There is no shortage of social media monitoring tools on the market today, and figuring out which ones to evaluate can be a daunting and time consuming task on its own. The good news is that there are a number of solid products to look at, and they are beginning to mature to the point where larger organizations can effectively listen, collaborate, and engage in social media conversations in way that will scale. The industry is moving (and evolving) quickly; it wasn't long ago that "early adopter" companies had one or two people using desktop tools, Google Alerts, or Twitter search to find out what was being said online. Today, smart companies are establishing Social Media policies and best practices, investing in social media as a long-term communication channel, and beginning to see adoption across functions within an organization. Be careful though - some of the SMM tools claim to do everything you need and will look good on the surface but end up falling short when it matters.

 

Regardless of whether you are evaluating social media tools for the first time, or are already using one, this list is a great "sanity-check" to ensure you have picked the right solution. Online conversations across all kinds of media (not just Twitter or Facebook) are here to stay, and will become a growing part of the communications strategy for every business. Do you know what you need to be successful?

 

  1. Avoid pay-per-search or pay-per-result - Avoid services that charge you per search term, topic or results. You end up with a myriad of problems, such as casting too narrow of a listening net (and missing relevant content and metrics), swapping searches in and out and losing the long-term analytics, or finding your bill skyrocket when a new project comes up, or a popular term delivers a flood of results. The value in Social Media Monitoring and Engagement tools are that they can listen to millions of conversations a day for you, so don't limit yourself out of the gate with models that won't scale with the business need or handcuff you along the way.

  2. Beware of shiny things - Some apps present themselves better than others, but pay close attention to ease-of-use and usability when you are evaluating the tools. Once you get beyond the demo and the sample report, in order to be successful you need the tool to be intuitive and straightforward for an entire team to use. Anything that requires training and a manual means more friction when it comes to broad adoption. Pretty UI but impossible to figure out=expensive shelfware.

  3. Know what success looks like - Go into the evaluation knowing what you want to monitor and how you'll use the information. Are you listening for brand mentions? Listening to the competition? Interested in finding the influencers? Rather than just poke-around the tools for the sake of it, or using test terms that are not relevant to your real-world - its worth sitting down and planning. Some SMM companies will help you get the service dialed in and educate you along the way. Think about the metrics that will matter to you, and ensure the tools can deliver what you need. Ensure you can perform mention analysis of your brand against others, or product vs product to see how you really stack up.

  4. Avoid data silos - Social is happening everywhere, across all kinds of apps and products both inside and outside the walls of companies. Does your social media monitoring vendor understand this? Do they have the correct vision (and can they execute against it?) The problem stand-alone tools are running into is that the data is stuck there, and that greatly erodes the value of having it in the first place! With no way to efficiently crowd-source answers or discuss events during a crisis in real-time (sorry, but reply-all on email doesn't cut it any longer), the tool may actually hurt more than help. If the platform doesn't evolve in step with the pace of social collaboration and engagement, you risk ending up with business-critical data stuck in a "silo", or worse a tool people stop using because its not collaborative.

  5. Think about the future - We always advise our customers to "have a social media strategy", even if its very lightweight. Once you join in the fray, leaving is rarely a wise option. You might be starting with one application of social media engagement today (customer service or marketing), but as Adam Mertz talks about in his companion blog post, in the near future the uses will expand cross-functionally. Having a little foresight while evaluating now will save you from an expensive mistake down the road (see #1 and #4). If you believe, like I do, that social media is a real-time, two-way communication channel, you can draw many parallels to past technology or communication channel maturity models. How many employees do you have communicating with customers today via phone, web, email, etc? How many people are communicating on social media? In some ways, its still early days, but if you see how quickly the channel has matured already, its only a matter of time before you need to bring more resources to bear than just the "community manager" as the only person engaging (no disrespect meant for Community Managers!)

 

If you'd like to see how Jive's social media monitoring software stacks up, please join us for a live webcast on May 4th to see it in action and hear how companies are transforming the way they listen to, and engage with, the Social Web.