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4/15/2011
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Sprout Social Helps SMBs Manage Social Networks

With a focus on smaller businesses, Sprout offers social media monitoring as well as tools for scheduling posts and tweets, and engaging with customers and prospects.

Top 20 Apps For Managing Social Media
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Amanda Wood's title at the Killswitch Collective, a Chicago digital agency, is "administrative assistant" rather than something more glorified like "social media manager." But she practically lives on Facebook and Twitter.

Her status as a small business social media warrior makes her a perfect customer for Sprout Social, a social media management tool targeted at small to midsize businesses.

"I use it every day, 5 days a week, and I use it all day," Wood said in an interview. "It's really important for us to keep on top of our Twitter account and our Facebook page." Actually, make that accounts and pages. In addition to Killswitch, she has been working on the marketing for managing partner Benjamin Finch's other startup, Finch's Beer.

"We've built Finch's Beer, as a brand, entirely on social," Finch said in an interview, and some of his best sales leads are coming from people communicating entirely through Twitter messages-- business interactions that would be difficult to manage within Twitter's native tools. "That stuff is so much easier with Sprout," he said.

Sprout CEO Justyn Howard said his company is sometimes compared with Radian6, which was recently acquired by Salesforce.com, "except that they're much more enterprise focused." Sprout offers social media monitoring, or "listening," as well as tools for scheduling posts and tweets, and engaging with customers and prospects.

While enterprise technologies may have to address challenges of scale and complexity, Howard said in an interview that Sprout's focus on smaller businesses means simplicity is the thing he has to get right. "When you're dealing with a sophisticated, larger company that's dealing with social media, you can really just give them data," he said. Given access to the right data, those businesses know how to analyze it. Serving smaller companies means having to do a lot more of that work up front, so a small business owner understands what the data means, he said.

"It's a lot harder to build a solution takes all of that data and boils it down to what's really relevant and easy to use for small business customers," Howard said. Sprout has attracted some enterprise customers who like the tool, too, but Howard said he doesn't want to let the company be distracted into chasing them.

Sprout has the financial backing of Lightbank, the investment fund from Groupon co-founders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell. Groupon is also a customer. Winning that business wasn't as easy as you might think--despite the investment relationship--because Groupon knew exactly what it wanted, "and in our early days, the product wasn't quite there," Howard said. "It's only when our product became the best one for them to use that they switched over."

Finch is in the same club of Chicago businesses and heard about Sprout through friends at Lightbank. But Finch said he said he has stuck with Sprout because it works well for both his businesses--Killswitch, which as a digital agency is expected to have a good social presence, and Finch's Beer, which is in the process of creating a brand.

"As somebody who is looking statistics, I like the way they aggregate all the metrics so you can see who is saying what and when," Finch said. He has not taken a serious look at Sprout's competitors, but only because he has had no reason to, he said. "It does everything we need it to do."

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