The use of social media within marketing has become almost unquestionable; digital marketing has evolved into a customer-led conversation, with consumers more likely to believe the review of another consumer over a brand-released marketing message.

As a result, it has become more important than ever for brands to listen to online conversation and continually monitor the reputation of a brand. The number of well-documented examples of social media gone wrong is very evident to today’s brands, who know that if they don’t listen, they can’t prevent or even contain the kind of reputational crisis than an unaddressed, negative social discussion can create.

To quote from the Modern Marketing Manifesto first published by Econsultancy and Marketing Week in April:

We believe the internet has forced transparency upon brands and businesses. Brands no longer control the message, consumers do.

The buyer’s guide discusses this and other themes, calling on the expertise of a number of industry experts who share their opinions on the state of the market. One of the key trends discussed is that of the amount of noise generated through social networks, spam included. Many of the industry experts highlighted the importance of setting goals and objectives before listening, so that the right tool is chosen to distil insights.

The challenge of social ‘noise’ is highlighted in the guide by Jeremy Waite, Head of Social Strategy, EMEA, at Adobe:

“As social media mentions get larger as more people become active on social, being able to filter out the signal from all that ‘noise’ is getting harder every day. For brands who struggle to understand the exact impact of their social media activity, it will become increasingly difficult for them to get more community managers to handle all these conversations, when their bosses demand an ROI in order to allocate more resources to social.”

The volume of information across social media sites and the web more generally has led to a wide range of tools and technologies which fit into the wider definition of social listening. These can vary dramatically, especially due to the different sizes and stage of development of vendors within the industry.

Since the last version of the buyer’s guide, merger and acquisition activity has occurred as vendors aim to provide integrated solutions for social marketing, such as the purchase of Radian6 by Salesforce.

Another trend discussed within the guide is influencer identification and engagement which has become a focus area as more and more companies try to engage with influencers who then generate positive content and sentiment.

In addition to discussing latest trends, the benefits and ROI from social listening are outlined, including the areas of competitive intelligence, brand reputation and customer service gains. The buyer’s guide also provides a step-by-step guide to finding the right vendor, which is integral to achieving a return on investment. David Johnson, VP Agency Sales & Service at Marketwired, explains:

“Companies need to look beyond what they need today and select solutions that grow as they mature. Too often clients are focused on a single channel like Facebook. They need to choose a solution that has the depth, breadth and commitment to innovation so that they can capitalize on the markets where their clients/prospects will be.”

The following vendors are featured in the 2013 Social Listening Buyer’s Guide:

Adobe Social, ASOMO, AT Internet (BuzzWatcher), BirdSong, BrandsEye, Brandwatch, Infegy EU, Marketwired, MutualMind, Onalytica, SDL Social Intelligence, Sentiment Metrics, Synthesio and Traackr.