I'm always curious to see how others summarize the social media analysis market. A couple of weeks ago, Forrester revisited the space, which they now call "listening platforms" (get a free copy from Nielsen Online). No surprises on the list, except that all the companies aren't really substitutes for each other. I was particularly struck, though, by the insistence that software and services should come from a single provider. The market is more interesting than that—in fact, just the range of services is more interesting than that.
I track the market for tools and services that companies can use to listen to, learn from, and engage with their markets through social media. It's a project that has led me to over 170 companies worldwide, and as I explore the edges of the market, I keep finding more. In the process, I've learned a lot about the available options, which I use to help companies understand their own requirements and make decisions about vendors.
Which services do you need?
I learned a key lesson from my first client: grouping requirements by categories opens the door to considering specialized vendors who don't do it all. The value becomes apparent when you consider the range of services that might be labeled consulting:
- Software training
Software companies typically provide technical support and training for their products, especially for the more sophisticated workgroup platforms. As these products become more tightly integrated with business processes, training and implementation suppport become increasingly important.
- Research and analyst services
The most common services in the market are outsourced analyst services, which develop insights from the data and deliver them to clients. The choice between software and services is a build-or-buy decision on listening and analysis, which should be based on the client's capabilities and needs. Outside analysts can get a client up to speed quickly, and many companies may never have the information producers to generate their own analysis.
- Strategic marketing/communications counsel
After listening comes engagement, and clients seem to want help with engaging effectively while avoiding mistakes. They could choose a vendor who offers both listening capabilities and agency services (strategy, creative, interactive, etc.), or they could look at the many marketing agencies and consultants who incorporate a social media analysis platform in their work. For an example, see Josh Hallett's description of how Voce layers agency services over the Radian6 platform.
- Management consulting
Companies that get serious about making social media listening and engagement part of their business run into a predictable set of management issues. Professional services geared toward process integration and organizational change will help them make the most of their social media investments.
Besides, don't companies like to avoid overdependence on a single supplier in any market?