All the panelists went through an extensive review process to find the right social listening platform for their business and here are 6 key tips from our collective experience that you can use in your quest:
Coverage & Quality of Data: Most social content is captured via RSS feeds or by leveraging APIs with social networking sites that require log-in such as Facebook, Linkedin and others. However, these sites have a wide variety of agreements with vendors that allow different levels of access to the data on their sites. So understanding the scope of these agreements and consequent limitations is essential as it determines the quality and completeness of data delivered to you. Many vendors claim to cover hundreds of sites but despite that certain key niche sites that are important to your business may not be included so doing your due diligence on the sites covered will ensure there are no gaps in coverage. In addition, Listening platforms can bring in tons of junk data so understanding the vendor’s efforts to constantly update the filters to only pull in relevant data is key in reducing the number of hours it takes you/your team to do it manually.
Real-time reporting: One of the key differentiators between social and traditional media is the real-time nature of the conversations. For some functional areas like customer support/crisis management, real-time reporting is very critical as any issues need to be reported ASAP whereas for market intelligence-type functions, getting up-to-the-second reports may not be as important. Some platforms can deliver data in seconds whereas others have lagtime of over 30mins, so the right timing will depend on your needs.
User Interface: Ease of use is critical with any platform and especially, if the plan is to have decentralized access to the platform where folks without any analytics background can use the platform, then the UI needs to be easy enough to use even by a novice user. However, if the platform will be used by folks experienced in using analytics tools, then the robustness of the system in pulling the right data set is more important than just ease of use. The ability for the user to customize the user interface is also essential to ensure maximum relevance and consistent usage.
Admin/workflow features: These are critical features for large organizations with many users as the social feedback gathered has to be routed and responded to as quickly as possible. Having automated features that allow easy tagging and routing of information of the relevant content is highly desirable. If you have a centralized model then you need the ability to manage user access and administer changes from a master dashboard rather than going into each account individually, which can be time consuming.
Analytics: The listening platforms available in the marketplace today are still 1st generation platforms features like text analytics are still very rudimentary or non-existent. What this means is that you have the platform capturing copious amounts of data but not able to derive any meaningful insights from the data gathered. This limitation has led to the need for use of multiple analysis tools that can make up this deficiency so it’s essential to understand what the platform can deliver (or not), to assess the analytics gap that needs to be filled.
Scalability: Last but certainly not the least, ability to scale is a critical decision factor for larger companies. The ease of adding new users, new regions/ languages without significant impact on performance or cost is key in the selection process. The reality for any company, both big and small, is that budget plays an important role in the final selection, so the selection isn’t only based on the best platform but rather the best platform that your company can afford. The limited budget makes it even more critical to identify which features are critical for your business and which ones are just nice-to-have, as this will help you make the best choice for your business.
All the panelists were equivocal in that, there is no “perfect” platform and there isn’t one-size-fits-all solution so conducting a short-term pilot to test your top 2-3 choices is the best way to determine whether or not a platform is the right one for your business.
As platforms continue to evolve in response to market needs, there is no doubt we’ll see additional enhancements that will help companies not just gather social data but also deliver meaningful insights that can be used for responding quickly to customer feedback and making better business decisions.