The second edition of Econsultancy’s Social Media Management Systems Buyer’s Guide was published this week, highlighting the latest trends in the SMMS marketplace and containing profiles of 17 vendors of Social Media Management technology. Vendors range from software giants Adobe, through to more niche providers of specific services, such as Comufy and Conversocial, specialising in social CRM and social customer service respectively.

The common ground between these companies is the aim of making social media marketing easier to manage by enabling activities such as monitoring, conversation management and data collection across multiple social channels through one platform.

The ability to converse with engaged fans is one of the main advantages social media has provided marketers with, and SMM systems facilitate this conversation.

Historically, social media marketing has been like gambling on the unknown, without any case studies of real ROI being proved, or any industry-acknowledged way to measure its impact.

Many companies watched the rise of social media use among consumers and began to use it because they felt there was something to gain, while others watched their competitors using social media and decided to follow suit because they felt they had to.

As this trend progressed, so did that of consumers turning to social media for customer service, to share products and reviews with friends, and to find news and offers from their favourite brands.

Along came Social Media Management Systems (SMMS), which allow brands to engage more systematically with consumers across multiple social channels, facilitating workflow, accountability and analytics.

The minefield of potential catastrophes that can occur through a brand using social media has been well covered by this blog. Our round-up of the top 10 fails of 2012 provides some cringe-worthy examples. SMMS provide a way of managing multiple social networks and campaigns, while making the most of the unique way in which social media can affect the relationship between brand and consumer.

As a result of the wealth of different social networks, and the breadth of insights that they can provide, the services provided by SMMS vendors can vary dramatically, especially due to the different sizes and stage of development of vendors within the industry.

Market positioning overview: Platform capabilities

Though the SMMS market is still expanding with small innovative start-ups invading the space, consolidation is occurring at the enterprise end, with some significant acquisitions occurring over the last year, including Vitrue by Oracle, and Buddy Media by Salesforce.

Covered in our SMMS Buyer’s Guide are vendors who manage conversations across multiple networks, to those who specifically focus on using the data that can be pulled from certain platforms.

In addition to profiles of some of the top vendors of SMMS services, the guide covers some of the key trends affecting the marketplace.

Social customer service is a trend which is well established. Consumers have long turned to social media to vent their opinions and often frustrations around poor quality products, bad in-store service, delayed delivery or dysfunctional ecommerce design.

Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have increasingly become the first place that consumers look to for customer service, which is a service that some vendors specifically focus on, such as Conversocial.

Anna Drennan, Managing Manager at Conversocial said:

“Social customer service is now a fully acknowledged requirement for most businesses looking to have a social presence, with dedicated social customer service teams and resources becoming an expected standard. Social media is steadily shifting hands from pure-marketing ownership as businesses realise social engagement has more complex needs.”

Other trends include the growing social dataset, and an increasing need to demonstrate social ROI. The latter is seen as a key challenge in the SMMS industry, highlighted in the threats and weaknesses section of the buyer’s guide. Which metrics to focus on and how to attribute value to social media marketing activities is a continuing point of debate among marketing professionals. As explained by Jim Rudden, CMO at Spredfast;

“The pressure to prove the efficacy of social in the overall marketing mix is a threat. As more money is allocated to social, there will be increasing scrutiny on the return on investment. It is still too early to make direct comparisons about how social performs compared to email or PPC. However, companies need to be working to align social projects to deliver not just a managed presence – but also a social presence that drives specific, meaningful business outcomes.”

The question of how to measure social ROI is accompanied by the debate of where the responsibility for social media should sit within a business. Advocated by many is the theory that social should span silos, and that it cannot be pinned down to a particular role or purpose.

Workflow processes for SMMS

Enabling a company to become fully ‘social’ is another challenge faced by the SMMS marketplace and, according to Scott Doniger at Sprinklr, those that don’t scale social across their organisation will “either struggle as laggards, or will die off as the collateral damage of a new world order where the empowered consumer drives brand engagement.”

We explore in detail these trends and other market developments in our Social Media Management Systems Buyer’s Guide. The guide aims to help companies quickly evaluate vendors, and provides tips (and pitfalls to avoid) to help you find the right social media management vendor.

The following vendors are featured in the guide:

Adobe, Autonomy, Comufy, Conversocial, Engage121, EngageSciences, ExactTarget, Hootsuite, Mvine, One iota, Oracle SRM, Salesforce, SDL, Socialbakers, Spredfast, Sprinklr, and Synthesio.