Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, MySpace the list of social networking sites companies hope to use to reach customers is growing and, along with it, so is the complexity of managing the process.
Enter Awareness, an on-demand provider of social marketing software. Awareness's Social Marketing Hub (SMH) a dashboard for managing social networks, will be formally unveiled next week at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference, but InternetNews.com got a preview. Awareness said blue-chip clients including Kodak, Sony, Best Buy, REI and Fairmont Hotels are beta testing the service.
"What we were seeing is companies want to have a presence on all these social networks, but they don't always have the resources to manage them effectively," Awareness CTO David Carter told InternetNews.com. "What they need is a full circle approach and that's what our console let's them do; measure, mine and act on their social network activity."
On the mining side, SMH lets marketers find specific groups of people on social media sites by different criteria, such as location. Companies can act on this information by offering coupons or thank-you messages tailored to a specific group. Measurement includes reports that give real-time updates on how different social media are doing across different channels.
Carter emphasized the security aspect of the application, which should appeal to IT concerns because it controls authentication to social channels.
"What we've seen at many companies is that an individual opens an account on a social network with their own login. That gets complicated over time as you have employee turnover," said Carter. But with the Social Marketing Hub, when an employee leaves, the company doesnt need to worry about changing multiple passwords. With one click, that former employee can simply be removed from the permissions-based list of employees.
Automation is another plus. In one case, Carter said a major retail customer was going to drop its activity on MySpace because the site's been losing ground to Facebook and the firm didn't have the resources to manage and update both platforms. The SMH console automates the process of sending new content and messaging to multiple sites so it is isn't a serial, start from scratch effort for each one. That simplicity convinced the customer to stay with MySpace.
The need to manage these platforms is clear from a recent survey by social media analyst Paul Gillin. His survey showed companies are using on average eight social media platforms compared to less than one in 2006.
Forrester Research Social Media Analyst Augie Ray said Awareness is one of several companies that is looking to help enterprises manage their social media campaigns and presence. "Historically, companies may have thought of their online presence as an owned platform the brand controls, but then along comes Facebook and that changed everything," Ray told InternetNews.com. "Now brands are having dialogs with consumers in all sorts of channels including their own.
"It doesn't mean a company's own branded community goes away. In fact, Facebook can be kind of the gateway drug to your branded community," he continued. "Fan pages have a relatively thin layer of content, but brands that earn a relationship there can steer consumers to a deeper relationship and a richer community.
"The value in what Awareness is offering is that it allows you to manage and listen to consumers' thoughts across many channels," said Ray.
The Awareness Social Marketing Hub is set to be available in early April. Monthly subscription fees start at $2,000 per month and include access to five media channels including any combination of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and online branded communities.