TrustRadius released a buyer’s guide to enterprise social media management software just recently, and it’s pure gold: lots of great recommendations and great insights from those who use the tools named in the report. It’s also nice to see some of my old-time favourite vendors on the map, like Hootsuite and Simply Measured being named Top Rated Social Media Management tools. That’s amazing.

I also noticed something quite interesting in this report: look at the following picture from TrustRadius…

Enterprise Social Media Management Software TrustMap

You can see long-standing vendors like Radian 6, Attensity and Oracle scoring pretty low, and surprisingly Adobe Social scored the lowest. This may come as a surprise to you especially if you’re familiar with the Forrester Wave report, that listed Adobe as “a strong performer” in the list of digital platforms (although this was not just for Adobe Social but for the entire Adobe Marketing Cloud). Gartner also recognised Adobe as “a leader in the 2014 “Magic Quadrant for Digital Marketing Hubs” report” (which you can find here).

So, who got it wrong – the well-known and respected independent reviewers (e.g. Forrester, Gartner), or the latest consumer reviews sites like G2 Crowd and TrustRadius? And is TrustRadius on to something bigger than what it’s selling?

A Direct Comparison

The first thing to notice in all of this is that while the TrustRadius-type reports are from thorough crowdsourced reviews and opinions, the professional Gartner-like reviews come from groups of independent reviewers, who mainly review the tool, interview the vendor, and may (or may not) interview the CIOs and CMOs of a few key clients from each vendor.

However, with these new reports, you’re having feedback from the people who use the tool, those who know it inside out, those who are accustomed to the tool’s perks, faults and workarounds, and those who have managed to incorporate the tool in their digital/social strategy.

To understand the discrepancies, we need to understand how these reports are made. Let’s compare two reports like for like: the latest TrustRadius report (trustradius.com/guides/sm) and the Forrester Wave Report for Enterprise Listening Platforms.

Let’s start with the first aspect: price.

Price

A lot of these reports aren’t available to the general public. Sure, Forrester makes this report readily available…as long as you can fork out $2,495 (£1,650). May I just say, that’s a big deal – a report aimed for marketers, that costs the same as a marketer’s one-month salary (if not more, depending on where you work, position, country etc.).

The cost of a TrustRadius report? Free. Well, you do need to fill in your personal details to download the PDF (here), but that’s optional: you can freely browse the web view of the report, with the report’s 102 pages condensed in 26. You’ll miss out on the interviews, use cases, and so much great information, but it’s equally as valuable.

Criteria

The second aspect to look at is the criteria used in this report. Here we could talk about three types of criteria:

  • criteria for the report,
  • criteria for shortlisting tools to review,
  • criteria to analyse and score those tools.

Let’s start with the first one: how did these companies decide what to focus their report on?

Forrester’s report is entirely dedicated to enterprise listening platforms, while TrustRadius takes a wider approach and includes other capabilities of social media tools, such as publishing, scheduling and analytics. By doing so, TrustRadius turned their report into a social media management tools review, rather than one specifically targeted to social listening.

Now, one could argue that it’s unfair to judge specialist social listening tools on the same scale as specialist social publishing tools, and so forth. However, I can understand where TrustRadius are coming from: in an industry that is trying to consolidate tools to create all-in-one tools, this is becoming a trend, where social media listening tools branch into other functions needed to manage a social media role – publishing, analytics, advertising, app creation (à la Wildfire) and more.

Now, how about choosing the tools to review? Here’s Forrester’s criteria:

We identified the 11 most significant software and service providers in the category — Attensity, Brandwatch, Converseon, Crimson Hexagon, NetBase, salesforce.com (Radian6), Sprinklr, Synthesio, Sysomos, Tracx, and Visible Technologies — and researched, analyzed, and scored them.”

This criteria goes even further when you look at the actual report:

  1. Selected vendors must have $10 million in annual revenue from their listening offering.

  2. Selected vendors must have a minimum of 70 enterprise customers.

  3. Selected vendors’ average contract size must be greater than $30,000.

  4. No more than 55% of the vendor’s business can come from a single business line, such as public relations or market research.

With this criteria, the Forrester report covers 11 enterprise products.

Here’s TrustRadius’ criteria:

We decided to focus on comparing the software products used by large companies with more than 500 employees for enterprise-level social media programs… We’ve analyzed 400+ end-user ratings and reviews of 23 social media management software products to understand how enterprises are leveraging social media in general, and what tool or set of tools are they using to facilitate those activities.

Based on end-user reviews, in-depth interviews with some of the reviewers, and interviews with vendors, we’ve identified three primary use cases, or ways that companies are leveraging social media, and the tools that support them: social customer care, social intelligence, and social media marketing.”

With this criteria, the TrustRadius report covers 23 enterprise products.

Lastly, how did both companies analyse and score the products?

Forrester used a 27-criteria evaluation that considers 3 main areas:

Current offering: the vendors’ capabilities for capturing social data, analyzing it, and integrating with customer analytics engines, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, or marketing automation systems. We also evaluated how well vendors set up and implement queries, propose new listening strategies, and correlate social data with business data.

Strategy: we considered if each vendor’s product plan includes ways to unify data across other consumer feedback channels, like the call center or solicited surveys — a future that Forrester calls enterprise customer listening, and we assessed each vendor’s progress toward enabling these connections.

Market presence: the vendor’s customer retention, active customer base, and revenue as indicators of financial well-being.

TrustRadius on the other hand reviews and rates 13 aspects, including usability, performance, support, analytics and satisfaction. Other criteria are used too, bringing in the comments and reviews from the people who are using the tool (e.g. interface, 3rd party integration, performance).

Just comparing the two approaches, you can see that Forrester takes a more technical and strategic approach, while the approach taken by TrustRadius is more for the buyer, for the marketer who’s undecided on what tool to get – for the user.

Thoughts

So here’s the question: would you rather hear the opinion of the informed decision-making CIO/CMO or the opinion of the people “on the floor” who use the tool day in and day out?

Personally, I want to have both. Sure, I’m interested to see what the various execs, officers and seniors think of a tool; I’m curious to see how they see a tool fit in their digital strategy, and I’m particularly interested to find out how they’ve been able to integrate that tool with other systems and processes, to avoid the dreaded “marketing silos”. However, I’m also interested in the open, honest feedback from the people who are using the tool; they might not hold senior positions, they might not even be managers, but they’re in a much better position to tell the story on how the tool works in practice.

Now, having the opinion of the people using a tool doesn’t necessarily exclude the opinion from the “seniors”, the executives, the officers and those in the C-Suite who may be a bit too busy to use the tool daily.

So, how do we get all these opinions together? What’s needed is a push from both the reviewers and the software vendors: sites like TrustRadius need to encourage vendors to get more reviews on their sites; then vendors need to encourage their clients to review the tool they’re using on those review sites. The problem here is that the supplier might have one contact whose experience in using the tool may be totally different from other teams and other users, with different requirements, different expectations, different opinions.

The incentives for people to review the tools they’re using needs to be clear: you need to justify to the busy manager why she needs to take 10 minutes out of her busy schedule to write a review for a tool she uses; you need to explain to the busy analyst why he needs to take 10 minutes out of his reporting days to write his opinion on the analytics tools he relies on.

Then, these “roundup reports” (e.g. TrustRadius’ buyer’s guide to enterprise social media management software) need to be regular. I say twice a year. The Forrester Wave research is technically yearly (I say technically because the last one was in Q1 2014, and prior to that it was in 2012). I propose having these roundup reports twice a year – one in Q1, one in Q3. After all, a tool can dramatically change over the course of the year.

But let’s take things further for these reports and these review sites: don’t just wait for people to review tools, tap into social listening. This applies to any other digital tools: analytics tools, marketing automation tools, CRM software etc. For instance, there are on average 5,000 mentions of Hootsuite online every day, yet only ~110 users have reviewed Hootsuite on G2 Crowd, and only ~50 have reviewed it on TrustRadius. Have I ever been asked to review Hootsuite? Never. Would I review it if I were asked? Sure thing! However, if social listening tools encourage users to get insights about their brand via their tool, I think review sites should be able to get insights on those tools by tapping into the sea of unsolicited opinions on social media.

(Sidenote: Gleanster already does that, tapping into social media for real-time “snippet reviews”, and it works just fine: gleanster.com)

Disrupt Enterprise Reviews

So, are the likes of TrustRadius on to something bigger than what they’re selling? Sure, they packaged their latest report as a “buyer’s guide to enterprise social media management software”, and it definitely is useful…but I think it’s a lot more than just that. I think this is just one step to disrupting software reviews, and I’m totally here for it.

Here’s how I see it: the likes of Forrester and Gartner will still be relevant – the big players that have gained reputation for in-depth reports, great analyses, and insightful reviews. However, when marketers look for feedback on what tool to use, they’ll start flocking to alternative sites. A lot of these marketers don’t need to (or want to) have a paying account with Forrester: some of us marketers are still struggling to get some serious budget to finance our social media teams, how are we supposed to justify paying $2.5k for one report? Some marketers are struggling to prove the ROI of social to their seniors – now they need to justify paying that much money for a report?

Then come these new sites, like G2 Crowd, TrustRadius, Credii, Gleanster, that move reviews from the elite marketers who can afford paying $2.5k for a report, to marketers who genuinely want to know what tools to go for, and all they have is a LinkedIn account. These new sites are like open forums, and the only currency here is knowledge: ask a question and wait for your peers to come back with some answers; leave tips, tricks, and insights on how you made the tool work for you, just for someone on the other side of the world to login and find that they’re not alone in that same situation. It’s an open forum, where no question is a stupid question, where anyone can write, read and question reviews. It’s a community, where anyone is invited as long as you have a LinkedIn profile. And then, in between reading reviews and answering questions, you get a report that captures all the reviews that you and your peers have written over the past who-knows-how-long, all of your valuable contributions, from one category, and then gives you an in-depth report of that. For free. For. Free. What more could you ask for?

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