Using social networking sites to increase productivity is a priority for many businesses, large or small, in the UAE.
I recently attended a forum on social media where social-media experts and small-business owners shared information on how networking sites were useful to them in business, including helping to increase their profits by functioning as free advertising platforms.
One of the reasons I attended this forum was to learn about increasing my networking interactions with clients and potential clients.
A big advantage of having your business on social networking sites is that you can interact directly with your clients, maintaining a personal relationship with each.
Sometimes, however, I don't manage to keep my business pages up to date with posts and tweets.
At times, I would be launching a limited-edition line of clothing but would not receive the buzz anticipated. I did not know whether the missing ingredient was posts or tweets that could have been sent at pivotal times of the day.
Luckily, I did not need to be stressed about the matter for long. Neither did I end up hiring a public relations specialist.
One of the speakers at the forum referred to Roost, a relatively new business networking tool that turned out to be the answer to my prayers.
I have heard of dozens of tools for managing your social network accounts, and new ones spring up every day. A few have caught my attention because they can manage several accounts across different networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
A friend has used a tool called HootSuite, which provides an integrated look at conversations, tweets and posts on your social networking accounts. It also allows easy posting to any of your networking sites and offers you multiple ways to analyse your interactions with network contacts.
SpotOn is similar to HootSuite but has additional features such as reminders, and it helps with setting up your own customer loyalty programme.
But now that I have been introduced to Roost, I can see why one of the speakers at the forum recommended it.
The tool is free, and it resolves a number of challenges facing many small-business owners who aim to use social networking in their commercial activities.
One of the challenges is not knowing what to post, at what times, and to whom to address your posts.
Another challenge is finding the time to manage your social networking, even when you know exactly what you're supposed to do - a difficulty I face constantly.I just do not have enough time to work on my social networking accounts. I have a full-time job and manage many other tasks here and there, and even though I have access to my social accounts via my mobile phone, I still feel swamped.
Roost tackles the problems for me and other business owners in many ways.
Since I have Saturdays to myself, Roost helps me to do an entire week of social media planning and posting in just a few minutes. The tool simply walks me through the process, suggesting what types of posts to make, on what networks, and on which days.
For those who can't decide what to post, Roost suggests what you might say to your clients. And the suggestions are specific to your field of business.
If you own a small cupcake business, Roost might suggest a post about new cupcake flavours. If you are a financial adviser, it might prompt you to give tax or stock advice.
I thought it would not get any better. But after exploring the tool some more, I discovered that Roost continuously updates a library of online articles relevant to my business and suggests that I post links to a few, with comments.
Of course, Roost also suggests a schedule for these posts and can execute them automatically.
However, when I searched for reviews, I came upon many arguments against the tool, which stated that it robotises the relationship between the business and the customer.
But I disagree. I believe that Roost and similar tools help to educate business owners, especially those who are new to employing social networking.
Roost provides a good sense of what sorts of posts work, who should receive them and when those posts should be issued.
For those such as I who do not have assistants helping to spread the word about their businesses, Roost suggests that you put other business owners to work on your behalf.
Sound strange? I thought so too, but it turned out to be a very cool idea. A feature on Roost called "circle", allows you to invite other business owners you know to share some of your tweets or Facebook posts with their followers or contacts.
And you reciprocate.
This is not only a great idea, but it also helps business owners to reach a new audience - a kind of word of mouth.
Roost has made a difference to my business. It pushed me to engage in more conversations, post more questions that got my customers' attention, and saved me a lot of time. Not bad for a tool that is free.
Manar Al Hinai is a fashion designer and writer. She can be followed on Twitter @manar_alhinai