How to tame the social media tiger

What’s a large enterprise with 40 Facebook pages, three YouTube channels, five Twitter accounts, three Google Buzz pages and two MySpace pages to do? Add an enterprise-level social media management platform, says one Toronto-based social media vendor.

It’s “massively confusing,” said Michael Scissons, CEO of social media technology provider Syncapse Corp. “It’s not going to end. The fragmentation is getting so large and so diverse with all the international markets, people and places,” he said.

Syncapse built SocialTalk, its flagship social media management platform, specifically to serve the needs of medium and large businesses that have “the very specific challenge of managing this monstrosity that social media is creating,” he said.

SocialTalk provides a central point of management for multiple social media accounts, aggregating data from various sources, providing dashboards of real-time information at global, regional and local levels, and creating metrics for measuring the results.

Suited to enterprises with governance issues, the platform also manages publishing, workflow and approvals, he said. An external agency can, for example, load content into the system, at which point the content gets passed to the legal or PR department for approval and then gets published out.

“The interest in social media and the growing use of social media has taken a challenging problem and made it worse – but it is not a new problem by any means,” said Carol Rozwell, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Inc.

It’s extremely difficult for organizations of any size to put in place even a simple piece of collateral, whether they get help from a consultant or PR firm or not, because it involves so many people, she said.

While there are products that will help an organization send a consistent message to a variety of different social media sites like Twitter or Facebook, these tools aren’t helping organizations figure out their social media strategies, said Rozwell. “That’s a different problem, and unfortunately, we are seeing many companies just move into social media without really thinking about what’s behind it,” she said.

Gartner recommends five things that have to be in a social media plan for an organization to use it successfully, said Rozwell. And developing a social media strategy starts with thinking about how the organization will establish a coordinated strategy, she said.

Organizations need to make sure they understand the purpose for which they are using social media and they need to understand the participants in their organization who will be using social media, she said.

They also need to be clear on the places they will engage; they need to put processes in place for things like education and message development; and then they have to measure the performance, she said. “Once you’ve got your plan, then the tools can be very helpful so you are leveraging your message in as many places as possible,” she said.

Any business-to-consumer or government-to-citizen organization would find a service like SocialTalk useful for managing across platforms, but business-to-business may want to find a vendor that is more specific to their needs, said Tim Hickernell, lead research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.

SocialTalk plays generically across any market, whereas other vendors like Inside View Inc. will target an area like sales or accounts management, he said.

If it’s all about “getting around the gatekeeper to establish direct connections with the business people who are your buyers, products like Inside View are taking a very CRM-oriented view, so these are the ones you want to go for,” said Hickernell.

One of SocialTalk’s strengths is its ability to incorporate specific campaign tags into the metrics, he said. “You can actually use their technology to integrate with any particular type of marketing campaign management software you might be using,” he said.

Info-Tech segments the social market into three groups: social media services like Facebook, WordPress and Flickr that have users who produce content; CRM vendors like Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp. and Inc. that integrate social media channels into their applications; and third party social channel aggregators and managers like Syncapse, said Hickernell.

The third segment is important because it gives enterprises a place to go for not only aggregating content and activities but managing their input to the variety of social services, he said.

“It gets to be quite ambitious for a company to not only be able to post a common message or branding across all of these platforms, but to have a single point of control for user IDs … and establishing the default privacy settings that a company wants is very difficult if you have to deal with each service individually,” he said.  

But there are still a couple features that the social aggregators and managers aren’t offering yet, he said. “More companies are getting smart, not just about getting pages up, but developing applications. I think a potential area for the entire market to move into is to be able to manage applications that can run on the social networks,” he said.

And the “untapped gold” of social media is still on the analytics end, said Hickernell. This isn’t just about analyzing content and usage – it’s the analytics around the networks and the ability to identify specific attributes of members at any time based on their interactions with others, he said. SAS Institute Inc., for example, announced an enterprise-level Social Media Analytics solution earlier this spring.

Labatt Breweries of Canada Ltd. had close to 450,000 Facebook fans across multiple brands in early 2010, according to Matt Ramella, senior manager of media, sponsorship and digital marketing at Labatt. The company started rolling out SocialTalk in the spring.

“Labatt has quite a lot of scale in Canada across Facebook,” said Ramella in an interview prior to the launch. “With that ongoing engagement strategy, to establish a dialogue with those fans, there are a lot more resources that need to be put into that relationship,” he said.

The ability to archive every one of the brand posts, like Budweiser, Bud Light and Alexander Keiths, in one place is one of the benefits of the SocialTalk platform, he said. Another benefit is the ability to aggregate different engagement metrics, said Ramella.

“It gives up the data to allow us to generate insights on the way we communicate with fans in order to help improve ROI, generate more free media impressions [and] generate more brand engagement between our loyal fans and the brands,” he said. 

Organizationsare struggling to understand what type of organizational change they need toimplement in order to be successful in the “new world,” said Scissons. “Thereality is that social media is transforming businesses on more than justmarketing,” he said.

Challengesrange across the business, from how to manage all of the people speaking on behalfof the company brand to workflow issues to figuring out how to measure thesuccess of social media efforts to how social media changes an enterprisesupport structure, he said.

“It’s notjust the social media new world. Society is changing and the organizationalstructures of tomorrow are evolving and that’s the change that is going to haveto happen for them to be competitive,” said Scissons.

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur. 

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