by Jeremiah Owyang

What if there was a way to determine the best time to share your tweets, Facebook updates, and response-worthy content? And what if you could automate the entire process?

That’s the thinking behind a new wave of companies that claim to have social media communication down to a science. Recently, I analyzed nearly a dozen vendors in this burgeoning field, which I call the “social performance” category. These firms offer software tools and methods that analyze, plan, deliver, and measure media such as ads, content, and conversations published in social channels. For a price, of course.

Although the business is young, there are a lot of players out there already. New entrants include Adobe Social, which employs Adobe acquisitions Context Optional and Omniture; BuddyMedia, which is optimizing earned content to be ads with its Brighter Option acquisition; Bazaarvoice, which has introduced a solution to launch social ads outside of traditional social networks; and Webtrends Social, which tracks social content off domain, ads and their performance back to the corporate website; and finally, Wildfire which has partnered with Adaptly to measure the paid-to-owned transition.

In addition, there’s also a focused group of companies which help with optimized publishing including: Crowdbooster, which measures and optimizes when content should publish; Prosodic, which analyzes
the who, what, where, and aids publishers; Shoutlet, which helps companies manage complex publishing at scale; SocialFlow, which offers a solution to optimize content resonance and publishing timing; Tigerlily, which optimizes social content to publish by theme, audience and location; and UberVU, which first mines the data then optimizes content to be published.

For any marketer looking to get a handle on their social media marketing, these companies have a solid selling proposition. Some of them claim that average click-through rates could increase up to 50%, drive up more fans, and even influence larger order values or the ability to drive additional sales. Ultimately, though, these vendors have the potential to not only improve branding, but to disrupt Facebook’s business as well. Here’s how:

  • Alternative social networks could emerge. The firms could take what they’ve learned from the social media ads they run on Facebook and apply that information to outside the network. Bazaarvoice has already used its earned content to create new forms of social ads that can appear off-domain of Facebook and Twitter.
  • Brands could integrate paid, owned, and earned. Brands will start with content publishing optimization, analyze this content and re-purpose earned content into social ads ala Facebook’s sponsored stories (or its new premium ads.) Expect the media buyer to bring her chair closer to the corporate social strategist as they work together to reach communities like never before.
  • Social media agencies might get in the ad game. Social media agencies will no longer offer community engagement only, but now start to offer media buying in social networks, then become or combine with existing digital agencies. The term “social media agency of record” dies out and we return to “agency.”
  • The category could heat up. This would make firms prime acquisition targets. Likely suitors include existing direct and performance marketing software companies, which would incorporate them into their suites. As the tools become standard, social media content created by brands will start to become automated as these tools suggest what to say, when to say it, and to whom.

There is, of course, one possible downside to the spread of social media automation. As marketers become more targeted and eventually predict what content an audience will want, authenticity could leave the room, making social yet another over-branded, corporate medium. Consumers will then question if they’re speaking to a real-life community manager or an automated robotic script. In this scenario, consumers will move on to a non-bastardized channel that we’ve yet to see, and the cycle will start anew. Meanwhile, Facebook’s social ads will have lost much of their potency.



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