As agencies and marketers suit up to compete and thrive well into the future, how we execute and measure our messaging in social environments has become increasingly vital. The question of the right systems and investments is always top of mind.
In our deeply socialized, cross-platform, consumer-driven environment, social media marketing and listening tools have become a mandatory part of this suite. We must have -- or have access to -- the right technology for consumer research and insights, social campaign management and optimization, planning and buying, measurement and analysis, financial administration, and more. All of this is no longer a nice-to-have, but rather a must-have.
However, with this broad set of needs, the list of options for servicing it is obviously no longer a short one. It spans the categories of listening, campaign management, execution, and optimization. Socially focused solutions companies emerge seemingly daily to help agencies and marketers better manage their social media and marketing needs. So how do we decide which tools have real value? That's what this article will explore. And better yet, it will name some names.
But first, some advice
Before you even start looking at tools, you need a point of view. Otherwise, you might get lost in an endless list. My guidance on how to approach these considerations and investments has always been pretty straightforward.
First, as we like to say at Questus, "begin at the finish line." By that, we mean looking to the end point and taking a moment to understand what goals you are trying to achieve -- and then backing into your course for getting there. As I have mentioned in other articles, you would be surprised at how hard this is sometimes, but this method makes a world of difference to the success of any project. And, when servicing clients, this thought process allows us to step back and truly frame our client's needs and possible solutions -- and exactly what tools we need to leverage.
At our agency, we like to offer more of a comprehensive social solution, rather than individual project-based one-offs. Thus, we often end up working with a variety of providers and customizing our tools set for a programmatic solution. When doing something like this, it is important to know how these groups (or sub-solutions within) can enhance and inform each other within the overall solution.
When it comes down to it, you must be realistic about what resources you have in your organization to manage these programs and be honest about the amount of effort you want to put in to managing these programs within your workflow. Without this honesty, you might get tangled up in a DIY toolset that you need to simultaneously learn and customize, under the watchful eye of the client.
A concise look at the vast tools universe
The abundance of marketing tools is sometimes overwhelming, but it's also a good problem to have. While there are a host of companies that we could mention -- and a number of well-known ones that we have left out -- the following pages feature a few that we feel you should know about. They are strong and play well together within a customized suite.
The most important thing to realize is that the landscape is changing quickly. New solutions are emerging every day, so it is important to truly vet any of the firms you will work with against the current needs of your project -- and carefully think through whatever expectation there is to scale your efforts. Your tools set needs to work for the short term and for the ramp-up. Then, you must stay nimble and continue to tune the suite.
Listening tools we love
My focus at the agency is consumer insights. It's a great place to be as social media gets its legs. So, in donning my research hat, it's worth noting that I would always recommend incorporating an ongoing program of "social listening" as part of any comprehensive social approach. It is really great for quickly and cost-effectively understanding the impact of your other marketing activities (online and offline), as well as helping understand how and where to enter the social conversation with your customers in a more authentic way. It brings a level of social tune-in that you just can't get through manual, cursory observation.
This company provides social listening services and is great for longer-term engagements with clients. When planning for the long term, quarter over quarter, with our top clients, we appreciate the hands-on planning support the company offers as well as the strategic consulting aspect. Networked Insights is truly a full-service social listening provider. Thankfully, it presents semantic analysis of data, rather than just "sentiment," which is the focus on most tools. Semantic analysis by far is more useful in directing and course-correcting our overall social planning.
Lithium offers a variety of different social solutions. But, it has a great DIY social listening tool that was previously known as ScoutLabs. I love this tool for its ability to quickly (and relatively cheaply) do some down-and-dirty social listening. Over the past year, it was great for conducting quick social listening exercises for pitches -- something we found increasingly helpful in closing new business with clients that were looking for this kind of intelligence.
This one has an intuitive interface, is very easy to use, and can be up and running within minutes. It's relatively cost efficient and offers solid analytic tools. It's also great for understanding how a particular article, press mention, or post is shared across the social sphere.
Campaign and asset management tools
Adaptly is a platform for execution and optimization of social campaigns across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, and YouTube -- all key platforms and environments within most social media plays today. Most marketers are using this tool for fan and follower acquisition. But, more and more, the company's products are focused on content and audience targeting to align the two and effectively improve audience health. The reach is great, but this focus on a better match tends to foster greater loyalty over time.
The Republic Project offers a new platform that represents a saving grace to agencies and creative or production studios handling cross-platform rich and social media. In its interface, we are able to quickly and inexpensively build, manage, and push dynamic creative out to our client's audience across multiple platforms, all in real time. Aside from the nimbleness, asset management options, and ease of use, we like this one as it really opens the door to richer display within social executions.
Thismoment offers a robust social content management platform that allows brands to quickly update all content across all online and social properties simultaneously through its Distribution Engagement Channel (DEC). The tool is flexible, scalable, and easy to use. It also has social conversation and moderation capabilities to aggregate comments from multiple social networks to ensure all conversations are brand relevant and appropriate.
Stipple provides a tool that allows you to easily tag and track your images as they proliferate across the web. What's great is that it allows you to know how many people are engaging with your images, where they a being posted, and even what content within the image produces the most engagement. You can tag the images with interactive content such as video, audio, and even add notes or links back to product pages or your site.
While getting to the stage where you feel properly and fully suited up might take some time, there are no perfect choices. The key is to take the time to vet and thoroughly consider your investments and partnerships. Failure to invest this time can result in an ill-conceived strategy, improper set-up of your social tools, and an awkward and hard-to-scale services model. So, take the time to think it through and know when and how to customize.
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