But what if you're not sure what you want, let alone what you need? A lot of organizations have come to the realization that they need a systematic way of monitoring, reacting to, and publishing to social media. Next week, we will be publishing a special report on the policy and governance questions related to this transformation, which are critical for asserting control over things like who can and can't create a branded social media profile.
In the process, your organization should probably nail down a few details about the software and cloud services you will use to implement the grand plan. Some of those choices have probably already been made, but were they good choices? How many different groups within the company have made different choices? More than that, how many individuals within the company have made individual choices about the tools they found most productive? And is it acceptable to have a little diversity, at least for some categories of tools? Where do you need to standardize? To what extent do you want to allow, or even encourage, spontaneous individual participation in social media as opposed to imposing an editorial approval workflow over every post?
[ Learn how to bounce back: 5 Ways To Survive Social Disses. ]
These are not necessarily easy questions to answer. For example, I was recently asked to participate in a product selection process along these lines for UBM TechWeb. One of my first questions was whether the tool we selected would be for a core social media team only or whether it would be made broadly available to writers and editors trying to promote their articles or measure their social media impact. The truth is, we're not sure yet--it might depend on how expensive it would be to provide broad access within the company. Also, would the writers and editors actually use these tools, if they were made available? How much capability do we need, really, and what would be overkill? Our plan is to do a first round of interviews as part of the process of nailing down our requirements, and then proceed to a more serious review of our shortlist of contenders.
A lot of companies go into the product selection process without understanding their requirements, Jeremy Epstein, VP of marketing at Sprinklr, told me recently. "We're getting RFPs sent to us by some very large companies, and many are very poorly done--thrown together in Excel, or by copying and pasting. One corporate social strategist told us he just googled the words 'social media RFP.' We're seeing total fragmentation, where there's a lack of consistent vocabulary for the types of solutions people need. There's still too much confusion in the marketplace that social equals marketing. Well, I'm a marketing VP, I love marketing, but as you know social transcends every part of the enterprise."
Sprinklr's answer is a list of six must-have elements for a social software RFP. It should come as no surprise that these questions seem to have been reverse engineered from the feature list for Sprinklr's product. At a minimum, they would lead you to that class of tools to manage hundreds of social media accounts.
On the other hand, there's not a question on their list that isn't worth asking, or at least using as a starting point. For example, Sprinklr would like you to ask if the product you're evaluating is cross-functional--whether it can serve marketing, customer service, and customer support all in one product. In the context of UBM TechWeb's editorial products, I have some different internal constituencies in mind. I'd be curious to know whether a single product would be able to handle both the needs of a corporate marketing person seeking to promote a brand like InformationWeek, as opposed to a writer or editor wanting to promote an individual article. And does it even make sense to use the same tool for both purposes?
One of the things I've heard about social software is that the products are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement, so it's been easy for organizations to make several different choices in a spirit of experimentation. The danger in that is incoherence from a lack of coordination. As these start being treated as enterprise systems, subject to more involvement from the CIO's office, there will be a push to standardize and unify. Just try to make sure whatever you standardize on matches your real requirements.
New apps promise to inject social features across entire workflows, raising new problems for IT. In the new, all-digital Social Networking issue of InformationWeek, find out how companies are making social networking part of the way their employees work. Also in this issue: How to better manage your video data. (Free with registration.)