social media softwareFor any of you that have been charged with choosing a social media software for your company or agency, you know it’s not an easy or—I’ll be honest—pleasant task. It’s not one of those decisions where you can just close your eyes and ‘Pin the Tail on the Software’ per say. It requires hours and hours of arduous research, software demos and slick salespeople assuring you that there is nothing that their shiny software can’t do.

This admission, I promise, was not to scare you off. On the contrary, I want you to be prepared! Having worked with a social media software before and, contrarily, having to have had to manually perform what a piece of software can do in a fraction of the time, it’s worth it. The efficiencies and intel derived from a social media software will, no doubt, outweigh its often steep price tag.

But before you begin the search, I wanted to pass along several things to think about before you start scheduling demos. I hope this will save you time (and sanity) when you have to buckle down: 

Why Do You Need Software?

This should definitely be the first question you pose to yourself or to your bosses. It is imperative that you know what you, as a company or an agency, intend you use this software for. Which processes can a piece of software streamline or enhance? This is important because many pieces of software are starting to flaunt countless bells and whistles that salespeople are skilled in making you feel all warm and fuzzy about on the phone, but that you actually don't need. 

For instance, during my search, though really good at what they do, when Buddy Media tried to sell us on their comprehensive applet design, I listened politely for a minute before interrupting and explaining carefully that, though this feature might be great for some people, it wasn’t for us. We have designers and developers on staff that can internally perform these tasks.

Knowing what you want to accomplish and how you plan to measure your performance from the get-go will allow you to be steadfast and confident in your company needs without being confused or distracted by other offers.

Here are some other things you need to think about when preparing your list of questions for salespeople. Remember, don’t let them monopolize the conversation. Your needs are what are most important:

Location, Location, Location

With franchisors and multi-unit companies especially, the corporate franchisor or corporation might be responsible for facilitating the social media activities of their sometimes thousands of franchisees, or individual locations. For example, a franchisor could run into an issue if a customer has a positive or negative experience with one of their franchisees. If they had the ability to monitor by geography, they would be able to pinpoint the specific location of the customer in order to alert the respective franchisee to remediate the issue. This could also be important if that franchisor wanted to compare brand activity in different parts of the country over time.

Decide if monitoring by location is important for you. A surprising number of social media software still lacks this functionality, but Engage121 is not one of them.

Workflow

What does your organization look like? How many people are going to take part in the social media process? For instance, do you have a team of people that will be responsible for monitoring brand conversation? Do you have several people that will be in charge of addressing customer issues? Do you have a hierarchical structure in place that dictates that a supervisor must review all social media content before it is distributed?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you need to ask your salesperson about their workflow capabilities. Do they give you the opportunity to have multiple software users? Can you designate permissions settings? Do they offer automated alerts when a new mention occurs? Do they allow you to assign social media activity to a specific person? These are all questions you need to pose. Sprout Social, for example, facilitates many of these things with a feature they call "Collaboration.”

Network Monitoring Support

Does the social software monitor the entirety of the Web? Or just Facebook and Twitter? Be sure to ask your salesperson which networks are supported, in addition to blogs, review sites, forums, news sites, etc. This could make or break your deal.

For instance, if you’re a retailer or restaurant, you’d be pretty upset if your new social media software failed to keep tabs on review and location-based sites like Yelp, Foursquare or Angie’s List. Luckily, several pieces of software like Meltwater Buzz have included this feature in their offerings suite.

Influencer Identification

If your goal is to expand brand awareness or to promote a specific initiative, then reaching out to those people that have influence in a specific industry, community or topical area might be important to you.

Some pieces of software, like ElementsLocal, evaluate influence by Klout, while others like Radian6 rely on their proprietary algorithm. And even others partner with third party influencer identification tools like Traackr to determine influence.

Conversation Classification

When you are monitoring keywords, you are bound to get a variety of results. And though they’re already qualified in the sense that they’ve been weeded from all other social conversation, within those keyword feeds, you might be interested in further narrowing their classification.

For instance, if you worked for H&M and noticed that a certain customer kept endorsing your new line of blue jeans, you might want to classify that user as an “advocate.” Not all conversation classifications need to be by user, however. If you were Apple, you would, no doubt, have legions of tweets to sift through. And, with a brand name like Apple, there are bound to be many mentions of “apple” that are referring to the fruit and not the company. By simply classifying the conversation as “brand” or “fruit,” you could eliminate the noise when reviewing your information. Software like Sysomos Heartbeat does an excellent job of providing customizable tagging and categorization.

Importing Owned Data

Many times, social media activity can be indicative of company sales, or may have an effect on website traffic. Some pieces of software, like Engage121, is flexible enough to allow you to upload simple Excel data into the platform, so that you can map your social KPIs onto, for instance, sales data in order to identify a positive correlation. 

For others, they may be interested in how social media activity relates to their website performance. Some software, like Hootsuite Pro, allows you to connect your company’s Google Analytics to their platform, so that you can do all of your analysis in one place.

Integration with Customer Relationship Management Software

If you’re like so many people out there, you’re trying to figure out how in the world social media contributes to the bottom line. The great part about a social media software is that it is bubbling with information—more importantly, customer and prospect information.

Some software companies like Hubspot have picked up on this momentous opportunity to integrate this social media data into existing CRM systems (like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics) to make tracking the customer journey that much easier.

Analytics

Remember way back up in the beginning paragraphs when I asked you what you are trying to accomplish with social media software? This is where analytics really kicks in. You can do all of the monitoring and engagement that you want, but unless your software suite is equipped with comprehensive analytics, you’ll have no idea whether or not your efforts have been a success.

From the get-go, decide which KPIs are important to you. Most software comes built with several template reports, like number of mentions, sentiment, a keyword cloud, basic demographics, activity over time, etc. Make sure that the software is flexible enough for you to customize reporting so that it meets your organization’s needs.

Pricing

Each different social media software is going to have their own method of pricing. Do they charge by results like Radian6, by clients like Engage121 or by seat like Hearsay Social? If you have a large client like Coca-Cola, for instance, monitoring for the brand name “Coke” could potentially pull over Radian6’s maximum of one million results before additional fees are charged. 


Even after performing all of your search due diligence, you might still find that there isn’t one perfect all-in-one software out there for you. Don’t panic; it happens. You then have a decision to make: do you go with the one that meets the majority of your needs, or do you end up choosing two platforms that, together, make the perfect pair?

It’s a big decision, but one worth making if you are looking to really expand your company’s social media capabilities. I wish you luck in your search! If you would like to chat on the topic, please feel free to leave a comment.

Photo Credit: Flickr's Diamond Farrah