After the big bang of social media came the big bang of social media tools. The market place has never been busier and to complicate things there is a boom in acquisitions and mergers among platform and network providers.
Only a few years ago social media tools were simple, mostly free of charge and you could count them on one hand.
Now there seems to be a new one every week, prices are going up and propositions overlap. Driven by demand and raised expectations, tool providers are under pressure to create a one-stop shop. The uber tool!
That can make choosing social media tools chaotic, confusing and occasionally, very stressful. Here are some top tips we've put together to help you.
What are you trying to achieve? What objectives are you trying to meet?
These are the most important questions you must ask yourself. And they must be considered first. Quarantine your actual needs from any preferences you might have. It's easy to be swayed by familiarity or convenience. A little cold discipline goes a long way.
What existing social media tools are you using and where are they falling short?
Sometimes the existing tool might still be the best choice. Perhaps it could be used better and some exploration will reveal more benefits. Look for free training options and check with your supplier. Don't forget user forums. They're another source of real world problems and solutions, and most importantly free advice.
Perhaps there are additional features in your social media tools that could be unlocked by upgrading or extending it. Tools are increasingly extensible through third party add-ons or plug-ins. You might find that the answer lies in connecting a free widget or integating your existing tools more closely.
So you've established your requirements and checked your existing options. Once it's clear that you need a new tool then prioritising your needs is the next step. This is crucial because it compels you to choose what is really most important to you.
Assign the following values to each of your requirements:
1. Must Have
2. Should Have
3. Could Have
4. Won't Have
You're looking to create clarity so don't be afraid to wield the knife. Is that requirement really a 'Must Have' or is it optional? Make a clear distinction between 'Should Have' and 'Could Have'. 'Should Have' is an established need but not an absolute pre-requisite. 'Could Have' is a flexible option you could do without if necessary.
The Won't Have value is sometimes overlooked but I can't stress how useful it can be. Positively listing precisely what you are not looking for is as important in choosing a useful social media tool as defining what you do require. It's easier to identify unnecessary features you might end up paying for if you actually set out what you don't need.
MSCW prioritisation may be too simplistic for your needs. With more abstract or complex requirements card sorting can be helpful for classification. Write down your requirements on some plain old-fashioned cards. Then get users of your social media tools to group these cards by type.
If your needs cover engagement, monitoring and simple moderation then ordering requirements into these groups will help. If your needs are particularly bespoke, you could create your own folksonomy (a shared vocabulary) and then tag your needs. This should help bring order to diverse, obscure or unique requirements.
It's not just tools that are proliferating, so is pricing. One particular pricing model is reaching ubiquity: freemium. The freemium model has been around since the 1980s. It refers to a pricing model where basic functionality or access is free but more advanced features are priced at a premium. And that's where costs can get hard to predict.
Client Access Licenses (per user or per device) are giving way to more elastic pricing points. Pricing points that are based on usage of data or units of time are more subject to demand. And often more flexible because of it. The idea that you only pay for what you use should make pricing more transparent. But it can also make it less obvious what you will pay.
This is why it's important to try before you buy, where you can. A 30-day trial is not just your opportunity to assess a new social media tool. It's also a chance to understand what volume of usage you might expect. Increasingly suppliers offer enterprise clients an assessment to forecast volumes and therefore costs.
I grade the social media tools that I use. My tool grading app splits requirements into sections, with items receiving a star rating. For example Platform Management Capabilities rates features such as work flow, scheduling and notifications. While the Properties Covered section looks at which social media platforms and channels can be managed. This way I get an overall score for a tool or a score for a particular area, so I know what will work for my clients.
Procurement teams often use a scoring system for software selection. And procurement departments are becoming more involved in the selection of social media tools. If your business has a procurement team they are always a good place to start. You might have to go through them anyway!