|Articles by Daniel Matishak

The Ultimate Guide To The Best Social Media Platforms

Digital marketing isn’t just intuition and gut instinct any more. It’s not a Mad Men-esque business, with the 3 martini lunch. It’s not enough to amass thousands of likes but have nothing else to show for it.

Today, digital marketing is focused on analytics, metrics, and trackable results. It’s about marketers being pressured to provide evidence that their ideas can achieve business objectives.

Nowhere is this shift more pronounced than in social media, and nowhere else is this more of a challenge. This post profiles a range of social media platforms that will not only reduce the time that you spend on social media through automation but also help you achieve (and prove) the ROI you get with it.

We’ve spit this post out into two categories: platforms to help you listen to social media, and platforms to help you post to social media.

Listening platforms

Listening is the core to what Unmetric calls “micro-content”, which I think is a phenomenal way to describe social media stuff.

The idea is simple – social media is about two things: publishing, and listening to what your followers, like-ers, and fans are saying. And in order to publish quality content, from a response to a question to a picture on Instagram, you have to listen really closely to your users. So while publishing is important (and we’ll get to why in a bit) listening is really the key to a top quality social media presence.

Before we get into platforms that might help you listen, it’s important to know what you’re listening for. Most social media chatter around brands isn’t actually people engaging directly with said brand – it’s people talking about it, either positively or negatively.

For example, my Scotiabank debit card wasn’t working last year, so I jumped onto Twitter to see what was up. They had put out a social blast saying that none of their debit cards were working (weirdly) and were responding to questions directed at them.

But I didn’t find that when I looked them up. I found other consumers complaining about how Scotiabank’s cards weren’t working.

I got the same information, but I didn’t get it straight from the brand.

And therein lies the challenge of maintaining a relevant social media presence that achieves business goals: most of the stuff about you (and thus providing the chance to engage) isn’t said to you (so you miss the opportunity).

So listening becomes more than just monitoring your own network. It’s about monitoring the periphery of your organization and brand. So in the Scotiabank example it might be monitoring hashtags directly related to you (like #scotia) as well as monitoring things that are maybe concern your brand but are not, in fact, the brand itself (like #ATM).

So there’s a lot to listen to in amongst the noise, which gets really difficult. Here are some of the tools you can use to make your life a little easier.

Sysomos Hearbeat

Sysomos is a social media monitoring company who have two core products – a Media Analysis Platform (MAP) and Heartbeat, a “real time monitoring and measuring solution”.

Heartbeat is really the industry standard when it comes to listing to social media. It lets you tag and collate conversations that Sysomos monitors (they keep a two year backlog), which gives you just a giant pile of data to pull information from.

It also lets you set up alerts for particular subjects, keywords, or tags that are automatically assigned to your team, giving you the automated ability to respond to different situations extremely effectively.

With Sysomos, you can also:

  • Identify and listen in on prominent leaders in your marketing space
  • Listen to how people are talking about things, positively or negatively
  • Take your keywords and branch out into data-driven, relevant conversations that are tangibly related to your company, just not in a direct way

Basically, if you’re really serious about engaging your brand with social media, listening to what’s affecting those around your company, and you’re looking to produce better micro-content, then Heartbeat will let you do that with listening.

ForSight

ForSight is a program offered by Crimson Hexagon. Like Heartbeat, its strength lies in its ability to listen and tease out valuable information from the huge nebulous cloud that is big data.

In addition to the basic functionality of things like trending hashtags, top retweets, geo-location and targeting, they also offer something called Affinities.

Affinities is essentially what your consumers think about (and how much they like) the huge variety of associated topics around your brand. So if you were selling sandwiches, one prominent affinity for you would be soup (since it’s not your product, but people probably like them together).

Affinities lets you discover what else your social media fans like (other than your brand) and then track that information to inform your content. There’s a really good example of this which I’ve borrowed from the Crimson Hexagon website:

“Consumers who post about the bakery and restaurant Panera Bread are 3X more likely than people in general on Twitter to be interested in Miley Cyrus. Among people with an interest in Miley Cyrus talking about Panera, we find significant conversation around menu items, including soup, bread bowls, and mac and cheese. If Panera wants to target younger, female consumers, a campaign or promotion around ‘Panera lunch dates’ for cheesy soup would be a great campaign to pursue.”

To me that’s the real benefit of ForSight and listening programs in general. They let you find out what your fans are connected to, and enable you to create content, promotions, or whole strategies based on what else people like. At the end of the day, they help you map the social media web.

Brandwatch

Brandwatch is another enterprise social media platform that I think is awesome at listening to what people are saying on the internet, if for no other reason than their CTA is ‘start listening’.

Honestly though their product is great. They approach the challenge of listening to social media less from a ‘there’s lots of data, let’s find some insights’ perspective and more from a ‘here is the analytical ability to trawl through all our data. Have at it’ perspective.

Like the other enterprise solutions mentioned, they too have complied an enormous database of information for users to wander around in. They offer more customization than other companies, and I think that’s a good thing – it gives you maximum flexibility to be creative with how you listen and what you listen to, and that’s where the best social insights are going to come from.

Zoomph

Zoomph is more what you would think of when you imagine social listening platforms. It’s a program designed to do just that – to listen. And while it’s not as powerful as other programs like Heartbeat, Brandwatch, or ForSight for mapping the intricate web of cross-connections deeply embedded in social media, it does a great job of telling you when people are talking about you, what your competitors are doing, and what keywords or ideas are trending.

Basically Zoomph offers just a notch down from enterprise level software for a fraction of the price, and as an added bonus their UI is great.

So those are some platforms and tools that you can use to learn what people think about your brand and more importantly what else people who think about your brand also might be thinking about.

But now that you’ve got those great insights, what do you do with them?

Publishing platforms

Being engaged and present on social media is a huge time sink that for most companies that will never really end in a positive return on investment if you don’t use a publishing platform. The objective of any social media publishing platform is two-fold:

  1. Make it easier to respond quickly across lots of social networks on lots of different topics
  2. Automate the publishing process so you have more time for other stuff (like listening)

Let’s look at some of the tools that achieve those objectives.

Social Bro

SocialBro is a publishing and listening (sort of) platform that’s specific to Twitter. They help brands target and segment their Twitter audience to improve engagement and maximize ROI.

They have a whole range of services, including:

  • Custom reports
  • Audience segmentation
  • Audience development (finding new followers based on location or bio info)

They also can help you with publishing with common things like the best time to tweet, but also with more useful stuff like content optimization reports, which tell you what content resonated and what content didn’t. Tracked and managed correctly over time, this sort of reporting is invaluable.

The reason they’re (sort of) a listening platform is that they also offer competitor analytics, which I think is absolutely essential to listening, as well as the ability to track influencers, which is sort of publishing if you want to talk to them, but more likely will inform what content you push out.

HootSuite

No social media post would be complete without Canada’s own HootSuite.

HootSuite is usually called a social scheduling tool, which it undeniably is. A lot of its functionality is about getting your micro-content out onto your networks and into the world. It can integrate with most social networks, it’s extremely inexpensive, and it lets you schedule posts far in advance, either manually or by using an excel spreadsheet.

But the real reason that HootSuite is as popular as it is is because of the ways it’s structured. Its UI is built around streams – they’re columns of information that you can customize to listen to social media in general and respond accordingly.

For example, if you had a brand Twitter account, from one screen you could very quickly:

  • See what micro-content is scheduled to go out
  • Monitor brand mentions
  • Monitor a pre-programmed advanced search, so you could be looking for mentions of your brand with #awesome or #terrible

Further, from the same interface, you can actually post to your various social media channels and platforms, really easily.

HootSuite also gives you shortening links and connects those to analytics, so if you do want to automate your insights a little there’s that option as well. That said, if you are on a budget then HootSuite reports get pretty pricey for the info you get.

It’s pretty much your one stop shop for social media publishing.

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is another social media management platform with a very similar offering to HootSuite – they put all your social media in the same place so you can quickly and effectively engage  with consumers across different social media networks.

But there are a few things that Sprout Social does extremely well.

First, they integrate with Salesforce, which if you’re a sales-driven business (especially B2B) is a huge plus. It makes it far easier and faster to make the connections between social media outreach, lead generation, and an eventual sale. It can provide you with the insight to know what campaigns and micro-content work and which ones don’t.

Second, Sprout Social makes it easy to see what’s important with their inbox feature, which sends you a notification whenever something important happens that you need to respond to. From here, it’s super easy to delegate to another staff member.

Third, Sprout Social is designed more with larger teams in mind. So when it comes to publishing, there’s a great publishing calendar so everyone’s on the same page, and you can draft messages for approval by someone else (this is much harder to do with almost any other social media monitoring system).

Finally, Sprout Social has some really decent dashboards and analytics, which you can use to better engage with your own content and thus with your social media fans. For example, if you send out 50 tweets a week, it’s really simple to see which ones performed the best, informing the next week’s tweets. Simple.

TL;DR

There are literally hundreds of products out there to help brands and companies build and execute their social media strategy. Some, like Heartbeat, help you by trawling the social media world for endless data, and then giving you the ability to sort that into valuable, actionable ideas. Other platforms, like HootSuite, work to streamline and automate your social publishing process so you can spend more time listening to what people are saying on social and less time answering back.

Daniel Matishak

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