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Forrester Research called out Social Relationship Platform (SRP) vendors for not providing what digital marketers really want.

A platform that says what to post and when. A platform that measures performance.

With all the hype over social media marketing, Forrester researchers said few SRP platforms share data with "trusted measurement tools" or tell brands what to post and when. They are good at, however, saving marketers time as they manage multiple social media accounts.

"The biggest need many organizations face with social media monitoring is mining truly useful data," said Cappy Popp, principal and co-founder of Thought Labs, a digital marketing agency out of Boston. "Many organizations still shortsightedly isolate social media metrics instead of integrating them with their other company-wide metrics. Such integration takes planning, internal collaboration, strong communication skills and deep understanding of social media."

Metrics on Demand

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That was Forrester's point: there's not enough useful data. Social media tools can mine data, but do they tell marketers a clear story that allows them to find qualified leads and engage meaningfully?

"I think what companies expect out of social media monitoring tools changed significantly over the last couple of years," Popp told CMSWire.

"Vanity metrics such as likes, follows, fan growth, views, and their ilk were all the rage while social media matured because they were 'better than nothing.' Those aren't as valuable anymore, especially on networks like Facebook where large fan numbers don't result in large organic reach and you have to pay for the privilege of reaching those fans."

Digital marketers reporting to their bosses demand metrics, Popp added. Metrics that tell larger stories that support organizational goals, not just provide discrete social media numbers.

"It's much more compelling to monitor a customer's journey on social media through a purchasing decision than it is to see how many times something was retweeted," Popp said.

"Companies have also become more aware of the ROI of social media as it applies to non-concrete 'sales,' whether through cost reduction, decreased support time, customer feedback, and the like, making customized data-driven stories that support larger goals even more important."

Who Will Step Up?

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So the task is up to the vendors in social media marketing. Can these SRPs heed Forrester's call and deliver?

What collectively do leading platforms for social media monitoring/relationships do well for marketers?

Joe Matthews, co-founder and CEO of Tagkast, a Chicago-based event marketing tech company, said he sees "misunderstanding and distrust" among enterprises on the business benefit of social media.

"A lot of marketers have been burned in the past with programs that failed to realize the proposed benefits," he said.

Matthews feels some monitoring tools provide a central location and even playing field to evaluate the "key metrics" – i.e., reach, engagements, likes – across business units and campaigns.

"They give everyone in the organization more confidence, and these metrics help show the ROI on their social efforts," he added.

Digital marketers must know what they want to track. Many metrics exist in social media. Few matter.

"With our customers, they care mainly about reach," Matthews said. "... Since that is what our customers want, we emphasize that in our reporting and analytics. If you know your goals, you’ll make a better decision on the partner for you."

Matthews stressed, however, that social media monitoring tools are just that -- tools. Not strategy.

"It requires creativity, authenticity and a large budget to really move the needle now," he said.

"We find the best programs are ones that drive peer-to peer-interactions. You don’t broadcast to people through social media -- rather, you want people using social media to tell your story to their own friends and networks. Our clients that focus their energy on authentic sharing and advocacy perform much better than engagement-only oriented solutions."

What's the Reality?

The reality with these tools? Popp said in many cases the game changes drastically from vendor pitch to Day 1 with the tool.

"Everyone in our industry has seen pitches from monitoring companies showing how easy it is to generate a visually appealing report from their tools," he told CMSWire.

"In reality, setting up a meaningful system for a live organization is an entirely different matter. It can take weeks to set up some of these platforms to ensure they're providing consistently accurate data that then must be interpreted. There really is no shortcut. I've worked with clients that have active licenses for multiple listening tools that all sit idle because of this complexity."

Most platforms do a poor job at sentiment analysis, he said. Finding tweet sentiment is very difficult -- not enough text -- but many tools provide it and stand by their accuracy in doing so.

Vendors have a "favorite claim" of 70 percent accuracy, Popp said.

"In my experience," he added, "they're usually less than 50 percent accurate. This means you have a better chance of flipping a coin than getting an accurate sentiment score from many automated tools. There are exceptions, of course. Sentiment isn't often actionable, either, and can be easily gamed."

Want good insight? Dig into the other guy. Sometimes the best metrics you can track are your competitors, Popp said.

"Competitive analysis is one of the most critical and overlooked ways social media monitoring tools can benefit organizations, and in several ways," Popp told CMSWire.

"First, tracking what campaigns, promotions, or events your competition is running can give you insight into what works for them and in many cases why, giving you critical data needed to design your own. It's usually very easy to spot what your competitors are planning due to the huge spike in social media posts promoting whatever it is."

Keep abreast of the challenges your competitors are experiencing (support nightmares, product outages, recalls, PR fiascos, etc.).

"In many cases," Popp said, "it gives clear guidance how to handle such a situation when your organization faces one. And trust me, it will."

You can also discover influencers in previously unknown communities. Forums still exist.

"Many of these tools let companies keep tabs on new competition of which they were previously unaware," Popp said. "This can be critical for all but the largest organizations and downright mandatory for startups protecting vulnerable market share."

Kinds of Tools

Popp surmised the vendor landscape here into a few categories:

  • One-size-fits-all, we-support-every-network, low-cost approach favored by many early listening tools during their land-grab days that have been rolled up into large and expensive ecosystems like Salesforce, Adobe and others that may offer listening as one piece of much larger and complex social media platform
  • Niche players that focus on networks in which they can compete or offer competitive advantage (and lower cost)
  • Free tools like SocialMention.com still exist but with very limited feature sets
  • Big data powerhouses like DataSift that now provide raw access to real-time data streams from countless social networks, albeit at a very steep cost and a high technical barrier to entry

"The best tools are the ones that help an organization tell a compelling story or solve a problem," Popp said. "Too often I see tools that are mismatched to the problems they were trying to address. ... Some truly exciting things are happening. The field is changing, for sure, but it seems that innovation in many of the tools has slowed since many of the front-runners of years past have been integrated into larger offerings."

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