Good communication is critical for your personal relationships, and today that rings true for our virtual ones as well. But audiences vary, as do their needs. Once you have your social engagement strategy, you need your tools. The complexities of your communities make choosing the right tools tricky. Here's what you need to know. 

Web Engagement's 5 Components

As we've previously discussed, Web Engagement Management is the strategy and practice of how an organization optimizes its digital presence. While Web CMS sits pretty in the center of the operation, five WEM pillars are in constant orbit:

  1. Content Optimization
  2. Multi-channel Management
  3. Conversational Engagement
  4. Demand Generation
  5. Sales and Relationship Automation

Because it's a composite strategy, WEM will continue to evolve in a string of bits and pieces. And although changes to each individual section will naturally inspire activity in its complementary parts, it's how an organization chooses to connect with their audience that will serve as the backbone for successful business conduct.

Cart vs. Horse: What are Your Goals?

It's extremely important that you don't jump the gun, especially in the context of social engagement. Mostly this is because there's just too much to choose from: rich public profiles, micro-blogs, commenting frameworks, all manner of Facebook integration, content mashing and syndication, social graphs, user generated content, community platforms and micro-blogging tools are just a few.

And while trial and error is not something to be discouraged, it's important to keep in mind that using technology for the sake of technology can be detrimental. So we recommend you begin at the beginning: Who are your customers? What to they want or need in a given channel? What are your per channel goals?

Answering basic questions like these can help put together a solid list of conversational tools that support the wants and needs of your audience.

Ways to Conversationally Engage

There are communication and collaboration tools for companies of all sizes. Options range from consistent native solutions to flexible third-party offerings (which are great for experimenting).

Social Computing as Part of Your Web CMS

A number of web content management systems come complete with out-of-the-box conversational tools, so you don't have to worry about digging through the endless vastness that is the Internet to find something that works with what you've already got.

Social Collaboration bloomed in Day Software (news, site) when the company released CQ 5.2 in March of this year. New features include blogging, wikis, feeds and social profiles. Additionally, the tool comes with workflow integration that allows for moderation and permissions settings. 

EPiServer's (news, siteRelate+ product is built on top of their CMS 5 web content management system and provides a common framework for incorporating social media features, community building with EPiServer Community platform and e-mail marketing into websites.

FatWire (news, site), for example, added Community Server to their suite earlier this year. The social computing module lives on top of Fatwire's Web CMS (Content Server), enabling users to improve customer relations via comments, as well as rate and review options. On the internal side of things employees can set up their own blogs for raising public awareness. Because they're native, the company's look and feel is maintained, keeping the conversation clean and appropriately styled.

The CommonSpot Web CMS from PaperThin (news, site) saw its first major update in three years this year. The new community site -- 'The Commons' -- is intended for both customers and partners, and stocks a slew of features including blogs, calendars, content import, Facebook integration and profiles.

Similarly, Sitecore (newssite) offers a number of communication tools and an add-on module called the Online Marketing Suite, which integrates with the WCM core. The Sitecore functionalities include RSS syndication, email-a-friend controls, simple blogging capabilities and automated social site integrations.

Aside from convenience, one particularly attractive benefit of native solutions is the constant seamlessness. Naturally, if a Web CMS comes equipped with these tools, they're going to flow nicely with the rest of the system (or we'd like to hope they are). Unfortunately, most traditional Web CMS products aren't designed to support rich social collaboration around documents, and are typically slower to update these capabilities than third-party companies.

Separate Social Computing Solutions

Depending on your needs, depending on what your WCM offers out-of-the-box tools or depending on the scope of functionality you're after (e.g., should we tweet from our WCM admin console?), native capabilities may not make sense. And, there are plenty of outside tools that are available for tight integration.

These examples illustrate rational scenarios:

blueKiwi (news, site) is into all kinds of conversation. This French startup's tools are built to bring your employees together and reel customers, partners and prospects in closer. blueKiwi also pays special attention to managing customer forums.

Jive Software's (news, site) Social Business Software (SBS) takes content from within your enterprise and socializes it, while The Jive Market Engagement Platform monitors the social Web (blog posts, videos, photos, forums, news, Twitter) for mentions of an organization's brand. From there, this information is placed in an area of SBS called Market Spaces, where internal teams are meant to discuss what to do with the data.

Telligent's (news, site) offering is called Telligent Community, which enables users to listen to, learn from and improve conversations through blogs, forums, media galleries and wikis. One example of how this outside solution can be utilized comes from Sitecore Web CMS. They integrated with Telligent to offer their customers better options for listening to and engaging with their own audience.

Listening and monitoring is key, and it brings us to...

Actively Monitoring and Engaging

Although monitoring all the chit chat can seem like a daunting task, doing so is just as important as facilitating it. After all, it's your reputation that these conversation engagement tools are working to support, so keeping a close eye on what's being said can be helpful in terms of problem solving.

Utilizing social media monitoring tools, for example, alerts marketers to what's working, what's not working, and which content is due for modification. Moreover, being able to react to and engage with customer input in real-time is one of the main benefits Web 2.0 has to offer, making increasing ROI a much more attainable goal.

Alterian (news, site) recently kicked out a social media monitoring suite, which can be implemented separately or weaved in (depending on the level of engagement required). The cluster includes services for professional analysis, social media publishing, and tools that integrate an organization's online data with offline data. 

Radian6's (news, site) platform listens to conversations across the Web in ways we've come to expect -- keeping tabs on Facebook, Twitter, etc. -- but also integrates social CRM as well as Web analytics. Influencer Analysis is a customizable tool that scores influencers according to criteria users specify as relevant.

And finally, something from Microsoft (news, site). LookingGlass is still in beta, but it's an attractive solution for partners, as they can build right on top of the Microsoft platform with this solution. Said to make social media data actionable via campaign tracking and analytics, LookingGlass aims to be not just a social media tool, but an all-up media analytics and consumer insight tool as well. 

Testing, Testing, 123...

Like we've said, trial and error is not to be discouraged. Finding a solution that fits with your organization's needs is impossible without experimentation, but having clear goals in mind is always the right way to start. Check your thoughts against our best practices for social engagement.