6 Key Tips for Selecting the Right Social Media Listening Platform for Your Business

Last week, I was on a TMAG panel discussion on Social Media Listening Platforms with my industry peers Maria Poveromo, Adobe; LaSandra Brill, Cisco and Dan Zucker, Autodesk. It was a great discussion with a highly engaged audience on topics ranging from criteria for selection of a social media listening platform to what’s next in social media.

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.

Listening (by itself) is Not Enough in Social Media

I recently talked about ”B2B marketing in the Real Time Web” at the #140conf in San Francisco, organized by Jeff Pulver. One point that resonated the most with the audience is that “listening” has become the most overused and abused word in social media.

Some people actually think that “listening” is  a brand-new concept invited by social media gurus. The reality is that if you need an expert to tell you that you should “listen” to the customers, your business may already be in more trouble than you realize.

While listening is a great first step in getting started in social media and helps set up a good foundation for your activities, that by itself is not enough any more. As consumers get more savvy in their use of social media, it’s become a business imperative that companies move beyond just listening and start responding to what they’re hearing.

Setting up social channels by itself or “being on Facebook” is not good enough any more, companies need to have solid processes in place to quickly relay feedback from social media channels to create better products and help solve customer issues before they reach a crisis point. Social media monitoring/listening tool vendors should be focused on translating the streams of data into meaningful insights for their clients as quicky as possible.

In this fast evolving conversational age,  the true measure of success and a key differentiator will be how quickly companies respond to feedback from their customers. It’s time to assess – Is your company ready for this challenge?

The 3 Critical Ws of a Successful Social Media Listening Program

Social Media listening is all the rage these days but many companies are still struggling to do it right because the tendency is to substitute technology for business objectives and processes. 

This may be good news for the social media vendors, but not so good for your business. Whether you’re trying to set up your very first social media listening program or evaluating your current program, here are the 3 critical Ws that no business can afford to ignore.

Note: I use the terms listening and monitoring interchangeably, although one could argue that monitoring is much more pro-active while listening seems somewhat passive.

Why? Define your objective.

Listening may be the new black but it’s certainly not something that was invented by social media “experts”. Any smart company knows that listening to customers is critical to the continued success of business and while the medium may have been different in the past, the need to listen has always existed. The challenge with social media is that it’s tough to keep up with vast amounts of complex, unstructured conversations across multitudes of social channels. And that brings us to our first W of social media listening - ”Why”.

Clearly define your listening objective (closely tied to your business objective) at the outset of your listening program as this will keep your program on track and less likely to get distracted by all the noise in the social media space.

Some good examples of listening objectives : Customer support questions/complaints, competitive news, product/company mentions, etc.

Tip: Having clear objectives will help you define your success metrics and help prove the value of your program.

Where? Determine the key social channels.

For many companies starting a new program, it’s a challenge figuring out where to start because there are many different social channels (including blogs) and not all social channels are created equal. The second “W” - Where to focus your listening efforts will be partly determined by your objective and your target audience. 

When in doubt, ask your customers about their social media preferences and where they prefer to engage.It can be as simple as sneaking in an additional question in your annual customer survey (assuming your company does one) or conduct some primary research to understand their preferences. This will, at the very least, give you a starting point and you can slowly broaden your listening program to include other sites, as needed.

Tip: Focusing on a few key social channels (internal or external) rather than trying to  can focus on the channels that are most relevant to your audience.

Who? Identify the right person/team to receive the (listening) information.

One critical part that’s often overlooked (and typically underfunded) in the social media listening  programs is “human intervention”. You may have the best listening platform that money can buy but unless there’s someone actively analyzing all the gathered conversational data and the information is routed to the right person/team for action, it’s a pointless exercise.

There are two key parts to this human element in a social media listening program: Folks who listen and folks who respond/engage/use the data. It’s much more easier when the folks who are doing the listening are the ones tasked with taking action. For example, when the customer support group is actively listening and responding to customer queries/complains. However, in companies with centralized social media programs, it is critical to identify the end user/s for the gathered data.

Tip: Start with one functional area or product/service group and get all the kinks ironed out before rolling out the program company-wide.

Bottom line: Clearly define your listening objectives, focus on the most relevant social sites/channels, and last but most importantly, route the information to the right person/team for action.