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How we Work part 4: Sprout Social

How we Work is an ongoing series where we talk about the software and services we use every day to communicate, collaborate and generally get the job done. In this fourth instalment, we’ll take a look at Sprout Social, a single touch point for (almost) all our social media interactions.

Sprout Social logoWe’ll spare you a “the times they are a changin'” introduction here. Suffice it to say, though, that social media is central to how we at Ting communicate.

When we first started out, we had a couple of followers / friends on the various social media networks. Now, a couple of years later, we tweet out to about 5,600 Twitter and 1,800 Google+ followers and over 20,000 Facebook friends.

We’re also on LinkedIn and Instagram. You should totally follow us there. However, they don’t fall under the purview of today’s How we Work service: Sprout Social. More on that in a sec.

Social is about much more than one-way communication. In addition to sharing the stuff we have to say, the team is constantly monitoring the various social channels to answer questions, offer insights and generally have conversations.

Sprout Social gives us one central place to manage (almost) all of our “social interactions.”

Why use a social media management platform?

A social management platform isn’t strictly necessary. However, there’s a lot to be said for the convenience of having all of your social feeds in one place.

Sprout Social lets us give people on the team access to speak on Ting’s behalf in the social media outlets that we post to. It allows for different admin and user levels so that no one person is the sole key-holder for our social media presence. Which totally ruins my personal exit / retirement strategy (in unrelated news, have you seen the neat ransom note generators available online). On the plus side though, it protects our valued social media presence.

Analytics

Screenshot 2014-07-31 14.12.15Sprout Social’s analytics tools give us insight into which of our posts resonated with people. We also get detailed stats on where interactions and impressions are coming from, who’s referring the most people to our social profiles and other such data. In addition, we can see how long it typically takes us to respond, when responses take longer to get out (weekends, obviously, but there’s a lot more insight than that to be had), who on the team has the most to say and much more.

To be completely honest, while we check in on this data regularly, we don’t pay a ton of attention. We’d rather have real conversations with people on social media (#realtalk?). We’re not looking for a magic formula for social media success because such a thing does not exist. That said, analytics do give us some valuable insight into the best times to share, the types of content people that have engaged with us on social media are interested in, what people are more apt to share and the like.

Scheduling

At Ting, we pride ourselves on being real and genuine on social media but sometimes, we want to be real and genuine on social media in the future. For “standard” social media shares like new updates to the Ting blog, new device launches that are already set, promotions that are planned and so on, the scheduling features of Sprout Social come in handy.

Scheduling lets us queue up a series of social media posts that will be shared without us having to intervene. We still choose to do most of the daily social posts we send out manually at the time they’re sent because otherwise, we’re just sending you a bunch of canned crap. No one likes crap. Especially when canned.

Assigning

The option to assign a team member to an interaction is probably the single most useful part of Sprout Social, at least in our work flow. It lets us defer a question or comment to a member of the team who’s better equipped to answer.

For example, the Customer Advisors who can answer just about any question about the specifics of Ting might not have all the insight into the device roadmap. They can assign a question that’s beyond their scope to someone on the product or perhaps marketing side of things. Everyone on the team has his or her own areas of expertise and it’s really handy to be able to defer questions without having to leave the social media management tools in Sprout Social.

What’s missing

Facebook, Twitter et. al. are constantly evolving. As social media management tools like Sprout Social are third-party applications, they don’t have the benefit of knowing what specific features will be rolled out next. It can be frustrating to see new features get added to a social media platform and then having to wait for them to be addressed in the social tools you use every day. One simple example: For a long time, we were unable to “favorite” a Tweet in Sprout Social. Similarly, when Facebook changed how it handled images attached to posts, we didn’t have any clarity into that in Sprout Social and so we ended up with some images that didn’t show up quite as we’d like.

Those are minor niggles. More pressing is the fact that there’s only a limited number of social platforms that Sprout Social can address. The biggest, for us, is that we’re unable to mange our LinkedIn page. This is among the most oft-requested features on Sprout Social’s own social media pages (Facebook | Twitter). Other platforms like Instagram would be “nice to haves,” but are less pressing than LinkedIn support.