Social media management software

At the risk of being accused of falling off the Cluetrain, I find myself increasingly wondering how much of a need there is in the world for social media management as a discipline and social media management software as a tool?

I know, social marketing (technically, social media marketing) is all about genuine, authentic, transparent, distributed conversations. And somehow the notion of explicitly managing that process — especially using software to systematize or optimize it — feels a little counter to the culture.

But that being said, as social marketing continues to expand its role in marketing and business overall, there are clearly challenges in efficiently doing social marketing at scale. (Jason Falls has a great post on The Bonsai Method of Social Media Management that inspired these thoughts, as well as Jeremiah Owyang’s post on Strategies for Organizing your Corporate Social Media Program.)

As the number of people on your social marketing team increase, you run into coordination issues. On one hand, you want as much autonomy as possible, so people can make quick, real decisions for individual opportunities in the social sphere (think “Blink”), without losing speed or authenticity by bogging things down in committee or hierarchy.

On the other hand, issues are bound to arise — externally in the social sphere or internally in the organization’s evolution — that will benefit from quick synchronization up and down the the chain of communication. (Okay, ideally it’s more of a “net of communication” — chains are so 20th century.) Companies do have constraints, and rather than abolish or ignore them, it’s far better to let social marketing adapt and influence them. But that requires some structure and mechanisms to do so.

Related to this challenge of scale is the challenge of scope. The number of different social marketing channels is continuing to explode. Brian Solis’ Conversation Prism is a snapshot of the popular ones as of August 2008. But new ones will continue to be born, and old ones will continue to evolve, die, or fade away. The lifecycle of some may be as short as a few months — but those may be incredibly valuable months for savvy social marketers to leverage.

The optimal allocation of resources into these channels is a complex and dynamic optimization problem. It’s probably unreasonable to expect 100% efficiency here — just because of how distributed social marketing is. But there will be organizations that do it more efficiently than others, and that will be a competitive advantage.

Social marketing metrics (described in this great post by Jack Humphrey) are a part of what’s necessary for social marketing management:

  • subscribers;
  • stick-rate;
  • linking;
  • comments;
  • pickup;
  • bookmarks;
  • link popularity;
  • social news tracking;

Services that offer social brand tracking, social media monitoring and measurement, and reputation management — such as Andiamo Systems, Sentiment Metrics, and Buzzmetrics — are useful. But these are largely discovery and monitoring tools. They’re the “pro” version of Google Alerts.

Metrics and monitoring are important, but what seems to be missing is software to help organizations close the loop between what’s happening in the social sphere and how to optimize their engagement in it.

I think social marketing management software requires more than an adaptation of current campaign management or marketing resource management (MRM) software. It needs to be built from the ground up with a vision for leveraging the highly distributed and inherently fuzzy properties of social media marketing — with the ability to fluidly adapt to new channels and the feedback and cross-pollination between them.

Visible Technologies‘ TruCast and TruView might be examples of this new type of software (they’re the only ones who came up in a search for “social media management software”).

Such social marketing management software would be a complement to campaign and resource management systems. At some point, I could imagine it as a module that’s part of integrated enterprise marketing management platforms such as Unica, Aprimo, and Alterian.

Can social media marketing be both genuine and coordinated, authentic and efficient? Can a new generation of software tools both embrace the spirit of social media marketing and the power of software to efficiently manage scale and scope? I think so.

Comments

  1. Hi Scott,
    Great post and a great question. The word “management” can be tricky in this context. While companies do need to manage (i.e. coordinate) their interactions online, it shouldn’t be about managing/controlling the conversation itself. I stay away from the term “social media management” for that very reason – that some might think we are trying to manage the conversation.
    It is most certainly possible for a brand to participate in social media in a genuine, authentic and coordinated approach. A great example is Dell which participates genuinely, helps it customers, and engages in conversations that are of interest to their customers.
    Their approached is described in this post on Direct2Dell: “Dell and Radian6 – It all starts with listening”. ( added the link to this post in the URL under my name).
    Our platform, Radian6, does social media monitoring & analysis plus we also offer optional interaction management features for companies to coordinate and track their online interactions (yes, this includes measurement). We also uniquely track social media metrics (or social marketing metrics as you describe above) – and we track them dynamically as they change over time. These are very useful for measurement & analysis and also for identifying/prioritizing interactions if you are a brand with a significant conversation volume.
    So, that is my long winded way of answering your question with, “I think so too”.
    Regards,
    Marcel
    CEO, Radian6
    http://www.radian6.com

  2. Scott,
    Very interesting post. It’s been our experience that brands are extremely interested in a holistic approach that helps them “manage” their internal process from monitoring to measurement to participation. Anything short of that is simply not going to work for them on a long-term basis. Brands can remain transparent and authentic in their social media efforts and still leverage software to help them accomplish their goals. Like Marcel says, vendors like us just enable these brands to be more efficient in their efforts. Thanks for the mention.
    Mike

  3. Marcel — thank you for sharing the Dell case study and some information about your company, Radian6. I do believe that monitoring and analysis are crucial, the logical first beachhead for social media management software. But I am even more intrigued by your optional “interaction management” features, as that sounds like it’s going further in the direction I’m wondering about: tools that directly focus on coordination challenges in large social media marketing teams.
    I completely agree with you that managing (coordinating) the team is different than trying to manage (control) the conversation in the social sphere itself. It will be fascinating to see how companies get better at the former without slipping into the latter.

  4. Mike — the features of TruCast mentioned on your web site for participation planning, assigning conversations to subject experts, and managing workflow are exactly the type of features I’m talking about. I’ll be very interested to see how your products continue to advance on that dimension. Good luck!

  5. Scott,
    We are starting a buzz marketing company that is very similar to the companies you listed, but our focus is on small and medium businesses. Buzz.io is working as an agency now, but in the next couple months we will be releasing a consumer version of our software. It monitors and measures relevant online conversations for companies that can’t afford our full service.
    Our purpose is for our clients to have real and meaningful conversations with their customers. And we agree with you that social media marketing can be genuine and coordinated,authentic and efficient. That’s why we’re here.
    Cari

  6. I think also that the monitoring and management need to go beyond social media.
    You want to manage more than social media statistics and tracking. Expand your efforts by getting into blog relationship management without using spreadsheets to keep track of everything.
    Subscribers, tracking and comments are some of the most important metrics. In addition, keeping track of who is talking about you so you can respond is pretty key in brand management.

  7. shamset tabrejee says:

    its interesting

  8. Great post. Lots of interesting points to discuss. I’m overdue here but next time I’ll catch you in my reader!
    Brand engagement in a buzz word in social media and is very much touted to companies that specialise in exploiting Social Media for commercial purposes.
    Facebook today is getting rid of it’s chief financial officer, and are not expanding as much as they would like. They have annual revenues of estimated to be $250 million to $300 million last year alone.
    I think that it is a clear indication that very pertinent element of social media interaction at a brand level, is the level of risk. What do we as a brand risk by engaging audiences on social media? What are the competitive advantages of engaging in these platforms in a commercial context.
    Social Media Networks (SMN) are a new form of community, and a body of research is growning but not yet in a position to inform the impact of business decisions.

  9. Really good post Scott. I find it interesting that this was written so long ago and we are still trying to find solutions today.
    It has been nice to see how different social marketing management companies are building their systems around the fast paced and quickly changing world of social media.
    I’ve been doing research on many of them trying to find something that fits well both with large companies and organizations, as well as small businesses and solo entrepreneurs who are more of my target market.
    What I am finding is either free service that are not very helpful, really pricey services that do ‘everything’ so to speak, but nothing right in the middle that gives the kind of statistical data that most people are looking for.
    As for your final question “genuine and coordinated, authentic and efficient?”, I do believe that it can be, but is not quite there yet.
    We are going to need more time to learn how to measure results from these services, figure out how to allow multiple people to access that information quickly, streamline and easy solution for the next action, and keep track of the path taken.
    Thanks for stimulating my brain :)
    Bret

  10. Please also consider including SocialMotus. We’re a new, free social management tool platform for businesses and individuals. We’re building some innovative and powerful conversion tracking and social management features including priority messages inbox, targeted Twitter followers discovery, sales conversions by posts and much more.
    You can review it by signing up for free here http://www.socialmotus.com or emailing me for more information.

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