How to Tell When You Need Professional Social Media Software

Small business owners can get by with just a few free social media monitoring applications and tools out there for only so long.  At some point, you’ll likely come to the conclusion that the time and effort involved makes it well worth it to pony up a bit more of your hard earned cash and assign a bigger budget to the social media component of your marketing plan.  This article should help you know when that time has come and what to do about it.

Signs that you need to upgrade to a professional social media platform or SaaS (Software as a Service) application:

  • It’s getting too cumbersome to track a bunch of separate RSS feeds
  • You want to know the sentiment of each relevant post that pertains to your business
  • Other marketing tactics aren’t producing the desired results and you’re ready to shift budget to a formal social media strategy
  • You want to be able to see content on your brand or products for all media types (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums, etc.) within just one application
  •  The free/low-cost tools you’ve been using are not able to support your evolving social marketing measuring and monitoring requirements
  • Keeping track of which posts and tweets you’ve responded to is overwhelming
  • You want built-in graphs, charts you can drill into for more details and exportable data to help you better understand key trends and causes for shifts in volume or sentiment

What you should look for in a professional social media application:

Here are a few helpful questions you’ll want to ask and things to look for when exploring the right social media monitoring provider.

  • What are the training options?  Most people won’t have time to become experts on social search – make sure the provider includes some training options and materials.
  • What level of customer support can I get with the application?  The entry level versions of many professional applications provide only bare bones customer support.  Ask what level of support you can expect.
  • How much historical data can I view?  Most cap this to 31 days or less at the lowest price point.  Ensure that you’ll have the option for more if and when you need it.
  • Do they offer the Twitter “Firehose”?  There is a range of offerings when it comes to Twitter data.  Some providers will have the full Firehose of all Twitter data, some will have only a sampling of Twitter content, while others will offer a sampling combined with the Firehose of data containing a few keywords you can select. 
  • How many saved searches or topics can I track?  Many starter level packages let you track or save a small number of searches or topics to monitor and produce dashboard charts for.  Make sure that unlimited searches are an option to start with or to move to when your needs grow. 
  • Can I export the data to a spreadsheet?  Make sure you can export allowable content and/or data points so that you have the option to integrate your social data with other forms of data and reporting in your company.  
  • How easy is the application to use?  All applications have a learning curve.  The training offered should help but the platform itself should seem fairly straight forward and user-friendly. 
  • Look for and understand any hidden costs.  Some applications will contractually cap the amount of data you can view at your price point but will automatically charge more if you go over the limit.  Find out if there are any additional costs you may incur, with or without your knowing it.
  • Can the platform grow with my business?  If the application is geared toward small businesses, there may be limitations in its ability to grow with you and your business.  Assess the options that are available at different package levels and what you think you’ll need when your business expands and you are ready to invest more into your social media program.
  • How fast is the platform?  A high end professional SaaS application should return results quickly, be readily available and responsive.  If you make a search error, it should give you that feedback almost immediately.  And content should be ingested and displayed in the platform without much delay. 
  • Can you take a test drive or free trial?  Can you watch a live demo before buying?
  • Can you create alerts on specific searches?
  • Does the application identify authors that could have influence in your industry?
  • What are the Engagement capabilities or options?  At the entry level point, engagement functionality may be limited or absent.  Find out if you can re-tweet, reply, or post new updates and what options and costs are in case you need that capability down the road.

How much can you expect to pay:

At the time of this writing, February 2012, you can expect to pay an average of $600 a month for the entry level version of a professional grade social media monitoring application.  This will let you track most or all of the social data you want within a single platform and provide built-in reporting options and dashboards.  Of course don’t forget to budget human resources in your social program initiatives, including time to create content, respond to customers or prospects, monitor incoming posts, analyze data and create reports, manage a campaign that utilizes social media, and so forth.

According to Gillin and Schwartzman, authors of Social Marketing to the Business Customer, the general rule of thumb is to first determine your business goals, the metrics that matter, and the tactics you’ll be using to attain the desired metrics. Then the tools you need will become self-evident.  For example, based on your goals and tactics you may find that the company blog, Twitter, and industry forums will be the obvious tools.  After that, you can select the right services and applications to manage and leverage those tools most effectively.

In other words, figure out what you want to accomplish, how you’ll measure success, and what social media tactics and tools will help you get there and picking the right SaaS application should be a whole lot easier.  I hope this article has given you a better idea of when you’ll need to increase the social component of your marketing budget and what to look for when you do.

If you have a related experience to share or other insights, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

 

Best Regards,

Vicki Blair

Social Media Yogi-in-the-Making,

Visible Technologies