A Buyer’s Guide To Social Media Management Software

by · June 21, 201230 comments

Note: The following is a guest post from Chuck Hemann, Director of Analytics for WCG. He is also an advisor to many brands and uses and reviews social media management software (SMMS) for their needs. This will be good.

Technological change and innovation hits social media at a speed that makes it very difficult for brand managers and agencies to keep up. In most instances that change and innovation is good, especially when it helps us do our jobs more efficiently and offers value to our respective communities.

Consider for a moment how far social media monitoring platforms have come just over the last two or three years. Back in 2009 social media marketing professionals were happy with a tool that helped them monitor mentions of their brand for the purposes of crisis mitigation. Now these same professionals have the ability to create sophisticated dashboards and raise the collective intelligence of their organizations by listening to the online chatter of the consumer.

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Social media management software tools have undergone a similar evolution as brands have looked for ways to more effectively scale social media efforts. Over the last few weeks Oracle and Salesforce.com have jumped into the ring to take advantage of the obvious CRM applications of these tools. Time will tell how these tools evolve after being purchased by much larger enterprises, but in the meantime marketers are looking at and evaluating them to help their companies.

One of the places where agency partners are valuable to brands is evaluating these tools. In theory, we understand the client’s business, how its customers behave socially and how these tools can help it reach those customers. Because the tools have evolved at such a rapid pace there is quite a lot of confusion at the point of purchase. What should you be looking for in one of these tools if you are purchasing one for your brand? A few things come to mind …

  • Easy to navigate user interface – Please note that I did not say “fancy” or “sexy” user interface. Do not be seduced by the slick interfaces that some of these tools posses. Slick doesn’t necessarily mean functional, and “pretty” won’t help you if the tool is not reliable. What should the interface be able to do? These are the absolute minimum requirements:
    • Scheduling content – THE HORROR! You mean, we might schedule content to be posted in the future? Yes, absolutely, and its time to get over any idea to the contrary. Scheduling content keeps us from having to be at the computer 24/7/365. Most of the current tools on the market have this functionality, but check before buying.
    • Ability to post to all major social channels – Again, a core functionality of most tools, but you should be able to post to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube without much difficulty.
    • Uploading multimedia content – Can you easily attach photos and videos to posts in your current SMMS? We know how important visual content can be for brands so if you can’t upload multimedia with your posts it might be time to start looking elsewhere.
    • Geo-targeting – A feature of some tools, but not all. If you are posting information about an event in Chicago chances are good that your fans or followers in Dallas, for example, do not care. The more relevant the content to a particular audience, the more engagement it is likely to receive. Check to see if your current tool allows for geo-targeting.
    • Post tagging – This is critical for reporting down the line, but you should be able to assign tags to individual posts. Properly tagging posts will save you from having to go through every single post at the end of the month.
    • Robust analytics dashboards – This is the biggest source of my frustration because some of the SMMS tools that are thought to be best in class have what I would categorize as awful analytics dashboards. My hope of a community analyst (merging of community manager and analyst) is likely a long ways off, but just because CM’s are the primary user of these tools does not mean we should dumb down the analytics offering. What data should your SMMS tool be offering?
      • Everything you can get through Facebook or YouTube Insights – Listen, this isn’t a technical problem anymore. Both Facebook and YouTube have made their Insights platforms available via API. Wouldn’t you like to access that data from the same platform you are using to post? Yeah, so would I. Does your platform offer this currently?
      • Twitter data – I realize gathering Twitter data is a little more complex, but your platform should be offering up impressions, clicks, retweets and replies.
      • Competitive data – There are tools currently on the market that offer Facebook data on competitors within the publishing platform. That’s invaluable competitive intelligence as you evaluate your own performance. I wouldn’t categorize the lack of competitor data to be a deal breaker, but it is certainly helpful.
      • Beware of the black box algorithm – I could spend a lot of time on this point, but I am not a fan of algorithms within SMMS tools that place an arbitrary value metric on your content. The threshold should be that if you cannot stand in front of the CMO and defend what you are presenting, do not use it. In almost every instance, that describes these algorithms.
      • Reliability – This would appear to be a “no duh” point, but you would be surprised how unstable some of these platforms can be. Double posting, inability to upload multimedia at random times, broken links and out of date data are all frequent issues with these tools. I totally understand the occasional outage, but if you are having constant technological challenges it is time to look at another tool.
      • Mobility – Does your platform offer you the ability to now or in the near future access your publishing engine or data via mobile device? Probably a question you have not thought to ask, but should. Are you near your computer 24/7/365? I know I am not.
      • CRM “Hooks” – I am not a big fan of the term “social CRM,” but I can see the utility of having customer data merged with social content data. Can you incorporate your existing CRM data with your SMMS tool?
      • Monitoring platform integration – I still feel strongly that the winning combination will be some form of listening tool and SMMS platform. Imagine the power of being able to monitor for mentions of your brand, post from your brand page and then gather the data all from one platform. Very powerful combination that has yet to truly come to fruition.

If I were in the market for an SMMS tool, these are the items I would be evaluating. If you have purchased an SMMS tools for your brand recently did you utilize these criterion? If not, why? If there are others I haven’t listed here, please come and share. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Chuck Hemann is currently Director of Analytics for WCG, a full-service communications company based in San Francisco, CA. Over the last 7 years Chuck has consulted with companies on multiple topics, including digital analytics, social media, crisis communications and investor relations.  Most recently he has consulted for a number of Fortune 500 companies across multiple industries on how best to leverage vast amounts of social/digital data, the implementation of SMMS tools and measuring the performance of social media programs. You can most often find Chuck on Twitter or blogging on Common Sense, WCG’s corporate blog. 

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/JamieCKennedy Jamie Kennedy

    A few additional insights? Things such as multi-tiered administrative privileges, customized email
    notifications for when lower-level employees are performing specific functions
    in the SMMS (these could be specifically designated behaviors by the management
    team and would preferably have mobile notification capabilities for ease of
    use), adaptive layout formats for multi-media posting (this thinking may be too
    wishful, but imagine the opportunity to choose the viewing designs for each
    channel re: Facebook status post of a YouTube video has 3 varying layout
    options). Other platform functionalities, like scheduled report generation, B2B
    social accounts monitoring, and business-relevant competitor data with
    real-time reporting would all be ideal. I know the big fish developers have plenty
    of bait to lure in new ideas and designs (heh, fishing pun) and, like you Charles, I’m stupid excited
    (read: mildly skeptical) to see what comes of it. -J

    • http://chuckhemann.com/ Chuck Hemann

      These are great adds, Jamie. The automation of reporting would be something useful, though, as you know, I’m not a fan of the “template.” 

      • http://www.amantalwar.com/ Digital Marketing Consultant

        Nice post Chuck. In your unbiased opinion, do you know any SMMS that perform all the items that you have mentioned. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

  • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

    Great points Chuck.  Like Jamie, I’ll give a couple of additions that we hear are value adds too.  Bit.ly integration or some type of click to conversion integration.  Also, one hot topic that comes up is application/tab capabilities…it’s not a must have for all brands but many of the RFP’s we’re seeing still list this as a requirement.

    It’s a never ending development cycle for our team to keep up with the demands of the marketplace.  There is not a one size fits all strategy or solution, so companies need to take the time to find the right   social media software for their needs.  Due diligence is critical with all the variations of features out there right now.  Tough decisions!

    -Erica McClenny
    VP Client Services
    Expion 

    • http://chuckhemann.com/ Chuck Hemann

      Thanks for the comment, Erica. Completely agree with you here… 

  • joeciarallo

    Nice post, Chuck. Erica and Jamie add some great ideas as well. Regarding your point about monitoring platform integration, we’re excited that by combining Buddy Media with Salesforce Radian6, we will allow customers to listen, engage, gain insight, publish, advertise and measure social marketing. On that note, having a social ad component has been a huge ask, and one of the reasons we got into that space via acquisition. It’s one of the fastest growing parts of our business. 

  • marcusandrews

    Awesome insights into the features a good SMMS should have. My addition to this list would be service. We all know how fast social moves, my advice is to find a partner you can lean on for strategy, education and whose development runs in quick cycles.

  • TomJTaylor
  • http://www.ivisionmobile.com/ Mobile Marketing

    Thanks for such a great post. I found your post to be of great value and full of great tips!

  • http://www.neverstopmarketing.com jer979

    Full disclosure: I’m the VP/Mktg of Sprinklr, so not an unbiased commenter here.  

    I think you nailed a good portion of the requirements, but I think there are a few others that warrant consideration.

    1. Social Governance–critical to make sure that as social spreads throughout the enterprise, that there is one location through which to manage access, permissions, approvals so the right people engage at the right time. Plus…digital asset management, so brand voice is maintained at every touch point. Also, a way to ensure global strategy compliance with local execution flexibility, say in the case of a Facebook landing page where logos are locked down, but text can be edited.

    2. Cross-functional capabilities. Too often, SMMS vendors and brands equate “social” with “marketing.” It’s bigger than that as social transcends multiple touchpoints and affects multiple units. You need a way to coordinate all of that with tracking, audit trails, routing, queues, and escalation built in (no more managing by email)

    3. Scalability–this may fall under your reliability bucket, but it goes not just to increasing volume message, but also ability to support global roll-outs in multiple geographies.

    I hope the comments above are sufficiently credible that I may share a relevant link without coming off as purely self-promotional.

    We did just published our own thoughts on this “The 6 Must Haves of an Enterprise Social RFP” (http://spr.ly/SocialRFP) and I welcome your thoughts/feedback/criticism on it.

    • http://chuckhemann.com/ Chuck Hemann

      great comment. completely agree with the governance piece. it’s something that Jamie brought up, and something I wish I mentioned in the post. 

      • http://www.neverstopmarketing.com jer979

        If you are up for it, would love to chat a bit 1:1. It’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of confusion and lack of clarity in the marketplace. Obviously, we want to educate as well as drive awareness of our platform, but at a high level, the market does need some clarity.

        • http://chuckhemann.com/ Chuck Hemann

          Not opposed to that. I’m familiar with your platform through a mutual client, but definitely open to the chat. Might need to be after July 4th though. 

          • http://www.neverstopmarketing.com jer979

            Understood. I’ll ping you after the 4th. Thanks for the consideration.

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  • Jim Rudden

    Good stuff Chuck. Definitely a timely post with so many companies looking to establish a SMMS for use across the enterprise. 

    Three additions to what has already been mentioned in the comments:

    – Collaboration/Coordination. Giving team members the ability to assign posts and responses to others and provide notification about To Dos. Add to this the ability for teams to assign responses and posts to other teams (think of a product care question coming in on a jobs focused social account at a company). So, coordination within and across teams.
    – Archiving. The ability to save and export messages/posts and their engagement. Not just for regulated industries, we see a lot of companies wanting to store their posts for historical analysis.
    – Security. Clearly top of mind for regulated industries, but simple things like more robust password management are becoming important requirements as companies start to look at SMMS as first class corporate platforms.
    As a vendor in the SMMS space, we are big fans of companies getting more educated about the requirements for a a great platform. Hope our additions help add to the picture. For those with an appetite for lots o’ details, we put together a 10-page checklist on this subject a year ago – and have been updating it since. It may seem extensive, but we’ve found it is important to get into the details. Fair warning – we do require you to fill out a registration form to get the document http://info.spredfast.com/SocialCRMChecklist.html

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  • Stan

    Hi Jason, thank you for stressing your approach to evaluating the UI of social media tools. That’s exactly the point I’ve never voiced but I couldn’t agree more! It has kind of been my unconscious criterion to choosing the software. The point is really not in clean and sexy layout. The point is the software functionality. That’s the reason why I choose buzzbundle (http://www.link-assistant.com/buzzbundle/) over clearner hootsuite (hootsuite.com) or viralheat (https://www.viralheat.com/): buzzbundle finds more mentions, it supports more networks and thus it delivers!

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