In many ways, 2009 was the year of the "a-ha!" moment for social media marketing. While many people long-involved with social media and word-of-mouth marketing knew it was only a matter of time for the masses to embrace this type of marketing, others were just starting to get their arms around the importance of establishing and leveraging their social footprint to build engagement, dialogue, and awareness.
As more companies, brands, and individuals are building their social media presences, the universe of online tools -- which used to be somewhat more limited -- continues to expand on a daily basis. Not only do we have more choices in how we place content and measure social media, but the tools available to us also change and improve just as frequently.
To provide a little background on me: I run a social media marketing agency (KARMA Media Labs) that helps organizations and individuals connect with their target audiences and build word of mouth in the communities where they live. In order to find these audiences and strike a chord, it's important to be armed with the right tools to listen to what is being said, find the right influencers, communicate with your audience in a way that is relevant, and provide content that is likely to be shared.
The following is a list of some my favorite tools and sites -- some free, some paid -- that have been worth their weight in gold in not only finding that desired audience and key influencers, but also putting the right content in front of them to build conversation and word of mouth.
For honing in on conversations
Tool: Social Mention
As mentioned earlier, one of the critical components of a successful social media campaign is listening to your audience. One of my favorite free tools to monitor conversation and buzz across social media is Social Mention, which gives a great snapshot of blog, forum, and microblog buzz, sentiment, and keywords. It also tracks video, image, comment, and social bookmarking tags and mentions. While somewhat rudimentary in its search capabilities, my work colleagues and I are big fans of Social Mention and use it on a daily basis to not only find the places where people are engaged in dialogue, but also in reporting buzz to our clients.
For taking a social snapshot
As an alternative to Social Mention, when we want a quick, visual picture of brand, personality, or meme buzz across the most popular social spaces, we use Addict-O-Matic's social search engine. This free tool shows real-time placements in social networks, communities, and blogs.
For weighing sentiments
Tools: Radian6 and/or SM2
If more drilled-down and specific data are needed for a social listening initiative, two paid tools dominate our usage: Radian6 and Alterian's SM2. Both offer great analytical tools, easy-to-use interfaces, powerful data retrieval (and good coverage), agency administration, graphing capabilities, workflow control, and dashboard and exporting functionality. And all at a very reasonable price. The main difference between the two systems is the intervention of actual human beings in the filtering of search results for SM2 and slightly different (and we think better) sentiment scoring for SM2. But the full control of search management and backend from Radian6 amply compensates.
For finding influencers
When building a social media marketing strategy, it's important to not only find your audience, but also the tastemakers who influence your audience -- from bloggers to forum moderators. A great free tool for finding communities and influencers related to your audiences' interests is Alltop.com. With Alltop, you discover some of the most relevant sites for not only reaching influencers, but also getting your content in front of the right people who are likely to engage with it.
For assessing site value
Tools: Quantcast and Compete
When identifying target communities, sites, and blogs for a social media campaign, it's important to assess the traffic and demographics of readership. Quantcast and Compete are both free tools with for-pay premium functionality. Both are great sources to get basic Web 1.0 metrics such as site/blog traffic, user demographics, page views, and unique visitors. They also include relevant information on the site appeal and any related subdomains.
For disseminating video
Tools: TubeMogul and Vidmetrix
A video marketing campaign can generate massive amounts of buzz and enhance branding strategies in a very short period of time, as well as generate large amounts of word of mouth and pass-along. Our favorite tool for automated mass upload of video content is TubeMogul, which also has powerful analytics for the uploaded videos. With 27 UGC sites supported, it covers all relevant mainstream and slightly off-mainstream UGC sites. Vidmetrix is a good runner-up to TubeMogul and offers similar functionality.
For keeping up with Facebook
Tools: Facebook Developer Wiki and/or Inside Facebook
Any marketer who has built a presence on Facebook knows that one thing is certain: Facebook constantly keeps everyone administering Pages or Groups on their toes with changes, improvements, and guidelines. To help plan our strategies for a Facebook presence, we keep our eye on upcoming changes by subscribing to the Facebook Developer Wiki. This platform was developed as a community for developers, but it also gives a glimpse into what's coming in the future.
Another great site we visit almost daily to monitor developments on Facebook is Inside Facebook. Built for developers, agencies, and marketers, this useful site helps administrators understand the benefits and challenges of building a presence on Facebook by providing reports, metrics, and insights on campaigns being deployed. It also provides updates on the ever-changing rules of the Facebook game, ranging from new promotions guidelines to design features.
For tracking Twitter
Tools: Twitalyzer, Twitter Grader, and Klout
Thanks to Twitter's open API, when it comes to tools for Twitter presence measurement, management, and identification of top influencers, there is an embarrassment of riches, all of them free. It's hard to pick a favorite in this area. For measurement and tracking of a Twitter presence our favorites include Twitalyzer and Twitter Grader, two great free tools that help get an idea of how influential a Twitter profile is. Twitalyzer is especially sophisticated in its approach to what constitutes true influence in the Twitterverse.
Another free tool that is fast becoming a favorite is Klout, which includes a "Twitter List" engine that identifies and ranks the top 25 influencers for any topic of interest. It scores someone's authority by the number of clicks driven through their links on Twitter.
Although social media marketing is about dialogue and two-way communication, we like Sendible to communicate our clients' messages through SMS, social network messaging, and good old-fashioned email. There are price packages for all budget levels, and the interface makes it a breeze.
The world of Google tools
Tools: Google Alerts, Google Trends, and Google Analytics
Rather than a set of tools with a specific function, this entry is composed of my favorite Google tools that help us plan, deploy, and measure social media campaigns. Not only are they easy to understand, they are free and get the job done. Beauty in simplicity couldn't be truer when it comes to these tools.
Google Alerts. In my opinion, anyone running a social media marketing campaign should be setting up Google Alerts. These notifications are instant email update alerts of the latest Google results -- whether it is a blog or site placement, news item, video, or tweet. You will sometimes have to experiment with Google Alerts for a few days before choosing one that delivers the most meaningful results for you. Google lets you create up to 1,000 alerts.
Google Trends. No list of tools would be complete without the mention of Google Trends. Google Trends can be used to monitor the popularity of certain search terms and enables marketers to gauge how top-of-mind their brand or message is. You can easily export Trends data to be opened with most spreadsheet applications.
Google Analytics. Many people we work with already have a social media presence or are in the process of developing one. The question becomes: Now that we've built it, is it working? For a simple and inexpensive way to track activity on a website or blog, it is difficult to beat Google Analytics. Easy to set up and use, and pretty self-explanatory, we recommend using this tool for many of our client campaigns.
Prediction: Favorite marketing tool of 2010
I'd be remiss if I didn't throw in my pick for the social network and marketing tool most likely to gain popularity in 2010: Foursquare. While already gaining popularity with iPhone and Android users, I think there is a great deal of marketing potential. To summarize, users check in when they visit locations and are awarded points for various activities. The opportunities for marketers are huge: from special offers at locations, to gaining valuable insights through consumer behaviors, to promotions. I'll definitely be keeping my eye on Foursquare and look forward to what's in store in 2010.