Listening to the voice of your consumer in social media is fast becoming a strategic imperative.  According to a recent survey by Leger Marketing, the majority of companies have some kind of social media listening strategy in place.  For some, this means a simple and free solution like Google Alerts, while larger organizations, usually those with larger social media footprints turn to enterprise grade software as a service (SaaS) solutions.

Literally hundreds of software tools have emerged to meet the demand of this market, presenting companies with the challenge of deciding what the right tool is for their company.

question Questions to ask when choosing a social media monitoring vendor

Creative Commons. All rights reserved by Don Moyer

At Social Media Group, we’ve done the due diligence on a healthy contingent of the tools that are out there.   Our process entailed creating a scorecard based on an established set of criteria that aligned with our business needs.  While your company’s requirements will likely differ, here are some smart questions to ask prospective vendors:

1)      Do you have access to the Twitter fire hose? Twitter is a huge source of social media activity, with 250 million messages being produced each day.   It is not uncommon for brand mentions on Twitter to account for 75% of all social media messages.  At SMG, we refer to Twitter as the social web’s circulatory system – a network that people use to readily share information that inspires and interests them.  People also use Twitter to complain.  A lot.

Regardless of how Twitter is being used, you want to feel confident that you’re getting all of the relevant messages.  Yet, Twitter is increasingly selective about who gets their data.  Not all social media monitoring companies have access to the “fire hose,” (the full stream of Twitter data) so you best understand what your vendor is getting (or missing).

2)      What is the service level agreement? Service outages can be a major source of pain and frustration.  If the system goes down, you might be left with a team of analysts sitting around with nothing to do, and your company is exposed to risk because the social web never sleeps.   While some interruptions are inevitable, make sure you have sufficient recourse in place should the software you choose fail to operate as needed and expected.  Make sure you have a dedicated representative who will be responsible for working to resolve issues quickly and satisfactorily.

3)      Can you engage with consumers directly through the tool? If customer service is a priority for your company, then you’ll want the opportunity to address customer questions or confusion as soon as it’s discovered.  The ability to do this from within a listening platform is by far and away the most efficient way to manage this process.  Needless to say, if you are empowering your customer service team to manage online customer issues, then you’ll need to have the appropriate rapid response framework and escalation processes in place.

4)      What enhancements have been released in the past year?  What’s in the development pipeline? This social media listening market is moving quickly.  Companies are being acquired regularly and innovation is essential to break free of a commoditised market.  Sometimes when these companies are acquired, innovation is accelerate, while other times it stalls.  Getting a track record of what improvements have been made in the past year will help you understand if you can expect the tool to be continually upgraded.

5)      How much will this cost? Ahh, price. There are many different pricing models in this field, user seats, search profiles and pricing based on data volume being the most common. Whatever the pricing model, ensuring that the pricing is both reasonable and will remain consistent is what you should strive for.  The last thing that you want to worry about during a crisis (read increased data volume) is to lose control of the costs required until the matter has been diffused.

6)      Can the system integrate with other platforms? Surely, one of the most interesting developments in the social media monitoring market of late was Salesforce.com’s acquisition of Radian6.  For sales driven organizations, this move holds great promise, foreshadowing a future class of applications that’s capable of moving customers down from the upper reaches of the sales funnel into legitimate sales opportunities.   SMG will be keeping a close eye on this one.

The social media listening market presents a vast sea of options for companies today.  When choosing a tool, start with your listening objectives, define your selection criteria, then be prepared with questions and try before you buy!