By Mike Stiles on Feb 14, 2014
Today’s guest post is from Oracle VP eCommerce and Social, CX Applications Business Group Bill Hobbib, offering up some clarity in a space increasingly crowded with vendors, both large and small, about what features and functions you should look for when shopping for a social listening tool. Beware of incomplete solutions.
From time to time, you’ll see analyst rundowns of enterprise listening platforms, each using their own criteria, definitions and methodology. In the midst of these varied approaches, yielding varied results, how can a listening platform best be evaluated?
Buyers now require broader capabilities from their social solutions that extend beyond a single department or group within a large enterprise to address the needs of organizations that want to leverage social, such as Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, and Commerce. Enterprises want solutions that support the integration of social data across the business to understand customers at a transactional and an intention & lifestyle level. They are looking for not just listening alone, but listening integrated with engaging, publishing, and analytics.
When considering listening and sentiment technologies, it’s important to note that all are not equal. For example, while different automated approaches to sentiment analysis may yield similar results from an identical dataset, for sentiment analysis to be accurate, the initial data must be clean of irrelevant results.
Cutting through the noise to get the best social data for analysis is challenging. This is where different listening technologies make a difference. And this is why many customers have moved from keyword/Boolean listening technology to more sophisticated latent semantic analysis (LSA) - to avoid the noise, errors, and time to separate signal from noise associated with the keyword/Boolean approach.
The best solution is to blend all of the above for optimum results. Important considerations with social listening are: the amount of time it takes to onboard and build dictionaries, the effort to remove irrelevant content, and the automatic pulling of common words. Of what value is social data for business analysis if it takes excessive manual effort to find the signal through the noise, or if the data is noisy or just plain wrong?
Another consideration for a listening platform is out-of-the-box availability of indicators that can capture and filter conversations based on intentions (e.g. purchase, switching, sale/coupon), activities & interests, product attributes like price/quality/customer service, and brand health measures. These get you beyond tracking buzz to actionable insights, such as a customer service rep engaging with an unhappy customer, passing competitive or product insights to a product development organization, or using the insights gleaned from customers to create more compelling content the customers can engage with on social media. Also, given the importance of selling and marketing on a global level, support for listening in multiple languages should be considered, especially for enterprise businesses.
Further considerations important to many customers are the amount of time a listening tool has been available and proven in the market, the amount of time the vendor has been in business, and the financial stability of the vendor.
One last aspect: Altimeter Group looked at innovations in the social space and has written about the trend of integrating social with other customer engagement channels for the best data, targeting, and context. “The result: a technology suite that goes beyond just social, designed to entice CMOs with one-stop shopping convenience.” Altimeter sees further consolidation as tech keeps coming together in larger suites and consolidation occurs as the market evolves.
Over time, the market won’t be able to support so many smaller players. Several social vendors have already ceased operation. Altimeter observes, “This left their customers high and dry and needing to start the search for vital tools all over again. That has been another reason why some companies are looking to the big players.”
In summary, buyers considering social listening solutions must assess several factors. The vendors’ offering should be evaluated for a proven track record with the deepest listening technology to quickly, easily, accurately separate signal from noise and categorize conversations based on intentions. The product or solution strategy should include integration of social with other customer engagement channels. And the vendors’ market presence and financial stability should be assessed on multiple dimensions to ensure they have the customer traction and financial resources to be there for you over the long haul.