The race to see who offers the best social monitoring and measurement solution is in full force right now. We've started to learn what is working and what isn't. The technology and understanding is getting better. There is more psychology, scientific method and good design being injected into the creation of a lot of the newer solutions out there. Budgets are also being created for social media specifically, so that we can be held accountable for all this touting we've been doing about the value of what we do as social media professionals over the last couple years.
Below I've listed a bunch of features and functions that you should take into consideration when choosing the right weapon(s) for your social business arsenal.
In our continued (and sometimes exhaustive) quest to make social useful for business, we need data that matters. The naysayers and skeptics still continue to verbally flog the idea that integrating social media into our corporate fabric in a way that deem it capable of somehow being responsible for real revenue. Useful data creates real results when used to drive action and can prove them wrong. We all know that being data-driven should always be the only way to go. It's our responsibility as social business advocates to prove this with a solid reporting strategy that will help drive business decisions, resulting in a revenue increase, either directly or indirectly. This means that at the very least, your social media monitoring tool of choice should already have a robust, customizable, and automated reporting mechanism. You should be able to set up a multitude of customized reports that are tailored to your internal customer needs. You should also be able to schedule these reports to be sent out to your stakeholders at a frequency that works for them. Effective reporting is the life blood for doing business. This is no different with social. Good reporting is good, but great reporting stops us from making bad marketing decisions, reduces future roadmap guesswork, and saves us money by keeping us honest with a focus on what the paying customer wants.
Once you've convinced your company of the value of social media, the time comes quickly when you need to strategize it's integration into the normal processes within marketing, PR, and other functional organizations where social might have a place. If you are a one to two person team, your workflow integration demands for a social media monitoring tool may be fairly minimal. If your team grows or you are running social media in an enterprise-level environment, you will quickly realize that you risk the potential of becoming a bottleneck because no 1-2 person team can consume and manually forward all the pertinent information to the various organizations within a large company. You risk being a bottleneck instead of an enabler. If you can find a tool that meets your needs and is easy to train others on, you can accomplish everything from evening out the distributed workload to scaling your social media effort to creating a feedback loop for responding to customer inquiries that come in through various social channels.
If you are running the social media execution and strategy for your company, you are probably getting more email and notifications to your phone and various inboxes than you ever thought possible. It can be pretty daunting, especially if you are working for a large company with limited resources and bandwidth. All that activity has a habit of pushing down on all of your unread messages like a trash compactor. You end up feeling like you have no choice but to skim your email, SMS messages, mobile app notifications and more, barely having the time to digest and fully read anything. I've found that through all this chaos, if a social monitoring tool has a simple, yet customizable alert system that will send out SMS messages or emails for very specific types of activity generated by your various social channels, you can spend more time addressing the higher priority inquiries and issues as needed, allowing you to deal with your lower priority notifications more efficiently. I haven't seen this in many of the demos I've witnessed but the few that I've tried out that do have this functionality have kept my anxiety down about my engagement opportunities potentially falling through the cracks.
The multi-language requirement is a nice-to-have for most, but not all companies are global so it's not a deal breaker for all. If your company is planning to go global and has the resources to support monitoring and response in your non-US regional markets, the ability to have your international teams use the same tools as your English-speaking team is a huge win. This can be especially key if you need to dive into dissecting the nature of conversations between the different cultures and how they talk about your brand.
In the earlier phase of social monitoring tools, we knew meaningfulness was key in helping us understand all of our mentions and related posts. The initial approach in trying to build this into a tool was to be completely keyword-based. Tools would have a set of 'good' and 'bad' word lists that would trigger a sentiment rating in a robotic boolean sort of way. If a tweet or post didn't contain anything in those word lists, then it was deemed 'neutral.'
Well, not only do we know that it's impossible to assess human inflection and tone with that type of approach, we also know that U.S. English has been butchered by sarcasm and slang. Words and phrases have quadruple meanings whose intent shift entirely just from a slight tweak in context, tone, and in some cases what locale they came from.
Some of the most recent tools are much better in that they allow companies to build an ongoing library of sentiment triggers and definitions that are based on their business and industry so that there is no room for algorithmic assumption by a piece of software. This thankfully adds the 'human' to the equation of assessing sentiment more accurately.
NOTE: It's important to choose a staff member that has an amazing understanding of human interaction, emotion and the way that meaningful conversation is conveyed online. They need to be able to quickly adapt to the nuances of online communication and it's seemingly constant changes.
This is fast becoming a more important requirement. Social folks tend to be on the road a lot, participating in events, capturing and publishing content. These people need to have access to what's going on at all times, at the very least, for PR's sake. We all know that bad and extremely inaccurate or skewed news can spread fast and we need to be able to deal with it right there on the fly if possible. Being able to address a public tweet about your brand by someone highly influential while simultaneously being able to remove a nasty Facebook fan page post littered with offensive language all within minutes from your smartphone is starting to become necessary. This is especially true for large publicly traded companies that need to keep their reputations as squeaky clean as possible.
Ease of Use
Nothing is worse than paying for a solution that has all the data you want with an interface and UI design built by a Linux kernel engineer (Sorry guys, you do write some awesome code though!). If it's hard for you to get around and accomplish what you need to help ensure social media adds value to your business, imagine what it's gonna be like training a total newbie on how to use it when it's time to scale. Imagine having to train thirty plus newbies across multiple departments with different personalities and skill sets across your entire company and then having to support all of them when they have questions.
You can avoid the nightmare if you choose a tool that is easy to use, easy to train others on, and has a very thoughtful UI. Don't be taken by all the graphs and charts and animated fly-out menus backed by a smooth sales pitch. If you login to a new tool from scratch, without ever having seen it before, and can't figure out how to intuitively access the basics, keep that red flag in the back of your mind. It could help spare you a major headache later.
Companies large and small are trusting their business decisions and their budgets every quarter to data monitored by these various solutions. Most of the time these tools are web portals, hosted by the vendor. By investing in, and building out, the complex and strategic integration of a third party software into the folds of they way you do business, you are placing a high amount of trust and reliability in someone outside of your company. You need to know that they have a responsive support team of skilled staff in place that use a solid system and process for receiving, addressing, and fixing issues when they arise. Nothing makes executives lose faith more than system downtime with no real answers or ETA.
Expect a Lot
Lastly, Now is the time to raise the bar high. Don't be easily sold on one or two cool features that are pitched to you using the word engage in every other sentence. During these transitional times in social technology, adoption by key decision makers and upper management is something we are all working hard to attain. Deciding on a good social media monitoring solution that you plan on scraping up budget for during a tough economic time can make or break the amount of support you get. Expect a lot from all the vendors that are calling you to set up a demo. Hammer them with questions and requirements so that you aren't giving your budget away. Being a well-intentioned skeptic is never a bad thing.
In the end, your specific business needs will dictate the priority of these various features when you are going through the evaluation process to see what is out there.
Before committing to a contract with any solution, the key is to first assess your business priorities and KPI's, then start scheduling demos and stack each solution's strengths and weaknesses against your social demands. The best solution is the one that fits the needs of your business, not the one that uses the most buzz words.