Any "social" company, whether large or small, starts with a base understanding of the need to implement a proper internal infrastructure. Now, that doesn't mean you need to invest millions of dollars to build and develop social networking systems, like you've seen companies such as Dell, Zappos, Starbucks, and other large enterprises have done. It's simply about maximizing the value behind your social media efforts and ensuring you have the technologies in place to better measure and evaluate ROI for your organization.
And by using social media daily, we are building brand loyalty, increasing a customer base, and ultimately driving sales. It's the goal, right? It certainly is; but to do this properly, you need to understand the ROI you are driving with your efforts.
Without social listening or management tools, you can miss the opportunity at addressing the "five W's" of social media listening:
Who is talking about your brand?
What are stakeholders saying about your brand?
Where are conversations happening?
When are they talking about your brand?
Why are they talking about your brand?
How are stockholders talking about your brand?
Choosing the proper tools to measure your social media efforts is not an exact science, nor will it be as easy as chatting with a few vendors and then assuming you have the right solution. The landscape for social listening and reporting technologies has grown tenfold in the past several years, and choosing the proper solution needs a process internally to understand the best way to go about it.
Seeding a solution into an organization seems easy and practical, but it needs to meet specific needs and business goals. Before making any large-scale technology decision, you need to first understand the bottom-line business goals for your social media marketing and connect those goals with a vision.
6 Steps to Choosing Social Technologies
Identify needs. Establish what social needs you're looking to fulfill. Metrics within social media vary and whether it's fans, interactions, or perception (sentiment), it's important to understand what is most important to your organization and how these tools will fit into your measurement and reporting models.
Create an individual team. Next you should consider creating a team of experts that will help guide the process of selection and support the investment of these social technologies. Team member functions could vary, but key people could include your project lead, a.k.a. your social media strategist, an IT representative, and any functional stakeholder, such as a senior manager or even a C-level decision maker who would help "invest" in the tools.
It's key that all members understand the inherit value of social media technologies and how they can function across your entire business unit. Without having this in place, you risk the chance of having to patchwork explanations across the various teams months later after you've already bought into a selection. Just ensure all key players understand what each tool does, how it works, and what it will bring in value.
Establish core requirements. Establish a document that details your current set of tools within various business units. This is to be sure that the tools you bring in can work or be compatible with the already established core technologies you have internally.
Establish a list of potential candidates. Gathering the amount of vendors to talk to can be a heavy task, but build out a list of suitors that will meet all of your needs internally, whether it is listening, sentiment, analytics, or management of your various profiles; the list will grow quickly.
As you grow the list, be sure to read the list of products and abilities each vendor offers; this allows you to start understanding what vendors do and the overlap that exists in a number of them. And most importantly, build a list of questions. The key piece of this step is ensuring that you ask enough key questions that will allow you to understand the tool and then review it against your criteria and rate them.
Demo. This is where you put your list into action. Make sure you demo each and every product and always ask for a free trial after the demo is over. Most vendors will comply and offer you a month or even longer sometimes to try out the system and get a feeling for how it works. There are some vendors that refuse to offer free trials though, and the best way to push against this is to just keep requesting and let them know that you're not about to spend a big part of your budget on something you can't even visualize or experience firsthand. Always push; somehow, someway, they will bend - they always do.
Decision. Depending on budget and the overall solution suite you have now evaluated, you should have all the information needed to make a decision on the product or products. And even if you decide that at this time you're not ready to pull the trigger, this process will be very educational and should have enlightened you on a broad scale of what social technologies do and the capabilities you have with such a suite.
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Nick Cifuentes is the global social media director at Ancestry.com, the world's largest online resource for family history, with 2 million paying subscribers as of July 2012. An industry veteran, Nick has worked in digital media and marketing since 2004, functioning in strategy, copywriting, analytics, search, planning, online media, and social media. He is a frequent guest writer on various industry blogs, and publishes his own blogs as well, including one focusing on digital media, and another on his side passion, ultramarathon running.