Sunday, June 22, 2014

NextPrinciples Offers Integrated Social Marketing Automation

Social marketing is growing up.

We’re seen this movie before, folks. It starts when a new medium is created – email, Web, now social. Pioneering marketers create custom tools to exploit it. These are commercialized into “point solutions” that perform a single task such as social listening, posting, and measurement. Point solutions are later combined into integrated products that manage all tasks associated with the medium. Eventually, those medium-specific products themselves become part of larger, multi-medium suites (for which the current buzzword is “omni-channel”).

But knowing the plot doesn’t make a story any less interesting: what matters is how well it’s told. In the case of social marketing, we've reached the chapter where point solutions are combined into integrated products. The challenge has shifted from finding new ideas to meshing existing features into a single efficient machine. More Henry Ford than Thomas Edison, if you will.

NextPrinciples, launched earlier this month, illustrates the transition nicely. Originally envisioned as a platform for social listening and engagement, it evolved before launch into a broader solution that addresses every step in the process of integrating social media with marketing automation. Functionally, this means it provides social listening for lead identification, social data enhancement to build expanded lead profiles, social lead scoring, social nurture campaigns, integration with marketing automation and CRM systems, and reporting to measure results.

It’s important to clarify that NextPrinciples isn’t simply a collection of point solutions. Rather, it is a truly integrated system with its own profile database that is used by all functions. It could operate without any marketing automation or CRM connection if a company wanted to, although that doesn’t sound like a good idea.  Its target users are social media marketers who want to work in a single system of their own, rather than relying on point solutions and social marketing features scattered through existing marketing automation and CRM platforms.

The specific functions provided by NextPrinciples are well implemented. Users set up “trackers” to listen to social conversations on Twitter (today) and other public channels (soon), based on inclusion and exclusion keywords, date ranges, location, and language. Users review the tracker results to decide which leads are of interest, and can then pull demographic information from the leads’ public social profiles. Leads can also be imported from marketing automation or CRM systems to be tracked and enhanced. Trackers can be connected with lead scoring rules that rate leads based on demographics and social behaviors, including sentiment analysis of their social content. Qualified leads can be pushed to marketing automation or CRM, as well as entered into NextPrinciples’ own social marketing campaigns to receive targeted social messages. Campaigns can include multiple waves of templated content. The system can track results at the wave and campaign levels. It can also poll CRM systems for revenue data linked to leads acquired through NextPrinciples, thus measuring financial results. Salespeople and other users can view individual lead profiles, including a “heatmap” of topics they are discussing in social channels.

If describing these features as “well implemented” struck you as faint praise, you are correct: as near as I can tell, there’s nothing especially innovative going on here. But that’s really okay. NextPrinciples is more about integration than innovation, and its integration seems just fine. I do wonder a bit about scope, though: if this is to be a social marketer’s primary tool, I’d want more connectors for profile data such as company information and influencer scores. I’d also want lead scoring based on predictive models rather than rules. And I want more help with creating social content, such as Facebook forms, sharing buttons to embed in emails and landing pages, multi-variate testing and optimization, and semantic analysis of content “meaning”.

NextPrinciples is working on at least some of these and they’ve probably considered them all. As a practical matter, the question marketers should ask is whether NextPrinciples’ current features add enough value to justify trying the system. In this context, pricing matters: and at $99 per month for up to 100 actively managed leads, the risk is quite low. For many firms, the lead identification or publishing features alone would be worth the investment. Remember that NextPrinciples is only the next chapter in an evolving story.  It doesn’t have to be the last social marketing system you buy, so long as it moves you a bit further ahead.

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