anyway).

That being said, I’m inclined to cut Buffer some slack on native app development- they’ve constructed and are managing a fantastic tool considering that the team is only two people strong… and are bootstrapping it like rockstars (I presume, anyway- I haven’t seen anything about venture funding for them in the startup media).

Give it a go. After a gentle learning curve, you’ll be glad that you did.

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