I’ve been covering social listening – sometimes referred to as social media monitoring and social intelligence (although both these terms have slightly different nuances) – as an industry analyst for more than six years, first at Aberdeen Group and for the past three years at Gleanster. Social data has proliferated faster than anyone could have imagined during this period and the competitive arena has evolved rapidly to keep pace.
Many of the leading social listening tools on the market today are designed to be equally applicable in the context of practically every function area, from the marketing and customer service departments to the market research and public relations departments. Implementing a single technology platform across multiple departments has a certain appeal from a corporate perspective. And indeed, more companies today are embracing enterprise-wide solutions as they look to check the box on social listening. Not surprisingly, this is also the same approach that a number of solution providers have been pushing.
At the same time, the industry is witnessing the growth of various “purpose-built” social listening platforms – ones that are designed to serve the needs of specific functions. Examples of vendors that offer these solutions include Networked Insights for the marketing function, Infegy for the market research function and Conversocial for the customer service function. As it happens, these vendors have been gaining considerable market traction over the past year, suggesting that many companies understand the value of adopting technologies that are specific to their needs and areas of accountability.
Upwards of two hundred technologies can be said to fall into the social listening bucket, many of them component parts of online customer community tools, social CRM platforms and social media management suites. With the publication of a new benchmark report on this topic, called Social Listening, the Gleanster team has spent considerable time and effort updating the vendor landscape for 40 of the leading solution providers with both descriptions and analyst commentary. The goal was to help eliminate some of the confusion that stems from the diversity of technologies as well as the diversity of benefits the different technologies deliver to the marketplace.
While the competitive arena for some of the leading solutions has been rife with activity since the publication of Gleanster’s previous benchmark report on this topic, some of the excitement that followed Saleforce.com’s acquisition of Radian6 for $326 million in cash and stock back in 2011 seems to have largely subsided. In June 2102, Oracle, which had been progressively extending its capabilities into social media to compete with the likes of Salesforce.com, Adobe and IBM, acquired Collective Intellect. The platform capabilities are now part of its Oracle Social Relationship Management suite, which is being billed as the “first one-stop platform for monitoring and managing improved social interactions and experiences.”
Visible Technologies’ acquisition of Cymfony in a deal that brought together two of the oldest and best-established players in this space provides another notable example. The acquisition made sense in that Cymfony, which had been struggling for some time, brought significant sales and services expertise while Visible has always had strong engineering and a scalable architecture. It also made sense in that WPP owned a large stake in both companies.
This past year has also seen a good amount of funding activity. Brandwatch secured $6 million, Lithium Technologies (which acquired Scout Labs several years back to power its social listening capabilities) secured $53 million and NetBase secured $18 million, to name just a few. Other players have thrown in the towel, most notably NM Incite, which was a high-profile joint venture between Nielsen, which had previously acquired BuzzMetrics, and McKinsey.
Finally, this past year has seen the emergence of a number of new players, including companies that already had a strong market presence in other competitive arenas. The latest examples include Provenir, which just announced its Customer Listening Division, and HubSpot, which last month launched a feature dubbed Social Inbox.
Selecting the right technology platform is key to success in social listening. At the same time, Gleanster research reveals that technology is only half the battle won. Today more brands are discovering that they can further increase the value of their investments in social listening by leveraging the skills and experience of social data experts who have specialized expertise in gleaning insights and who can utilize best practices and apply advanced analytic techniques.