Apr 26 2010

The Four Best Social Media Management Platforms for Corporate Marketers

Published by at 10:12 pm under marketing,social media

UPDATE: For a more comprehensive overview of 10 SMMPs, please check out this new post for a downloadable report.

Total read time: 4 minutes (italicized highlights and chart); 15 minutes (full post)

It seems that every new marketing campaign comes with an accompanying Twitter account. In addition, the customer service department needs a couple (or many) distinct accounts. And certain key individuals, like your CMO, need their individual accounts. The slow creep of campaigns, positioning, and different department needs continue to expand, and suddenly, you realize that your company has a couple dozen Twitter accounts, several Facebook pages, and hundreds of personal accounts across multiple social networks.

The reality is that all of these accounts are needed – your product manager has a different focus than your customer support team, and you don’t want to mix together messages directed toward journalists with that campaign you did targeting stay-at-home-moms. But, you can’t even remember all of the handles, much less the passwords.

It’s time for a social media management platform.

The Basics of Social Media Management Platforms

Social media management platforms are designed to:

  • give one person the ability to manage multiple accounts
  • give multiple team members the ability to manage one account
  • coordinate social media participation in a planned, coordinated manner.

They are a critical tool for serious marketers to use social networks to their full potential, and the need for these tools is very real. Social media management is more than a complicated headache-inducer; managing multiple distinct social media accounts is a point of failure for your business.

Scores of startups are jumping into this space to make social media management easier and more, well, manageable (if you’re interested in seeing just how large the landscape is, Jeremiah Owyang maintains a list of providers). So, there is a lot of choice in this space.

But don’t wait until you are juggling many accounts before selecting a platform. When you are preparing for a campaign launch, you want to be able to launch new profiles smoothly. Take the time now to get familiar with your options.

A further caveat: once you make a commitment to one of these tools, you will spend a lot of time in it. Think of this decision less like a first date, and more like a marriage. It takes hours of use to be able to use these systems to their maximum benefit. And there will be a learning curve with using each of these tools.

I have been briefed on, and tested out, a number of different platforms. These services are adding new functionality weekly, so it’s difficult to pin down one platform that will be best for everyone. We are in a period of rapid development in this ecosystem, and you should expect substantial change yet to come.

That being said, I can recommend several platforms in this space that have robust features (“the ugly” talks about the design and usability of the tool):

Chart of Social Media Management Platforms

Overview of Social Media Management Platforms

Strengths and Weaknesses of Recommended Tools


Hootsuite

Hootsuite started as a Twitter account manager, but has offered integration with a number of other platforms (including a beta of WordPress). Their tool has an outstanding UI and a strong set of functionality, especially with multiple teams managing accounts. You can create an account “owner” that has the highest level of permissions, then assign rights to others – one group for standard updates, and another that has permission to modify the account on the social network. This is particularly useful with admins for Facebook Pages, where you want to allow wide latitude for certain team members.

Hootsuite offers its own URL shortening service – http://ow.ly. While this seems convenient, because you can just paste a long URL in for automatic shortening and insertion into your Tweet, there are drawbacks. By default, ow.ly places a referral bar at the top of the URL – this practice does little for the user, and pushes some of your landing page content below the fold. (As of about 5 minutes after I published this post, ow.ly does not include the referral bar, but there is still only proprietary shorteners available from within the interface). I don’t use ow.ly, even when I use Hootsuite, and even though it means a couple extra steps.

Cost: The full Hootsuite functionality is free, which also makes it compelling. They do charge for their iPhone app, and they have a Pro Certification that has a monthly fee.

CoTweet

CoTweet was designed for enterprise users from the start, and that makes it a particularly well-tested tool. The team management functionality is well rounded. Also, CoTweet offers the ability to assign follow up for responding to individual tweets, so it’s particularly useful for customer service organizations. Surprisingly, it’s also very useful for marketing organizations, too. Product and promotion managers can be assigned different engagement tasks based on their product knowledge.

CoTweet was acquired by ExactTarget in early March, so if you are already an ExactTarget customer, this solution becomes the natural choice. Expect their product roadmap to integrate social media management and email communications more tightly, and even to be able to manage both from the same interface by 2011. I wouldn’t be surprised of they renamed the product ExactTweet, either. It’s just begging for it.

Cost: CoTweet used to cost $1.99 per user, per month, but since acquisition, it’s now a free service. In the future, look for multiple account levels, some of which may require the use of the ExactTarget email platform.

SocialOomph

Formerly TweetLater, SocialOomph has the oft-reviled “auto-follow” functionality. Auto-following may be out of vogue with the tweeterati, but for some marketing initiatives, it is still the most appropriate policy.

SocialOomph is missing the strong team management capabilities of the above platforms, but they are the ultimate solution if you are a one-person show. They also have an annoying layout, with precious screen real estate taken up by a banner ad recommending someone for you to follow, and a left nav that has a narrow font and low contrast, making it tough to read. While the back-end coding is solid, the usability of SocialOomph is hampered by these annoyances.

Where SocialOomph excels is in campaign planning. All services offer a scheduling functionality to send your Tweets later. But, SocialOomph goes one step further, by offering a queue feature.

You can create a queue around any theme or idea, e.g. “links worth sharing,” “retweets,” or “registration reminders.” Each queue has it’s own automated publishing schedule that you determine, e.g. “every 12 hours,” or “every 15 minutes.” Then, you can feed multiple queues into one Twitter account.

This is powerful because it allows you to conceive of a persona for your account, and ensure that the account behavior is useful for the target audience; and their “email when dry” function makes it easy to see when you need to get cracking and create some more content for a queue.

Cost: SocialOomph has a free plan, which is fairly limited, and a pro account that costs around $30 per month.

Spredfast

Spredfast is an impressive new player on the scene (this is relative, of course, since the oldest of these services is less than two years old). They have an extremely easy-to-use interface, and impressive analytics capabilities.

All of these tools offer basic analytics, like number of clickthroughs, based on data provided by the shortening services. Spredfast takes these several steps further. First, they track the number of followers you have, and the number of followers that any users that retweet your post have. That way, they can give you a true picture of total impressions.

They also automatically create unique short URLs for each network that you post on. So, you can post the same link to multiple social network profiles, and the system automatically creates unique tracking for each network. If you have created dozens of tracking IDs, then shortened each one, then pasted each into its own social network update, you will understand what a time saver this is.

Further boosting their analytics is the ability to integrate with Omniture, WebTrends, and other full-featured analytics tools. Most social media management platforms can integrate with Google Analytics, but few offer such robust analytics integration.

Cost: Spredfast has three tiers of pricing (the base product is free; the most expensive, which includes team workflow and management, is $100/mo). They charge on a monthly basis, per campaign. This is particularly useful if you have campaigns that will be active for a brief window, allowing you to scale up or down easily.

Some Final Considerations

Expect continued development in this space, with new features coming online very quickly for the next 6-12 months. More importantly, expect consolidation and acquisition in this space, as established analytics players, email management programs, and others look to integrate existing tools with their core products.

It’s important to understand the ecosystem and viability of these services because the health of their organizations will determine how well they are able to support and integrate new social networks in the future. Look at how Friendfeed has stagnated since they were acquired by Facebook; they have not removed services that are now out of business, and they have not added important new platforms (thanks to Chris Messina for this graphic; side note: check out his full, exciting presentation from SXSW here):

Friendfeed services supported and holes in support

Friendfeed's Supported Services Page

Networks that have a more personal bent – like Tumblr, Posterous, and Google Buzz – are strikingly absent from most of these platforms. This may or may not be problematic for you. Around 62% of social sharing from influencers happens on Facebook, so if you have a brand that is broad in its appeal, any of these tools will serve you well.

But, if you have a specific niche social network that you need to integrate with, because you have substantial audience there, you may need to look at another management platform, or create a status update workflow document that moves status updates between platforms using a custom feed solution, like Yahoo Pipes.

What social media management platforms do you use? And which would you be interested to hear more about? Let me know in the comments.

17 responses so far

  • http://twitter.com/LaSandraBrill LaSandra Brill

    Great post. I would add Objective Marketer and Sprinklr to the list. We evaluated these along with Hootsuite, CoTweet and and Spredfast. We are currently running a pilot with Sprinklr.

    Based on my analysis Hootsuite and CoTweet are great free tools and are great for folks just using Twitter. Spredfast is best for SMBs or departments within a bigger company and integrate into many different social platforms (not just Twitter). Objective Marketer is great for agencies or single power users (like Guy Kawasaki) and can also manage more than just Twitter. I think the best enterprise solution in this space is Sprinklr who allows you to manage multiple department and give them their own autonomy while still rolling up in the same platform – they manage more than just Twitter and have many built-in shortcuts to streamline things and white label options for better branding.

    But like you mentioned this space is new and I expect many changes. I also see listening platforms starting to move into this space and Radian6 has already proved that with their engagement model however they have a lot of catching up to do.

  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

    Great post. A ton of work you put into this. I agree with LaSandra on Objective Marketer. Similar to HootSuite, with more of the SocialOomph campaign functionality. I haven't tried Sprinlr or Spreadfast. I'll check it out.

  • marcmeyer

    Good short list for a change Jamie, similar to Jay, I had no familiarity with Spredfast and Sprinklr.

  • http://www.corporate-web-strategy.com Nian Yee Chow

    Good post, with valuable reviews. I think a more holistic picture to look into this would be the concept of Social CRM, which is the recent focus by Altimeter. However, to execute Social CRM in its entirety would be require significant investment.

    I see the solutions you listed more suited for small to medium corporations, undoubtedly relying on social media relationships in their business. The value of social media analytics coupled with aggregation of the various social media channels used in addition to multiple users would help companies understand the interaction behavior of their target audiences, and how they can strategize to close online deals better. This contributes to the corporate web strategy, which would be in a constant refresh to reflect changes in the marketplace.

  • http://www.searchengineoptimization.co.uk Mike

    I have used Hootsuite and its seems good till what limit i have used it as per my experience….As you said many more are there to use, but many of us how are not on all social media sites, still use other tools which are free and easy to use…they may be for single platform but ease for work attracts us towards them, i will have give some names of these which i used in past with success

  • http://www.seoconsult.co.uk Jack

    Social media is a new way to use the web, it involves jargon such as friending, adding, tweeting, and commenting. It involves both listening, and talking, both being there for friends, and engaging strangers, and it all is done on a daily basis by virtually everyone that is buying your stuff on the internet.

  • http://argylesocial.com/ Eric Boggs

    Great reviews! You should check out Argyle – http://argylesocial.com. We're launching to beta on Tuesday. :)

  • Pingback: Creative Concepts - 4 Ways to Make Social Media Easier

  • Phil

    Hey Marc, as Nian said these tools are not suited for enterprise use. If you are a med-to large company I would advise you to look at Jeremiah Owyang's list. It is much more focused. And these tools do not have permissioning, nor security features, or CMS like features that most legal departments in organizations like. If you going to invest, invest in a tool that hits all the points. If it's free, well, then…..

  • Phil

    Great post with valuable reviews. I think a more holistic picture to look into this would be the concept of Social CRM

  • Brad

    This is a great list. Thank you for compiling it. I haven’t, of course, read them all but I am looking forward to at least hitting some highlights. WOW!!

  • sam

    very nice blog..actually for the new users..in this field of blogging..thanks for sharing…

  • http://twitter.com/RonanKeane Ronan Keane

    Jamie,

    I’m sure you’ve seen lots of changes since you wrote this post in April. For example, Visual Technologies have reduced the cost of their solution and rolled two separate products into one.

    I agree with LaSandra (who told me about Sprinklr) that Sprinklr is a powerful tool for an enterprise size company. I sat through a demo of Sprinklr and was very impressed. However, Spredfast has launched a couple of updates since then and look to be a great alternative to Sprinklr.

    Social analytics is another important element should be mentioned. Crowd Factory and Crimson Hexagon are two good solutions.

    Two other social media marketing Facebook solutions I’ve looked at are BuddyMedia and Shoutlet. Both definitely lean toward b2c but I’m exploring ways XO Communications can use them for b2b.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stonehengenyc Jfishman

    Insightful post that allowed me to see the main differences between Hootsuite and Spredfast. My agency and social media people are recommending spredfast and the above explains it very well. Thank you.

  • Tia Haynes

    Your post is so helpful. Thank you so much. I  am now trying to open my own social media management company and this post cleared up some doubts that I.

  • Jeffzelaya

     Great post! I would love to see an updated version of this. Would your analysis change much? Who would you add to the comparison?

  • http://twitter.com/JeffZelaya Jeffrey Zelaya

    I agree with your recommendation! Although, I don’t use these tools much I can see where you are going with this. Awesome work Chris.