Monday, December 14, 2009

Spredfast Offers Systematic Management for Social Media Campaigns

Summary: Social Agency’s Spredfast helps marketers schedule social media campaigns the same way they schedule paid advertising. Cool.

It seems like common courtesy to listen to an existing conversation before jumping in with a comment. If social media worked the same way, companies would first buy a monitoring system to track what’s being said, followed by tools to respond to comments made by others. Only later would they initiate conversations and, eventually, provide tools to help their friends spread the word.

Silly me. I should have known that marketers talk first and listen later.

I’m not talking about personal style, although the decibel level at any marketing conference speaks for itself. But a recent eMarketer article B2B Marketers to Increase Social Spend cited two surveys that showed this is also a matter of policy.

Specifically, a study from Visible Technologies and SiriusDecisions found the most common use for social media was to “generate awareness” (25%), while another study in B2B Magazine found the top use for social networks was “thought leadership” (60%). True listening ranked fifth in the Visible Technologies/SiriusDecision survey (“monitor and respond” at 14%), and third in the B2B Magazine survey (“customer feedback” at 46%).

On reflection, this makes sense. Marketers are primarily interested in getting out their messages. Perhaps this is an old habit that will change in a customer-driven world. But I suspect that marketing results will always be driven by activity, and results are ultimately what matter. So I’ve now revised my expected sequence of social media activities to start with broadcast, only then followed by monitor, respond, initiate individual conversations and empower advocates.

Armed with this insight, I was much less surprised when Kenneth Cho of social marketing agency Social Agency told me that his new social media campaign tool Spredfast had been purchased immediately after release by major companies including AOL, IBM, HP, Cisco and Porter Novelli. Although I’ve seen plenty of “listening platforms” like Radian6, Alterian Techrigy and Scout Labs, I hadn't previously seen a system aimed primarily at managing outbound social messages. (Now that I'm looking, though, I find that ObjectiveMarketer seems to offer something similar.)

Of course, the listening platforms can also post social media messages, as can the social media features now found in many marketing automation systems. What distinguishes Spredfast is that marketers can schedule their posts through the life of a social media campaign, rather than simply replying or initiating conversations on demand. Spredfast supports on-demand posting too.

Another key feature is that Spredfast supports multiple “voices” of actual or constructed individuals, each having accounts in multiple channels (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.). The campaign calendar lays out of scheduled events by all voices over time, and is color-coded to show whether a particular event has already been delivered, is ready to go, or still needs approved content. This looks strikingly similar to the media plan for a flight of broadcast ads and serves very much the same purpose.

Users can drill into an event to add the content itself including links that allow the system to track the click-through. One particularly nice feature is that when users assign the same content to multiple events, the system will automatically create different links for each event. This makes it easy to track results for each event independently.

Spredfast's developers also recognized that large companies will have many different people working on different aspects of a project. Users can be assigned rights to specific campaigns, voices and events, with precise control over who can view, edit and approve content. Pricing is based on the number of campaigns, not users, so large organizations can incorporate as many people as needed.

As the tags suggest, Spredfast also pays substantial attention to measurement. It provides three major summary metrics:

- activity (how much content the system is publishing),
- reach (the number of views, friends, followers, subscribers, etc.), and
- engagement (numbers of comments, retweets, likes, etc.).

Top-level reports summarize these by campaign and let users drill down to see detailed statistics by channel and voice and, ultimately, the actual content such as comments or reviews.

The system archives content and responses so they remain available even after they are dropped from the social media platforms that originally carried them. In addition to cumulative statistics, Spredfast displays daily statistics for the past seven days, giving a sense of trends.

Perhaps wisely, Spredfast's developers drew the line at reporting the raw numbers for its metrics. Users who want more elaborate scoring, perhaps applying different weights to different kinds of activities, can export the raw data and calculate outside the system. Similarly, Spredfast makes no attempt at relating social media programs to business results such as leads or revenue.

The system does provide what Cho called a “minimalist” listening platform, which can automatically search across public listening tools (Google, Google Blog Search, Social Mention, Twitter, Boardreader, Bing) for key words, and present any results so users can review and republish or reply to them. It also provides an RSS reader for feeds selected by the user, as well as a site indexer that can show the frequency of different terms in user-specified blogs as a word cloud. This helps users tailor their posts to encourage coverage.

Spredfast began its public beta in mid-November. The system is a vendor-hosted service. It is available in a free version with limited functionality; a $50 per month standard version with one campaign, no collaboration and no metrics after the first month; and $250 per month enterprise version supporting all features for up to three campaigns.

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