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Social media companies need to practice what they preach

Sometimes, it is those of us in the tech industry who are our own worse examples of actually using the technologies that we have created. Take the example of tools that variously go under the headings of sentiment analysis, social CRM, engagement measurement, social media management, enterprise listening platforms or social media marketing. These things help you figure out when you should Tweet or post, who is most influential among your social networks, and what conversations you should pay attention to. They offer pretty dashboards and real-time data feeds so you can control the social conversations around your brand.

I am starting a project for Network World reviewing these tools. So far, I have found nearly 100 of them, but I can only review 8. But that isn’t the problem. My issue is that I would expect that these vendors would be sterling examples of how to engage their own audiences. Not true, no way, sorry to say.

Example #1. By now, it should be obvious that a software vendor should make it easier for their potential customers if they actually want to purchase their product. So how about putting a phone number on the home page, just in case someone wants to call? Less than half of the vendors do this, or make it so hard to find their contact information. Almost all of them use Web forms that you have to fill out, which is less than satisfying because you have no recourse if you don’t get any follow up. One vendor takes you to a form on their Facebook page, which is interesting but not very helpful.

Example #2. The same should be true for displaying a press contact. Again, less than half of the vendors have this information, or make it so hard to find. Others, such as Google, ignored my emails entirely. Written on one vendor’s press page, I had to laugh: “Hi! We love you, you dashing citizen of the fourth estate. Even though we don’t know you personally yet, I can tell we’re going to get on famously. Can I get you a drink?” Now we are talking! While you don’t have to buy me a beer, it would be nice if the press contact was in plain sight.

Example #3. How easy is it to find these vendors on Twitter? You would think that placing a little bird icon at the top of their home page linking you to their Twitter accounts would be easy. And indeed, most of them (but not all) do include this information somewhere on their sites. One vendor had a broken link that didn’t take them to their Twitter account but someplace else entirely.

But let’s go beyond actually having a link to the ID, and see how engaged they are with their accounts. It is a spotty record, to be sure.

Some vendors have thousands of Tweets and followers, which is what you would expect from people in this space. Hootsuite is the Justin Bieber of social media tracking tools with more than four million followers, and dozens of daily tweets. (He is at 31 million, BTW.) The major vendors in this space, including Google, Salesforce, Oracle and Adobe, also have big followings and lots of tweets.

But when you get beyond the big guns and look around, it is disappointing. Very few of these vendors actually use their own products to track engagement and mentions. I started posting tweets with the vendor Twitter IDs (once I found them), asking them to get in touch with me. A very small number of vendors responded at all. An even smaller number started following me or sent me messages saying they wanted to help my project. How do these vendors expect anyone to use their products if they don’t track their own brands? Hmm.

Many of these are software efforts from marketing companies, or ad agencies, or others who should know better. Or so I thought.

Example #4: Pricing. I have written before about those vendors that don’t want to put pricing information online, but the social media tools that I am looking at really try to obfuscate their pricing. Perhaps because every deal is a custom negotiation, perhaps because they just don’t want you, the customer, to know. In this particular and chaotic market, prices vary all over the place. Some tools are designed for single users while others are geared for large teams. Some have freemium models, others have one-time fees like traditional packaged software.

socialvolt pricing pageThere was one site that had an explicit “Pricing” tab at the top of their home page: I thought, at last! When I clicked on it, I came to a page that had all sorts of details about the various plans they offered, but no dollar signs anywhere to be found (See above).

Gremln is an exception: they actually put their prices right at the bottom of their home page. Kudos to them. (No phone number, though.)

As I said, I am just starting out on this project for Network World. If you have any experience with these products, send me a tweet or an email. And if you want to see my collection of vendors, I have put together a list here.


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More Stories By David Strom

David Strom is an international authority on network and Internet technologies. He has written extensively on the topic for 20 years for a wide variety of print publications and websites, such as The New York Times, TechTarget.com, PC Week/eWeek, Internet.com, Network World, Infoworld, Computerworld, Small Business Computing, Communications Week, Windows Sources, c|net and news.com, Web Review, Tom's Hardware, EETimes, and many others.