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The eight questions every good marketing director should ask when choosing social media management software (SMMS).

20 March 2014 | 11:26 am

9262500_mWith an increasing array of social media management software (SMMS) tools on the market, many marketing teams report feeling overwhelmed at the choice.  The benefits of central dashboards, advanced analytics, listening and moderation features were recognised by early adopters in the USA over five years ago, leading to a big growth in the number of SMMS products.

However, here in the UK, it has taken a little longer for the penny to drop. Following a spate of high profile social media mishaps by brands and business over the past 12 months – think disgruntled HMV employee -  the demand for robust social media management tools has accelerated.

So with 2014 being the year of SMMS, the spotlight turns to the marketing director to make the RIGHT decision for their organisation.

So what are the key questions that every good marketing director should ask?
1)   It’s Free – so what’s the catch?

Individuals who are managing a small number of accounts can benefit from a number of free tools such as HootSuite and Tweetdeck.  However, if there is a need for more than one person to access accounts, a high number of social media platforms to manage and/or the impact is considerable if the content is not on message,  a more advanced ‘powerhouse’ category of management tool, often described as 'enterprise' SMMS product such as CrowdControlHQ are more advisable.

Free online trials also indicates that the software is a ‘one size fits all’ solution and this can be unhelpful when trying to deliver a competitive social media strategy. There are so many variables to consider such as the campaign objectives and the number of individuals within the team tasked to deliver that strategy.  Not forgetting that it is poor practice to allow a product to shape the strategy, leading to poor differentiation in social media implementation.

2)   What does the SMMS protect the organisation from?

The first generation of SMMS tools were very focussed on protecting a brand’s social media environment from external audiences/ publics.   The case of HMV highlighted the importance of a brand protecting itself from those entrusted to protect the brand from within the organisation.  For this reason it is really important to understand the level of ‘moderation’ (content generated outside the organisation) and ‘pre-moderation’ (i.e. before the content leaves the organisation) functionality available and the extent that it protects against both internal and external audiences.

The advanced SMMS tools allow for multi site/ multi user 'team' campaigning allowing content to be checked before going live, audit trails to record who posted what and when and allocation of inbound queries to the appropriately qualified member of the customer service team.

It is also important to understand how the ‘listening’ tools allow for moderation of things like swearing and profanity.  Some have standard dictionaries whilst others allow for customised dictionaries to help protect from more sophisticated attacks from competitors and market specific spam.

3)   Is the SMMS customisable?

Off the shelf solutions demand a rigid approach to delivery. Social media campaigns can be tasked with achieving many objectives from customer acquisitions to customer service retention.  With a vast array of tools available such as buzz search; geo-tagging; moderation; wikis and analytics;  there is a danger that marketing team becomes distracted with irrelevant functionality or access a ‘watered down’ version of a critically important feature.

As a result, many organisations are forced to sign up to a number of different platforms to deliver different elements of the social media management function, which becomes costly both in terms of money and resource, becoming counter productive on the efficiency stakes.

Marketing teams also vary in size and infrastructure, some based across large geographical territories.  This is where the genuine ‘enterprise’ systems really come into their own.  They can be personalised to an organisation and provide a menu of extensive features to reduce the need for multiple products and multiple licence fees.

4)   What is the ‘real’ price?

Pricing models vary from annual fixed fees, to monthly user licences. But  BEWARE of the small print! A number of the lower priced products make their money in other ways.  Often innocent clients fail to realise the genuine costs of running the product e.g. one popular SMMS system charges up to $120 for reporting.

Social Media is so dynamic that reports are really important to ensure that content is hitting the mark.  During a campaign a team may wish to pull off daily reports. So look for ‘all in’ packages with no hidden extras so that you can drive the product to your hearts content without racking up a big bill!

5)   What customer service support do I get?

There is a growing underbelly of discontent around the lack of customer service from technology providers, with some social media platforms themselves being shockingly bad at responding to customer queries. You only have to look at the number of customer service complaints on leading SMMS facebook pages to gauge the increasing demand for a genuine customer service support experience.  This is leading to a growing fear of ‘faceless’ technology providers.

There will be times when you need a ‘real human’ being to speak to, perhaps to help and explain a new feature or test your system if something is not posting the way you want it to.  No technology is fail-safe and if your brand is flung into a Crisis PR situation you may need to urgently adapt your approach or your dashboard to manage your social media in a different way.

So keep a look out for SMMS companies that have extensive references and awards in customer service excellence.  They are more likely to be at the end of the phone or even meet you face to face when your back is against the wall and the stakes are high!

6) Where is our data stored and for how long?
There is an increasing awareness over the importance of data storage.  Many risk registers demand that data is stored on home UK soil.  Check your own policy and ensure that you are very clear about where your data is being stored.  Also ask how long the product will store your information?  The more data stored on the server that drives the SMMS system, the more expensive that server will be. For this reason, some SMMS products only store for a month to ensure that they never reach capacity on the server.

The larger, well funded businesses will greatly outperform the small ‘back bedroom’ outfits as they will have invested heavily in large or upgraded servers to cater for much larger quantities of data.  This facilitates a much better service with no limitation on media such as photos and film, with longer retrieval periods and quicker processing and posting speeds.

7)   Do they have the scale to upgrade the system as new social media platforms come on stream?

The Social Media environment is constantly evolving.  There are an array of new social media sites coming on stream and those that were popular last year are likely to be different to those we see in the future.

The larger SMMS players enjoy the benefit of being able to invest in innovation to ensure that they quickly integrate new platforms and associated features into the genetic make up of the product.  Here in the UK, CrowdControlHQ were one of the first platforms to integrate Google+ and Linked In, in response to the growing demands from clients.

Ensure that the platform you are considering has enough capacity to invest and grow the product to cater for the demands of tomorrow. You have to be prepared for the fact that your customer base may choose a new social media environment in the future and that you may wish to adapt your social media plans accordingly.  Some organsiations have found themselves locked into lengthy contracts with a product that has not evolved to cater for the new channels and overnight they can start losing contact with their fans as they migrate away.

Also be extremely careful of paying annual fees ‘up front’ as it could be a sign that the business is in desperate need of cash to develop their product, having fallen behind, rather than investing in a high quality on going service for you!

8)   How many other clients do they have?

Sometimes it is hard to get straight answers to the key questions. However, the client list should give you a very good indication of the track record of the company, the product and the approach.

SMMS tools have been around for at least 5 years and the market is maturing.  Many of the larger users of SMMS tools and the big names in risk management such as Experian will have undertaken considerable due diligence prior to signing up to a product. Some will have even insisted that the product has been ‘hack attacked’ to test for robustness.  When choosing a SMMS product ask the company if they have any of these tests under their belt, what were the outcomes of the tests - did they pass the security tests and the names of some clients that you can contact for reference to check on the customer service elements.

CrowdControlHQ is the UK’s leading Social Media Management Software tool.  The business and the customer service team are based in the UK. Clients are offered an 'all in one' inclusive monthly licence fee and the product has been tested by leading risk management companies, big brands and enterprises.

Michelle Leavesley @Leavesm
Marketing Director, Lecturer in Marketing Communications at Birmingham Business School, Institute of Directors (IoD)