Social media isn't going anywhere anytime soon. That much is clear. On the contrary, social media is still growing. And fast!
The biggest social media sites are, on the whole, still increasing the amount of users they have. And, over the last few years a wide range of new, unique, and highly-successful social media platforms have been launched.
This should be music to the ears of businesses of all sizes, from global corporations to local shops.
Why? Because social media allows businesses to directly engage with customers on a completely unprecedented scale, gives a more in-depth understanding of consumers than has ever been possible before, and is by far one of the most cost-effective marketing mediums currently available.
But there's a problem. Some of the aforementioned new social media networks tend to focus on doing just one thing or a couple things very well.
Vine, for example, has become incredibly popular by allowing its users to share short video clips. Snapchat owes its tremendous success to allowing its users to send funny or daring pictures and videos on the promise that they'll be deleted soon after they are viewed. And Instagram simply lets its users edit, send, and share pictures and videos.
This means that social media users are now going to different places for different things - YouTube for videos, Facebook to talk to friends, Instagram to share pictures, etc. Which means, in turn, that any business taking their social media strategy seriously will have to have a presence on at least some or all of these platforms.
Just thinking about the amount work involved in trying to keep all of these channels up to date makes it clear that those seeking to run a successful social media marketing campaign have got their work cut out for them.
This is where social media management tools come in.
Most social media marketers will either use one or a handful of social media marketing tools. Such tools save those running social media campaigns a huge amount of time and effort.
The best allow users to monitor and coordinate social media campaigns across multiple networks, and provide them with everything they need in order to keep on top of all of their posts, updates, and responses. This means no more constantly logging in and out of different networks, no more waiting until the "ideal" time and posting manually, and no more leaving messages unanswered.
Not only this, but a good social media tool will capture data from different networks in real time, before presenting it in a detailed, easy-to-understand fashion. This allows users to gain a better understanding of their audience (and so are able to tailor content toward them) as well as to isolate the strong and weak aspects of a campaign.
We're now halfway through 2015. So far this year we've seen a lot of free and paid social media tools enter the market. Some are great! Some - not so much. And there's no reason to think that this trend is going to slow down anytime soon.
So what's going to make a social media tool stick out above the rest? And what developments can we expect to see in the second half of 2015.
The biggest differentiator, in my opinion, will be the ability to accurately segment social media audiences. Rather than merely being followed by an amorphous mass, the ability to allow users to categorise particular individuals based on their levels of engagement, influence, and activity lets social media managers engage their key users and stop talking to a bunch on anonymous strangers.
So far as I'm aware, only one tool currently offers this functionality: AgoraPulse, a relative new comer on the social media management tool scene. AgoraPulse (which I've written about in more depth here) records all followers' activity on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and uses an algorithm to rank your best users as well as assigning them a tag, such as "engaged", "ambassador", or "influencer".
I believe the second biggest differentiator will be posts in multiple languages. Non-English language networks, like Qzone, Sina Weibo, and Renren, have absolutely huge user-bases, and tapping into these is sure to be essential to social media success.
A fair number of social media management tools allow users to schedule and publish posts in different languages. Another relative newcomer, MavSocial, for instance, allows for posts in a huge variety of languages, and enables its users to use special characters and symbols. In a globalised world, any good social media management tool will have to provide this functionality.
The third differentiator will, in my opinion, be a large cloud storage capacity. In order to cut time, social media managers often like to use the same graphic on multiple networks, or even with multiple posts on the same network. And having a place to store all of your images, videos, and any other content ready for when you want to revisit or recycle it is extremely handy.
Tools like Dropbox and SpiderOak are, without a doubt, fantastic. But having cloud storage built into a social marketing media tool makes life just that bit easier.
The final differentiator will, I think, be better analytics. Social media analytics is a very competitive space, and most of the big social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, are looking to entice marketers into using their own tools by constantly updating and improving them.
But these sites face a big problem. Social media managers want to spend as little time on a particular site as possible. So, if social media management tools can provide analytics for multiple sites that match or better those provided by a single social media site, they will be on to a real winner.
For social media marketers, this is all good news. Social media management tools will, in order to be successful, have to provide their users with ever better tools and functionalities. Indeed a steady improvement in the general quality of products is indicative of a flourishing and competitive marketplace.
However, social media marketers shouldn't expect to see that other tell-tale sign of a competitive market: a drop in price. Social media management tools are not cheap to develop and maintain. And benefits such as 24/7 customer support also contribute to high overheads.
This means that the gap in quality between free and paid social media tools is likely to widen moving forward, with those charging more able to reinvest in their product and provide a better service for their users, and those offering their product for free getting stuck in a rut.
The truth is that, if you're serious about social media management, you should be willing to pay for a quality tool. Social media marketing, done well, can have a brilliant ROI. And the easiest way to do social media marketing well is to use a good tool.
So, there you have it. That's what I think will differentiate the best social media marketing tools from the rest, and what I think we can expect to see in the remainder on 2015. It will be exciting to see whether I'm right.
Do you agree with my choices of differentiators and predictions? Or is there something I've missed. Let me know your thoughts with a comment.