A social media marketing campaign is like other marketing campaigns, except for one factor: it's iterative, and may change and adapt more quickly. To help companies determine the tools they should use to obtain such agility, marketing researcher Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) has released a new report that surveys the landscape. 

The report, Social Media Marketing and Analytics: The New Face of Customer Engagement, notes that the good news is that “software can assist with every aspect” of the social media marketing lifecycle, which includes listening for effectivenesss and change, fine tuning a campaign, designing message and content, and back again.

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The bad news: the available tools offer a “confusing landscape that ranges from integrated suites that manage the entire process to standalone platforms that only perform one or two necessary functions.”

Driver: Marketing

The driver behind the purchase of such social media marketing and analytics software, the report said, is the marketing professional, not the IT department. Originally, the purchasers of social media analytics were ad and marketing agencies, but now they are increasingly large, multi-brand corporations. Social media marketing software, however, is being bought by all kinds of companies.

The report said that a “true social marketing platform” does not simply have the ability to post messages, videos or photos to a site. It must also be able to assist in creating compelling content, such as Facebook tabs, and be able to automate publishing, such as timed releases of posts. It needs to be able to manage an overall social media campaign, including assessing the effectiveness of messages, and it should be able to amplify messages by using social network effects and by leveraging influencers.

Social analytics tools have two basic components -- listening to social media feeds and analysis, which looks for trends over time. Other kinds of analysis include determining profiles of likely product buyers, sometimes called audience targeting or audience segmentation.

17 Vendors

In terms of feature sets, the report notes that point solutions address one functional area, integrated solutions combine a number of tools, and marketing automation software includes social marketing and analytics as a component of a larger marketing platform.

Integrated solutions are becoming more common, such as ones from Oracle, Salesforce.com and Shoutlet, and Adobe, HubSpot and Marketo are among the vendors whose marketing automation solutions include social media as a key component. Point solutions include Hootsuite’s social media publishing platform and IDInteract’s analytics and reward marketing solution.

In brief overviews, the report compares the offerings from 17 vendors. Among the major vendors, it notes that Adobe offers a complete suite of marketing tools, including the cloud-based Adobe Social for analytics and marketing. The company’s real strength, the report said, is its “ability to tie these social media analytics directly to onsite conversions,” using web analytics and e-commerce components.

Oracel, Salesforce, SAP

Oracle’s Social Relationship Management portfolio, based on acquisitions of Virtrue, Collective Intelligence, Involver and Eloqua, is centered around Social Engagement & Monitoring and can be integrated into its CRM and other products to help lead generation and sales.

Salesforce.com’s Marketing Cloud contains a complete social media marketing automation suite that has also been built on acquisitions, including analytics provider Radian6 and publisher/advertiser Buddy Media. As with Oracle, Salesforce’s tools can be integrated with its other products, such as Sales Cloud. SAP partners with NetBase to provide its Social Media Analytics through its on-premises SAP CRM and the cloud-based SAP Customer OnDemand.

Summaries of smaller companies include ones for Attensity, Constant Contact, HootSuite, IDInteract, Marketo, Shoutlet and Visible Technologies.

Telephone Game

To its credit, the report also counters some of the hype surrounding social media analytics and marketing. For instance, it notes that the trendy analysis of social media “big data” can include such issues as bias, message drift or non-textual content, and should be considered in the context of traditional market research and marketing channels.

It also points out such biases in social media data as its tilt toward younger demographics and toward certain geographies, such as the East and West Coasts of the U.S. And, rare among social media reports, it notes one obvious flaw in social media messaging: the problems of the “telephone game,” where a marketing message, if reworded from person to person, can become something quite different.

This useful report could have been stronger, however, if its summaries of the various vendors were more qualitative and less of a functional overview of the product range, more like how Gartner’s Magic Quadrant reports assess the strengths and weakness of vendors in a given field. But what’s really needed in this and other vendor-summary reports is an interactive component, a qualifying wizard, where a user can answer questions about needs, resources and future plans, and the report recommends products/vendors based on the responses.