Questions to Consider When Selecting a Social Media Tool Vendor or Service

Alan Belniakbusiness, Social Media, technology2 Comments

social network API connectivity (as seen on http://www.SubjectivelySpeaking.net)

There’s no dearth of social media applications these days, from listening to lightweight publishing to scheduling, and everything in between.  Some are free, some you pay a little bit, and others you pay a lot.  And it seems though that the more you pay, the more you get.

 

But when you lock in with technology at a high price (most of these are minimum one-year contracts), you’re preventing yourself from switching to the competition, or canning the investment all together.  So, it’s important to do your due diligence up front to ensure that what you’re potentially getting is going to fit.

 

I’ve gone through this process before on a few occasions with a colleague of mine, Heidii Evriviades.  Our situation may or may not be like yours.  Accordingly, what’s below is a superset of questions that you might want to peruse when interviewing / demo-ing vendors and their wares.  Of course, you might be looking at only a listening platform, or only a publishing platform… and that’s fine.  Just omit the questions that don’t matter.  Hopefully, these will help you guide your decision, or at least tease out some information you otherwise may have missed.

 

Here are some starter questions they should ask you.  This could come before or after you send them your questions.  (In my experience, sending questions out, getting the responses back, and discussing those responses verbally (phone or face-to-face) facilitates the conversation.  If you’re dealing with many vendors, then you might consider working with a research consultant to have them narrow the field.)

 

 

  • On which social sites does your company have presences today?  Active or passive?  What plans are there have for expanding to other social sites in the future?
  • How many people/departments will be maintaining these presences?
  • What is your required workflow for approval/oversight of content that is published to social presences?
  • What are your requirements for handling data and archiving of content and customers?  Is archiving this data important?
  • Do you have expectations for metrics and reporting?  If so, have you given thought to which metrics matter (and why)?
  • How important is it to you to have the ability create promotional applications for your social presences?  (Like contests, coupons, or voting opportunities, etc.)
  • Imagine a spectrum, ranging from “customize software to your exact specifications” to “off-the-shelf product meeting most of your needs” – where does your company fall?
  • How important is it that the tools are accessible via mobile?
  • What other enterprise systems will you need to integrate the social publishing platform with—now and in the future?

 

If they don’t ask all of these, that’s OK.  If they ask none of these, that should raise an eyebrow (yours, not theirs).  The good thing is, if they do their due diligence, it will obviate the need for you to ask some of your questions (see list below).

 

 

Here are some questions you should ask them.  Note that these are all decent questions at the time of this post (September 2012).  This space moves so fast that this entire entry may be out of date in 12 months.

 

 

  • How/where is the platform hosted, and has it changed over the last year?  Is there an option to host it locally (on my site)?
  • Does the platform require plugging in to other systems (e.g., necessary to install some java script in the footer of some pages)?  How easily does it support plugging in to other systems? (or, ‘With which other tools or services does this integrate?  As output or input?’)

 

  • What’s your offering’s current position on API agreements with the major networks (especially Twitter)?
  • Which sources to pull from / listen from?  Is that a definitive list?  Can I add to it?  For a cost?
  • Can I import an OPML file of RSS feeds that I already listen to?  Or do I need to do this manually, one at a time?
  • How can I block troublesome sources or keywords?
  • Do you maintain an archive of content and allow for easy recall of the data?  If so, how much?  And for how long?
  • Is there support for at least Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn?
  • What about some other global social networks, like Xing and Viadeo (and others that may matter to you)?
  • How many languages can I listen in?  Can I filter my results by language?

 

  • What’s the number (max, min, average) of publishing networks that can be connected into the service?
  • Can I schedule posts/updates?  How far in advance?  Can they be duplicate, or original? How many posts can I schedule?  Can I schedule them across multiple networks concurrently?
  • Can I route mentions around for resolution among team members?
  • What’s the alerting mechanism when comments or replies are posted?
  • Does the tool support bi-directional or custom workflows?  Can I listen for something, route it, track it, publish out an answer, and report it as closed?
  • Can I publish out to social networks in local language?

 

  • Do you offer sentiment analysis?  If so, how is it calculated?  Is it a third-party engine?
  • Does your sentiment analysis use a natural language processor (NLP) algorithm, or is it human scored?  What’s the accuracy?  Has this been validated by a third party?  Does it support manual tagging?

 

  • What about reporting out metrics and tracking? Is it all in-dashboard?  Can export to a neutral format, like .csv, for manipulation in a spreadsheet program?
  • Can I alter the time windows of reports, or is it fixed (e.g., one week ago, one month ago, the last 30 days)?
  • Do you have a strong point of view on which metrics matter and why?

 

  • Is the application supported on mobile devices?  Does it render well?  Is it flash-based, or is it coded in a way that it will read well across multiple platforms?  Is there an app, or simply a mobile-optimized web site?
  • Is the user interface of the tool available in multiple languages?  If so, which? (really only important if you have a global team)
  • Is there an ability to customize the software interface?  Can I move things around in a widget-like fashion to bring the pieces that are important to me front and center?
  • Can you describe the flexibility to allow regions or product groups or employee teams to use the system as our company’s social strategy evolves?

 

  • What is the average time to deployment?
  • Other than ramp-up, do you offer training?  On-site or web delivery?  How is the training priced?
  • Do you have a dedicated services staff to respond to customization requests?  How large?  What percent of your total staff is support?
  • What is the pricing model?  Is it per seat, per stream, per mention, per month … ?
  • How easy and fast is it to add or delete members?  Can I do this manually, or does it require something on the vendor side?
  • Can you describe the user roles and account ‘privileges’?
  • What’s the term of the contract?  What happens when that’s reached?

 

This list is comprehensive, but it’s surely not exhaustive.  Did I miss something?  If so, please add it in the comments.  If I get enough, I’ll revise this post and make it a running list.

 

image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markcolless/3961174451/ 

 

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