Buddy Media, Involver, Vitrue, Wildfire... the big players may have been acquired by the bigger players in the digital industry, but their value is being misreported by the industry press. Yes, they all offer social media advertising solutions. But this is only half of the reason that brands engage their services. Why are the press and even the educated punditry getting it so wrong?
I believe I have the answer. First, let's look at the four core competencies offered by Social Management Solutions. We will then take a look at where this space is going. Along the way, I hope to offer the reader an understanding as to why the press is focusing so heavily on media.
Four Core Competencies of Social Management Solutions
1. Content Management
Big brands often have a dozen or more Facebook pages across business units. Building and managing these pages without a centralized content management tool is both painful and expensive. Rebuilding each experience for each brand page or a building localized version for each location is a headache and can be cost prohibitive. Managing an editorial calendar across each of these pages or localized pages is a headache. And as much as big brands have big budgets, marketers have seen the light and are realizing the there is no reason to build every element of every page or app from scratch. Centralized, simple-to-skin libraries of core page engagement assets such as polls, video players and the like are offered by all of the major players in the space. While all of these tools sound like nice-to-haves, the total experience offers a dashboard that large struggle to live without, and enable smaller marketers to look and act like the big players without spending a fortune.
2. Conversation Management
A good community manager should know every member of their community. They should know what posts this person has engaged with in the past, who they are connected to, and what they like and dislike. They should even remember every customer awaiting a response to a question they asked last week or even last month. In reality, this is impossible at scale. Conversation management software (ideally linked to a CRM suite) enables marketers to track engagements with individual fans. While each platform offers varying degrees of competency in this space, this service is in incredible demand for service and conversation oriented marketers. I would like to believe that this is why CRM platforms are investing so heavily in this space.
3. Ad Management
As platforms like Facebook and Twitter continue to develop their "sponsored posts" and "sponsored actions" ad units, it becomes increasingly important for media and page management teams to work in sync with one another.
Integrating these solutions makes a lot of sense for the solutions providers. Media is a low cost, high margin product with far more budget than creative or community management. Media integration in a centralized system could yield strong organizational efficiencies when led by the right management team. However, in practice this is not always the case. Media is often managed by a different agency than creative; who may have little engagement with the community management teams (which as often as not sit at the brand or client). I'm all for integration, but it’s not easy. Hopefully these integrated suites will push marketers to get serious about getting on the same page. This is a very real area of very real waste in this space.
The right ad system will be one that can optimize against your needs. There are many dedicated ad solutions that feature fuller Facebook API access and unique media packages with better performance metrics than those currently offered by the all-in-one suites. Most agency people I have spoken with are still buying much of their Facebook media from players other than the all-in-one suites.
This is why I struggle to understand why the media keeps reporting on these platforms as if they were ad solutions.
Social analytics are the Wild West. Facebook offers certain page analytics. Twitter offers minimal page analytics. Developers bake their own third party analytics into apps and other rich engagements. And nobody is bringing every possible social input into a dashboard that provides clarity. That is why smart people hire the right people to make sense of it all. That said, the greater the one-touch access to multiple analytics solutions in a single dashboard, the easier your life should be. Additional capabilities like rich the permissions sets will help ensure that your numbers guru doesn't accidentally talk about Game Of Thrones while logged into your PBS Kids Twitter account.
The truly great solutions of tomorrow are going to be true all-in-one shops that offer competencies or at least relationships and APIs that make shopping around for bits and pieces of solutions a thing of the past. Wildfire has a rich heritage and a great deal of experience managing the minefield of social promotions. But is Google the right company in which to further develop that aspect of their business? Here's to hoping that wherever they pivot and however strong they grow, that they never forget what made them great in the first place.
A truly great analytics solution is going to integrate an incredible number of social inputs. In this instance, Wildfire could offer some truly instance Google Analytics integrations. On that note, here's to hoping some newly-wed-companies like Buddy Media and Radian 6 have some really good looking children.
The future is also going to include a new suite of mobile-friendly tools and experiences, making use of platform-specific APIs that have-not-yet-been invented. The future is going to look incredibly smooth and brilliant compared to today's generation of social media management solutions.
I hope and pray that the glamour and cash behind media and advertising do not stall the development of much needed, real solutions. Media is only a small slice of the pie. And I'm concerned over its centrality in the media coverage of this space.
Here's to the conversation.