But they’re very useful. Of course the essence of social media marketing and conversation management is not in boxing everything neatly in one or the other tool. Successful marketing and communication is more then ever about content, creativity, the message. Not software ... but it helps.

Those who still remember the days when the internet was associated with whistling modems must have another déja vue these days. Last century it was common practice to build your own tools to develop and maintain websites, which gave us loads of content management systems. Books were written about it, studies made and conferences organised, resulting in a landscape so complex you needed a consultant to guide you through.

Today they are back, the tools. Not to build websites but to shape your strategy and to be a good conversation manager. Solutions come in all shapes and sizes, as social media are a lot more complexe then your own websites. On one hand you need to manager different platforms and on the other hand you want to follow and interact with over 500 million people on Facebook alone. Not a simple task, so you’ll need more then one solution.

Now, how do we find our way in these hundreds of tools? Let’s split them up in a number of categories. This is - again - not as straightforward as it may seem because every tool seems to take a different angle to managing social media. I prefer to split social media management platforms along the logic of the steps that are often used to set out a social media strategy:
1. Listen
2. Engage
3. Act

In the “Listen” phase we first of all need social media tracking tools. This can range from a simple and free Google Alerts to a very advanced Radian6 of the recently launched Engagor. But also your own site analytics software (e.g. Google Analytics) falls into this category as it allows you to measure the effect social media on the visits to your site. And then there are also those sites that measure your performance in social media such as the Klout (which is in itself subject to much controversy).

Once you have clear view on the ongoing conversations it’s time to step into the conversation yourself. But there are many channels and many participants in the conversation both inside and outside the company. So a traditional content management system or a CRM tool will not do the job. That’s why we see a number of social media engagement tools appear such a Hootsuite.

Now comes the time for some real action. Claim, maintain and promote your own piece of social media territory. This is the least developed part of this emerging industry. There are a number of solutions that allow you to manage Facebook pages, and a number of existing CMSystems work on plugins to integrate with the large social media platforms. When it comes to tools for launching social media campaigns we look forward to what Spreadid wil offer, a soon-to-launch Belgian initiative (in which I’m a stakeholder).

But as already indicated in the beginning, tools are but a means to help. Succes in social media only comes with the correct message, the exact tone of voice and of course a smart strategy.