Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Award for Best Social Media Management Software Goes To...

While many in the social media business hang on every Gartner Magic Quadrant or Forrester Wave, doesn't this seem a rather unsocial way to evaluate social solutions? Sure, those research firms do a very thorough and objective job of assessing the platforms, but their approach is akin to the Golden Globes (which only has 93 voting members) in an era when million of reviews can be found on sites like Rotten Tomatoes, Yelp and TripAdvisor.

For a more social perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of Social Media Management Software (SMMS), TrustRadius has released its free report of crowdsourced evaluations. The TrustRadius Buyer’s Guide includes a detailed review of products by use case, culled from more than 400 authenticated end-user reviews of 23 social media management products.

TrustRadius's latest report is structured in a very smart way that accounts for the three predominant use cases for enterprise social media: customer care, social intelligence and marketing. "Social media programs are now enterprise-wide and no longer confined to marketing," notes Vinay Bhagat, CEO of TrustRadius.

Out of the 23 SMMS platforms evaluated, all laid claim to being a marketing platform, and for the most part, users agree, with end users mentioning 21 of the vendors in terms of marketing solutions. The outcomes for the other two use cases were far less uniform: Nineteen of the platforms identified themselves in the listening space, but users agree for only eight of those platforms, and 17 of the SMMS companies associated themselves with the customer care use case, but users only identify seven in this category.

Social Customer Care

The TrustRadius report defines some of the special needs for social customer care, such as the ability to view entire customer interaction histories and integration with CRM systems. The Buyer's Guide notes that Brand Embassy, Conversocial, Hootsuite Enterprise, Lithium Social Web, Spredfast Conversations, Sprinklr, and Sprout Social offer "true high-volume, enterprise examples of social customer care, based on statements in reviews on TrustRadius."

The report includes comments from enterprise leaders addressing how these platforms help them resolve the unique needs of customer care in social media. For example, David Tull, customer engagement manager at JackThreads, reports that "Conversocial allowed us to work 7-10X faster than we had previously," and Comcast's Bill Gerth notes that "Within five months of launching Lithium Social Web, we were able to justify a 30% increase in staffing through the use of clear and concise operational reporting."

Social Intelligence

The TrustRadius Buyer's Guide guide identifies two dozen features that organizations seek when selecting an SMMS for social intelligence. It also conveys some specific user insights about the best platforms for this use case, including Attensity, Brandwatch, Netbase, Radian6/Salesforce Social Studio, Sprinklr, Sysomos and Viralheat. For example, Will Hall, digital analyst at Waggener Edstrom, says, “Brandwatch has given us a quantifiable way to prove ROI to our clients.

Social Media Marketing

The TrustRadius report notes the distinction between the marketing use case and the other two: "Whereas customer care is focused on using social media to engage with customers and resolve issues on their terms, and social intelligence is focused on leveraging the vast amount of conversations available in social media for various business purposes, social marketing is generally about using social media for brand amplification."

For the Marketing use case, TrustRadius identifies eight separate use case definitions and matches each platform's claims against user observation. For example, almost all platforms claim to assist with Lead Generation, but only two--Salesforce Social Studio and Viralheat--are mentioned by users for this need. Other marketing categories that TrustRadius includes are Community Management, Publishing, Campaigns/Promotions, Influencer/Advocacy, Content Marketing/Curation, Analytics/Optimization and Paid Media Management.

Many of the platforms receive attention in the Social Media Marketing section of the Trust Radius Buyer's Guide. HootSuite and Sprinklr are the two that stand out in terms of scale (which TrustRadius measures by page views on their platform and number of evaluations submitted). A social media and IT manager at a digital agency says of Hootsuite Enterprise, "The detailed analytics package not only lets us see how our campaigns are performing, but it also allows us to share detailed metrics with our clients to justify the fees we charge them." And of Sprinklr, Frontier Airlines' Justin Macauley notes, "A big issue for us is understanding when to segment messaging through geo-targeting and when to push out blanket messages. Sprinklr has allowed us to test many different scenarios and to better understand what kinds of messages work best for what kinds of offers."


2015 SMMS ratings and frequency
Source: TrustRadius
In terms of ratings across all use cases, the social media management platforms that score best are:
  • Brand Embassy
  • Conversocial
  • Lithium Social Web
  • Simply Measured, and
  • Viralheat.
None of these five are among the most rated SMMS solutions. The two most-rated are Sprinklr and Hootsuite, and both score above-average ratings. 

Among TrustRadius's findings was that three-quarters of companies use more than one social media management platform. Moreover, of those who use more than one tool, 14% actually use six or more. 

To access this helpful and detailed 102-page report, visit

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Social Media Is A Customer Channel Before It Is A Marketing One

Most companies still have no idea how to make social media work for them. They know consumers spend 50% of their online media time with social networks, microblogs and blogs. And they know social media professionals have been promising a new age of brand-building power via engagement and content. But they also know brand engagement is dropping and 85% of CMOs cannot validate a quantitative return in social media.

There is a serious disconnect between the promise of social media and what it is delivering for brands, and it can be explained in one simple sentence: Social media is a customer channel before it is a marketing one.

A marketing channel is one (like TV or banner ads) where brands' primary objectives and investments are focused on prospects and success is measured in marketing outcomes like acquisition and sales volume. A customer channel is one (like phone and inbound email) where brands' primary objectives and investments are dedicated to serving current customers and where success is measured in increasing satisfaction, likelihood to recommend and repurchase.

The difference between treating social primarily as a customer channel versus a marketing channel may be subtle, but Papa John's social media mistake of last week well illustrates the contrast. Pop star Iggy Azalea ordered a pizza from Papa John's, and shortly after delivery, she started to receive texts from the driver's family who had received the celebrity's personal phone number from the employee. Iggy did what many of us would do and tweeted about the blatant infringement of her privacy:

Papa John's gave the star a blithe and unacceptable response:

"Don't #bounce us?" What would cause the brand to give such a terrible response to a celebrity whose privacy was violated? This can only happen when a brand treats social media first as a marketing channel and second as a customer channel.

No customer care representative in the world would--when presented with evidence of an employee violating customer trust, company policy and possibly even the law--give the response that Papa John's tweeted. That response was a marketing response authored by a marketer to elicit a marketing benefit. Iggy did not receive a reply designed to satisfy her legitimate concerns but one that attempted to turn her tweet into viral gold for the brand.

Well, if going viral was the goal, score one for Papa John's. Their careless response angered Azalea, and she went off on the brand. "A lot of damage can be done if that falls into the wrong hands, we give them this information with the expectation it remains confidential," she tweeted, followed by, "When an employee steals information it's called data breach. It's illegal. There are steps a corporation is supposed to follow afterward." That's right, a giant corporation needed to be schooled on the importance of data security and customer care by the pop star famous for singing, "Pu$$y."

This is far from the first time a brand has been spanked for treating social media as a marketing channel before a customer channel; in fact, I would suggest all brands are being spanked for this, whether or not they have had a "social media disaster" like Papa John's. This is why, despite the promise of social media adoption ushering in a new era of Word of Mouth, most brands still struggle for attention (and even the ones that manage to earn a high level of attention often fail to convert it into any brand benefit; see Kmart's "Ship my Pants, Farmer Insurance's Farmville promo, Blackberry's record fan counts and Samsung's "Selfie heard round the world.")

So how do you devise a strategy that is customer first/brand second in social media? There is no one answer, but here are places to start:

  • Focus metrics on customer happiness, not CMO happiness: Are you measuring social media by the size of your fan count, the number of likes and conversions? Who cares most about those metrics--your customers or your CMO? Instead of aligning social objectives to things like reach, engagement and conversions, instead measure responsiveness, satisfaction, and loyalty (such as NPS and share of wallet) for those with whom you interact in social media. Those are the metrics that indicate your customers are being served by your brand strategy in social media.
  • Let your Customer Care professionals, not Marketers, respond in social media: Your company already has a department dedicated to handling customer complaints and inquiries, and they do it quickly, accurately and empathetically. Let the Marketing Department worry about broadcasting content and buying paid media in social media, but when an inbound request is received, leave it to the same professionals who handle the same questions from the same customers received via phone, email, web forms, chat and other channels.
  • Your social media playbook should treat serious customer needs as such: Every corporate social media team needs a playbook to help guide tone, content and escalation of significant customer concerns. A serious claim such as a privacy violation should not be left up to the judgment of whichever marketing intern happens to monitoring the stream at the moment (or, as Rose Cameron suggested on this week's BeanCast, the only person in the office who knew who Iggy Azalea is.)
  • Listen and be present for customers: Times are changing for social networks, and this means your brand strategy must change with them. With organic reach trending downward and widely expected to hit (essentially) zero in the foreseeable future, now is the time to rethink why and how your company engages in social media. Brands are disappearing from consumers' newsfeeds, which means a strategy of being present when customers want the brand to be will beat a strategy that assumes consumers will see (and want) marketing content. 

Approach social media like your brand is present for customers, and you can not only avoid mistakes like Papa John's but also enhance your reputation and business opportunities in social media. But continue to act as if consumers are there for your brand--to engage, to spread your content and to build your Word of Mouth--and it should come as no surprise that consumers see through your self-interest and diminish your brand's reputation. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Yes, the Sharing Economy is About Sharing

photo credit: via photopin (license)
There has been a lot of buzz and disapproval around the word "sharing" in the term "Sharing Economy." While there is plenty to criticize (and praise) about the concept of the sharing economy, I get tired of people disparaging the idea simply because of its label. Call it the Sharing Economy; call it the Collaborative Economy; or call it the Aardvark Economy--it will make no difference in the growing trend of collaborative consumption and commerce that is changing the way consumers acquire and use goods and services.

Today, people are picking on the term "sharing economy" because, in the words of a post on Harvard Business Review, "The Sharing Economy Isn’t About Sharing at All." The article is actually quite good, focusing on the motivations of those who participate in the sharing economy, although the author's conclusion strikes me as achingly obvious: People participate not out of a sense of altruism or community improvement but instead do so for economic benefit.

Well of course the primary driver behind the rapid growth of sharing economy models is economic--that's why the word "economy" is in the label!--but does that really mean people are not sharing? HBR says it does, because it defines sharing as "a form of social exchange that takes place among people known to each other, without any profit." Apparently, they do not have dictionaries at Harvard, because when I turn to Merriam-Webster, I see much broader definitions:
  • to have or use (something) with others of two or more people 
  • to divide (something) into parts and each take or use a part 
  • to let someone else have or use a part of (something that belongs to you)
Of those three definitions, only the last one implies the act of giving something for free (and even then, it is not explicit with respect to the lack of monetary exchange). The other two definitions focus on the division or mutual use of things.

We have all shared things for economic benefit. We share meals and then divide the check. We collectively purchase and share weekend homes and hunting land. We pool money to share ownership of lottery tickets. We pay association fees to jointly own and share community services like pools and streets and pay taxes to share access to public parks and schools. We own shares of stocks (a term derived from the literal sharing of ownership). And at our jobs, we use and transfer funds for access to shared services such as Human Resources.

The word "sharing" does not (solely) mean giving or lending of things with no economic expectation; the definition of the word also includes the way things are divided, used and consumed. This is the sort of sharing implied by the "Sharing Economy" label.

Those who do not own a car can access one thanks to Zipcar, a company that shares the cost of its distributed fleet of vehicles across its customer base. On Lending Club, people do not fully fund individual loan requests but share the risk and ownership with others. And today, small businesses can avoid the risk of long-term rental agreements by using services like PivotDesk to share office space and services with other SMBs.

The reason I am so irked by the HBR article and others that make a big deal about the term "sharing" (such as this one and this) is that they can encourage those not paying attention to deride the important trend towards collective consumption. It is too easy to see such a critique and think, "Nothing new here--it's just the same old greed and economics." On one hand, they are correct--the individual drive to maximize economic power is as old as humanity; on the other hand, to ignore how new digital, mobile and social technology and behaviors are rapidly altering consumer attitudes and expectations is to miss how vital this trend will become to us personally and to our companies.

Another reason I find these articles annoying is that they can shift the focus away from truly meaningful and concerning aspects of the sharing economy. Rather than debate whether the "sharing economy" label meets the kindergarten definition for the word "sharing," let's instead shine a bright light and have a robust discussion about the potential risks and societal impact of these nascent business models.

Is the sharing economy "hurtling us backwards," as economist Robert Reich suggests? Does the growth of the sharing economy demand new forms of employee benefits and protectionsAre collaborative companies behaving unethically? And what does this trend say about the role of government--do we trust sharing economy platforms to empower consumers to keep themselves safe, or do we want new government regulation to enforce safety norms?

As funding for collaborative startups pushes past $11 billion and almost a third of Americans say they are open to purchasing products and services through consumer-to-consumer channels, the time has come to stop debating semantics and start considering the profound changes ahead for business, government, workers and consumers.

Postscript: While I have no issue designating the trend as the "sharing economy," I have shifted towards using the label "Collaborative Economy," the term preferred by Crowd CompaniesJeremiah Owyang. That is not because people aren't sharing (they are!) but because the trends that are threatening traditional sales, ownership and consumption include new ways to empower people to collaborate on the development, production and distribution of new goods and services. In other words, Zipcar and Airbnb may permit us to collectively use (or share) today's products, but Kickstarter and Shapeways are furnishing new ways for consumers to develop, distribute and promote new products. The word "collaborative" better describes the breadth and diversity of these innovative business models.