How many competing products do you have time to evaluate before you need to make a decision? I have some good stuff in my draft folder for next week, but first, let me tell you about the project I just completed. If your company is looking at software options for monitoring or analyzing social media, I can save you a lot of time and effort.
Over the last few months, I've reviewed about 30 companies on the way toward writing a comparison report on 21 social media analysis platforms that are built for workgroup environments. The report, Social Media Analysis Platforms for Workgroups, is now available at the Social Target web site. It has information on all of these companies:
|Dow Jones & Co.|
It's possible to get an idea of what's on the market by visiting vendor web sites and reading reviews, but that's not what I do. If you want to know about more than the usual suspects, or if you want answers to questions the vendors don't answer in their marketing materials, it takes a bit more effort—actually, a lot more effort.
Here's my process:
- Invite everyone
I've been tracking the companies in this space since 2006, and I published my first buyer's guide in 2007. I have a database of well over 200 companies who offer tools or services for social media analysis, and most of them are on my vendor mailing list. When I started the project, I invited everyone to participate. I made a special point to contact companies that I knew should be in it.
- Written RFI
I sent a 36-question request for information, asking for details that sometimes make the vendors squirm. Want to know about sentiment analysis? I asked about the degree of automation and its granularity (document-level vs. entity-level). I got prices and pricing models. I found out how long it takes to get them up and running (from seconds to weeks). I got details—lots of details.
- Briefings and product demos
30 companies responded to the RFI, and I took briefings and demos from each, running about 90 minutes each. We talked about their products, their customers, and their businesses. In the process, I learned that some of the companies didn't belong in the report, either because their software was single-user or because their consulting services were an essential piece of the platform. For some reason, the briefings and demos last just as long for the companies that don't end up in the report.
- Live testing
Most of the companies gave me access to their platforms for hands-on testing as I wrote about them. There's nothing quite like trying to reproduce the cool demonstration to show how much work went into building it. Switching the user interface to a language I can't read was fun, too. I observed that learning the software itself isn't going to be the major challenge for most companies; the challenge is in understanding how to use the data.
Add hundreds of emails and a bazillion hours of
writer's block writing (as counted by my junior associate) to get to 60 pages of finished report, and you have the complete process. It's not a project you want to duplicate.
I'll share some of what I learned in the coming weeks, but this post is getting (getting?) too long already. Please take a look at Social Media Analysis Platforms for Workgroups. If your company is actively searching for the right tool(s) for monitoring, measuring, or mining social media, I think you'll find it's worth the investment.