by Evan Dunn
Businesses should select a social analytics platform the moment they are on social media. Reasons:
1) Most social analytics tools cannot grab a ton of historical data. If you've been using social for years and you're just now adopting a social analytics tool, most will only be able to go back 30 days (due to limitations of the networks' APIs). Some gather and store data on many businesses/brands' social accounts, so if you're in this late-to-the-game situation, keep your fingers crossed.
2) It is important to measure the impact your social media efforts have, whether you're looking simply for engagement on social media, or you're looking for a correlation between social publishing activity and web traffic.
1) The best technology is being built by startups not affiliated with a suite. Social marketing suites have a hard time keeping up with feature additions, and are getting out-classed by startups with clever ideas for visualizing and conveying data from brands' and competitors' social networks.
2) First comes integrations, then comes acquisitions. Or vice-versa. As these startups progress, they can and will expand their user base and market presence by integrating with other platforms - such as social publishing (Buffer, Hootsuite, Sprout Social, etc.), social listening/monitoring (Brandwatch, NetBase, Infegy Atlas, etc.), and network-specific tools (Iconosquare for Instagram, ManageFlitter for Twitter, etc.). Eventually we will see more grassroots marketing suite development - such as what has happened with Cision, which now owns its only competitor in the influencer-targeting PR space (Vocus) and recently acquired both a social listening platform (Visible Technologies) and an enterprise social publishing platform (Viralheat).
3) The quest for more networks - and the networks' reluctance. One of the easiest ways for a social analytics platform to get attention is by building integrations with social networks that either have new or rare APIs (Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Tumblr, etc.) or that are more obscure when it comes to business use (Snapchat, Yik Yak, etc.). One of the more well-known social analytics platforms got a lot of attention for its Pinterest abilities, but then was punished by Pinterest for abusing its Terms of Service. Social networks have a (frustratingly) difficult time seeing the value of 3rd party tools, and will keep making decisions like this that hurt developers, while the developers will keep scrambling to have the sexiest new connections.
4) No distinction between enterprise and SMB (Small to Medium Business) solutions. Currently the top 5 feature-rich social analytics platforms price the same for all businesses. There is a very powerful free platform that is used by the team at Starbucks and other major companies, but they don't see any additional profit from serving enterprise needs. This will lead to...
5) An increase in enterprise-oriented features. As these social analytics platforms are developing solid product foundations that offer a wealth of insight to SMBs, they will begin to build add-ons, extras, and new features that can be bought for hefty chunks of cash. Big companies will sit between one of two extremes here: enterprises that see the value of social will invest big bucks to get big answers about their social networks, but many will balk at increased costs and rely on their gigantic (and absurd) 5-year Salesforce suite contract to deliver insights.
1) Social network coverage. Whether they have all the major networks you need insights on.
2) Clear language and segmentation of data. I'm a fan of the big 3 metrics: "Audience", "Activity" and "Engagement" - all the data I need from any social network fits into those.
3) Ability to drill down past quantitative insight. You'll want to see your top performing posts, and top mentions - these will give you a clearer picture of what people are saying about your brand, and what they like about your content.
4) Pricing. If you're paying thousands for social analytics software, find new software.
5) Competitive insight. You should be able to get some degree of historical data on your competitors so that you can see where you stand in the pecking order - and analyze those trends over time.
We're in a tricky middle spot, where the dream social media tool is just around the corner, if only a few smart integrations and acquisitions could be made. Businesses with smart social teams are probably tempted to wait, or are strapping together dozens of tools to get the best of each.
But social analytics are a business imperative for any B2C/B2B brand with a decent online presence. They are more essential than social listening, because they're closer to home, and they're integral to social publishing. All this means is businesses must act now before their competitors run off with top-of-mind awareness in their vertical.
Businesses should have a solid analytics tech stack in place while keeping an eye out for innovative combinations of features with the ever-crystallizing industry of software for social media.