Fire Up Your Crowd!


What is Crowdfire and why should you bother with it?

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When I started The Wax Picture in July of last year, I initially used to write my posts and then manually share them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. At first, it was simple enough, didn't take much time and I didn't concern myself with visitors and statistics. Then I saw somebody mention their earnings from blogging over the previous 12 months, in a post on Twitter. The amount was staggering - it floored me. It was through that post, and reading several blog posts about being a 'career blogger' (or - my most hated term - 'influencer') that I decided to take this seriously.

The problem for me was having the time to constantly update my social media feeds with content. Not necessarily new content with every single Twitter post for example, but rather posting regularly enough to spread the word about The Wax Picture. I'd used automated social media posting tools before (I'm sure there's a word for those collective tools, but I don't know what it might be!) and they had all fallen short in one regard or another. Then I heard about an app called Crowdfire.

The good

Crowdfire is primarily an app for your phone - they do have a website, but it's better with your phone. This means that you'll most likely always have it with you.

It allows you to schedule your posts across several different social media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.The scheduling process is very similar to how you would do it via a social media app. You create a post, add a picture and a link. But after that is where Crowdfire comes into is different. When you're ready to post, you have three options. You can 'Post Now', which does exactly what you'd expect - your post is sent to your social media account immediately (and I mean immediately - there is no delay!). You can set it to 'Post at Custom Time', which allows you to select the date and time you'd like to post - when that time arrives, Crowdfire does the work for you. The final option - and this is where the app really shines - is 'Post at Best Time'. This option tells Crowdfire to figure out when your audience is most likely to see your post. Now I have no idea about the technology behind this, but that's not important. What is important is that it works. Using this option I have seen my Twitter reach dramatically within the space of a month.

You can add your blog's website address to Crowdfire too. Doing so will tell the app to monitor your blog, and when you publish a new post, you'll get a notification on your phone reminding you to share it across your social media accounts. This is useful if you are posting there and then, but if you schedule your posts (for example if you'll be on holiday but need to keep publishing content) then you're better off using the scheduling system. It is a useful feature though!

It's free! Ok, so as a free user you are limited in what you can do, but that's to be expected. You can schedule up to ten posts per social media account, and have one account per social network. There are paid plans available, and what you can do with those depends on the plan you choose.

It tell you things you wouldn't otherwise know (at least for Twitter anyway - the following features only apply to that network.) For example, the app tracks your followers and unfollowers. It can tell you who follows you whom you don't follow in return. It also shows you who you follow but are not followed by. This information can be quite useful if you get a lot of accounts repeatedly following and unfollowing you, just because they are trying to increase their numbers. Another useful feature is that it can show you all of the accounts that you follow which haven't been active recently. I use this to cull accounts that aren't used anymore or. You can filter the results by accounts that have been dormant for a month, 3 months or 6 months.

One last useful feature is what Crowdfire call 'prescriptions'. Here, the app notifies you that it's got some content you might want to post to keep your audience engaged. It presents you with some of your recent or popular content, and suggests that your share it some more. This is useful if you haven't got any new posts for whatever reason, or there's an article you want to push. The 'prescriptions' feature also recommends other content to share based upon your preferences, and other actions to carry out. Combined with 'Post at Best Time', it's a useful tool for increasing reach.

The bad

While there are some things I don't like about the app, these are by no means dealbreakers. How much these will impact upon your use of the app will vary.

The free plan is very limited when it comes to scheduled posts. You only get ten posts per social media account with the free plan. At first, that sounds like an awful lot, but it soon isn't enough. If you schedule a post to be repeated four times over the next month, that's nearly 50% of your capacity used up. This unfortunately means you find yourself not posting repeated content as often, or you end up going back to manually posting new content while leaving the automations in place. It is understandable from a business perspective, as they need to make money and if nobody needs to upgrade, then Crowdfire would cease to exist.

The prescriptions only cover recent content and you only have a limited choice in the app. It would be better if there was a more even mix of old and new, especially if you have a post from a few years back that your readers might be interested in. At the moment, I think you get presented with five choices and, for me at least, the options haven't been that relevant to my current audience. An increase in this number would be better, along with a better mix.

The subscriptions are flawed for most of the bloggers that I know. The pricing is my first gripe. For example, the 'Plus' subscription (which is $4.99 per month if you pay for a year in advance, but $9.99 a month if you opt for monthly payments) seems a bit out of balance. I understand that most subscription services offer a discount if you pay annually, and it makes sense. The difference in the cost is stark however. A 50% increase in cost if you can't afford to pay all at once. That's very poor, and I wonder if they'd be better off lowering the price of the monthly subscription by say $2 or $3 to help new users (which is, incidentally, who the plan is aimed at.) The 'Plus' plan increases the number of scheduled posts to 100, which is a decent amount, but it also allows you to have two linked accounts per social network. Why? Most of the bloggers I know have one account to promote their blog, and the ones that have a personal account can just retweet, as I do. I feel a better option would be to keep with once account per network, but increase the number of scheduled posts by 50%.

Another issue is how the subscriptions scale. It is not good at all. The next plan is the 'Premium' one, at $7.99 per month if you pay for a year up front, or a staggering $19.99 if you pay monthly. That's a huge difference and one that I feel is quite unfair to monthly subscribers. For your money, you do not get any extra scheduled posts either! You get to link 5 accounts per network, and customer support via email. I think it would be better to allow 2 linked accounts, and say 500 scheduled posts.

The disparity with the plans continues, with the 'VIP' plan being the biggest, and most expensive. At $33.32 annual equivalent, or $99.99 monthly, it is a lot of money. I think this option is aimed at agencies more than individuals, as you get up to 20 linked accounts per network. You also get 2,000 scheduled posts (or 100 per account.) I'd love to have a conversation with someone with one of these accounts to find out how and why they use it, and if they feel it's value for money. The other concern I would have is that one person is able to control 20 accounts - and able to post anything they see fit. Supposing that a company has a disgruntled employee in charge of this? One or two business accounts, plus a few personal account of staff to allow promotion via them? A single scheduled offensive tweet across all those accounts could potentially be very damaging indeed. I wonder if it's worth the risk?

One last issue is that the app does not have a draft facility. In other words, if you've written a post but then need to do something else in the app, you either schedule your post or lose it. Additionally, if you're out of the app for any length of time, and you were writing a post - sorry, but it's gone. It just does not remember what you were doing and instead reverts to the 'Content' section when you open the app - even if it has been running in the background. This is a big problem for me, as I need to be able to switch to other things during writing. One answered phone call for example, and my hard work is gone. The app desperately needs an automatic 'save to drafts' facility.


The (intermittently) ugly

My experience with the app hasn't not been without issues. When I first started using it, I would frequently, but not at regular intervals, get an error about the app not being able to post because of a SSL problem. Usually I would have to tap the post button for or five times for it to work. Sometimes I'd have to quit the app completely and try again. This seems to have improved dramatically with the last update, but it still happens now and again. I did reach out to Crowdfire via their Twitter account, but their response was less than helpful. I described the problem and sent a screenshot. I was then asked to describe the problem and send a screenshot... Whoever was running the account that day had clearly not bothered to scroll up through the thread.

Integration with Instagram is a pain. Now while this is not Crowdfire's fault, it is an important point to be aware of. Instagram changed their policy a while back to prevent automated posting. Quite frankly I think this was a bloody stupid decision which stifles growth on both the platform and of the content creators who use it. What it means is that, while you can schedule posts in the Crowdfire app, you still have to manual post in Instagram. The app notifies you when it's time to post, and then copies your text and send the photo to the Instagram app. You then have to past your text and publish. The app does remind you to check that you're signed in to the correct Instagram account, which is helpful in keeping blog posts off my personal account. It's not an elegant solution, but it will do until (or rather if) Instagram finally sees sense and reverse the policy.

Overall

Despite my issues with the pricing structure, and the minor technical problems I've had, I would still recommend Crowdfire to those who are serious about their content. Out of all the publishing apps I've tried, this one is the best. The good points of the app far outweigh the bad, and minor issues are to be expected with any technology. Overall, I've seen results from using this app and that's what counts for me. Visit their website here to try them out.

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