Social media is taking over. Most CIOs already know this startling reality. It's a major player in marketing, tech support, customer management and sales. In fact, it's hard to think of a piece of IT where social media does not have at least a presence - if not outright dominance.
In some ways, this change happened in a blink. Major companies such as PepsiCo and Merck now use social media to drive their brands and, in some instances, lead the charge for other marketing efforts. Companies such as McDonald's now use social media to launch new products. The one-on-one nature is an astounding IT effort when you think about how many people retweet a marketing message, asking questions and seeking support.
According to an IBM survey of CIOs, social media is second only to direct sales in terms of overall priorities within an organization. You can see why when you do a simple search and find, for example, 8,000 mentions of @FedEx in one afternoon or 5,000 mentions of the @NASCAR brand in one hour on race day. Social media is a broad category that involves public data, users collaborating and commenting, video sharing and even comments on articles such as this one.
Most large companies use an enterprise-grade social media manager. Fortunately, this market is bubbling over with innovative apps. These offer a unique blend of features. Keep in mind that, for each tool, pricing varies by the size of your company and the team members involved.
Gremln: Bring Process, Compliance to Social Media Management
Marketing departments, which tend to like to throw ideas against the wall and see what sticks, can use Gremln to make sure they comply with regulations such as the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council ( FFIEC).
Companies can restrict a search for social media chatter to a certain area. If there are other banks with the same name in other areas, you can restrict a search to a specific city. When you do, you can enter the conversation with people discussing that tops. The key feature is the capability to block certain keywords and phrases; a bank might block the word "promise" from being used in a post, for example. Finally, there's an approval process for all posts.
Gremln users can also track link clicks, right down to the actual sale of a product, with pieces of embedded code on a product page that show how that link performed in terms of actual sales related to Facebook and Twitter activity.
SocialCompass: Manage Social Marketing in Multiple Locations
Social media is a gold mine for technical marketing. SocialCompass lets you search for keywords and phrases, such as "tacos for lunch," and then engage the person who posted that phrase in a conversation. Like most enterprise tools, SocialCompass lets you focus on a specific geographic area so you can target ads appropriately. It's intended for large companies such as Starbucks, Best Buy or anyone who needs to manage social marketing in multiple locations.
One key feature is the capability to link this activity. If a social media expert at your company finds someone talking about a brand name such as Taco John's in one area, the tool lets you track his activity and then offer a reward based on how he retweets that reward.
SocialCompass reports can show how all this social media pays off in terms of clicks on the actual reward links and how many people then share the link with friends.
UberVU: Easily Post to Multiple Platforms
UberVu is the most obvious equivalent to more consumer-driven tools such as TweetDeck, SproutSocial or HootSuite. It's intended to help social media teams post messages to multiple platforms. The tool works with the typical services such as Twitter and Facebook but also lets you manage posts for Reddit, YouTube, Google+ and even blog entries.
Because UberVU is intended for the enterprise, it includes features for larger teams. You can assign tasks and require approval before a post goes live, for example. This social media manager also lets you perform searches for a brand name to help with marketing activities and see a "conversation map" for all mentions and discussions.
When posting or replying, your teams can use the same posting interface for each connected social media platform. A smart scheduler helps your teams post during busy times of the day - posting in the morning about Nike, say, since that's when most people are posting about their morning jog. Teams can also find influencers based on their followers and real-time activity and then engage with them about the company brand.
Shoutlet: Post Faster Thanks to Built-in Content Library
Shoutlet is another high-end tool that helps social media teams post to networks. Like most enterprise-grade tools, this tool provides the typical post scheduling, team approvals, task assignments, and detailed reporting functionality you'd expect. But there are some key features that go beyond the basic toolset for managing social network streams.
One is a built-in content library. As teams post, they can quickly access an online repository of logos, photos or coupons. When a team member chooses an image, Shoutlet automatically determines whether that image will work on the selected social media platforms. The scheduler can hold a new post until a Facebook page has a certain number of likes, too.
As for reports, there are detailed views but also ways to generate summaries for executives that show just the relevant facts, such as new likes for one Facebook page.
Bottlenose Enterprise: Discover Trends, Compare Social Marketing Campaigns
Bottlenose, one of the most unique social media tools we've found for the enterprise, is more of a discovery tool to learn about brand sentiment and trends. It uses a unique "sonar" interface, where trending topics are shown in a real-time circular graph. A company such as Ford could use Bottlenose to search for the term "truck" and see, in an instant, which topics are trending. Critical discussions - "heavy-duty" or "F-150" - would be seen in a larger size or brighter color.
The reporting features are also unique. Social media managers can see historical data around a brand and make comparisons between brands - seeing how many discussions were taking place between Ford and Chevy over the past few months, for example.
One key reason to use Bottlenose is to measure the effectiveness of a social media campaign. For example, when Acer hired Megan Fox to do an ad promoting a new laptop, it could have used Bottlenose to measure discussions on the brand or compare one marketing push against another, based on the timeframe and keywords.
Salesforce Marketing Cloud: Multiple Enterprise Social Platforms
One of the most powerful suites for managing enterprise social media is Salesforce Marketing Cloud. The tool includes Radian6, which helps companies analyze social media activity; Buddy Media, which is used to publish social media marketing materials; and the Social.com advertising platform, which helps teams create and manage large-scale social media rewards and coupons.
Commentary: Salesforce.com Buys Radian6: Meet CRM 3.0
Radian6 is powerful because of how it connects with so many social channels - the typical Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook feeds as well as blogs, community sites, video channels and even the forms and comments on other posts. You can search for sentiment around a brand such as FedEx and see how many people are discussing that brand or how many complaints follow a snafu (say, tossing a box over a guardrail). In fact, if you post a complaint now about FedEx on Twitter, there's a good chance someone's using Radian6 to find your issue and interact with you to resolve the issue.
Buddy Media, meanwhile, helps you publish an eye-catching marketing campaign through social media and drive people to a Facebook page so they "Like" it or share it with friends. It's almost like Adobe Photoshop for the Web; you use templates to create the marketing material, then publish and track the messaging for your company brand.
John Brandon is a former IT manager at a Fortune 100 company who now writes about technology. He has written more than 2,500 articles in the past 10 years. You can follow him on Twitter @jmbrandonbb. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.
Read more about social media in CIO's Social Media Drilldown.