Whether you have a Klout score of 83 or 38 followers on Twitter, if you’re into social, you’ve probably thought about using a social suite.

From Hootsuite to Eloqua, there are many providers trying to tap into this billion dollar industry and they’re quick to smother you with data and case studies about how their software can increase this, encourage that, and optimize everything. After just a few minutes, they’ll have you believing that they hold the key to conversion, rankings and most importantly- profits.

While marketing softwSocial Media Suiteare-as-a-service (SaaS) companies are not exactly selling snake oil, you’ll often only get one side of the coin from them. Here are four questions you’ll want to consider before whipping out the checkbook and possibly making a costly mistake.

1) Where is your company and where is it going?

If you’re thinking about using a social suite, you’re mind is in the right place. After all, social media is critical for business today and if you’re failing to get people’s attention, you’re going to run into trouble. The traditional approach to marketing has been advertising. Yet it’s no secret that we as a people are really good today at tuning out unwanted interruptions. The reality is that paid media is no longer cutting it, and you don’t want to join the companies that are mistakenly spending 90% of their marketing budget on only 10% of the traffic.

While paid media will always have its place in the marketing mix, the realities of customer acquisition are changing. People are more interested in the value exchange (they don’t just want to be sold to) and social media is becoming the most effective way to bridge the sales gap. Though social also takes effort, time and money, it’s a smarter use of resources. Inbound marketing is the way of the future and the return on investment can be tied to brand awareness, website views, leads, customers, SEO and brand evangelists.

Those are the target you should be aiming for and they’re related to shares, likes and followers. It’s hard to have one without the other, but don’t be mistaken. The statistical relationship is correlated- it’s not causal. Like building a brand, social media marketing takes time. The fire has to be knowledgably nurtured to get going and to keep glowing.

2) Can you do social media without a suite?

How hard is it really to log into the social networks themselves? While it’s easy to spray and pray with a dashboard, did you know that social networks are actually penalizing updates that aren’t posted directly? Blasting it out all at once may save time, but saving time is not the end goal. With that mindset, you’re actually losing out on a large chunk of impressions, which leads to interactions, website hits, prospects and customers. Taking shortcuts to save time will cost you in the long run.

3) But what about the analytics?

First off, have you ever heard of Google Analytics, Ow.ly, Facebook Insights, Google Webmaster and Open Site Explorer? These are all free tools and they give you the power to track social activity and tie it to ROI. Though they have their limits, you should push them to their max before deciding that you need more. Otherwise, it’s like ordering a 24oz steak because you feel hungry.

While the data from any measurement tool can be very powerful, it can also lead to analysis paralysis and have you spending more time crunching numbers than creating content. Should you really care that social suites have the ability to track metrics that you’ve probably never even heard of? The reality is that analytics and reports don’t lead to conversions- good data does. Which brings us back to the last paragraph.

4) How big is your marketing team?

As a team grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to assign tasks and cut redundancies within social media. If you have multiple people in multiple locations, it can become a burden to manage access settings, passwords, priorities and communication. While free services like Dropbox and Google Hangout can help, eventually a social suite becomes worth the investment.

A major plus is that some providers even have the ability to link social interactions with customer relationship management. While this can be done manually, with lists in the hundreds or thousands, it becomes a waste of resources. Simplicity has its price and the value is hard to ignore. It’s important to have access to all of the touch points with a customer throughout their experience with a brand. How can customer support member manage a relationship without knowing what has already happened? Forcing a customer to detail the past is like forgetting an anniversary. You’ll end up alone and in the dog house.

When it comes to this decision, you’ll have to make the choice that’s best for you. Consider how much social marketing suites cost and what else you could be doing with that money. Also take the time to consider that your impulse to buy may be wrong. Just because a number of companies are on a bandwagon, it doesn’t automatically become the best decision for you. Remember that the salespeople are there to sell you, so take the time to consult with others. Really hone in on your social marketing strategy and tactics and afterwards you can decide if a suite fits into your plan. Only then is it right for you.

How do you manage your social media?

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