Throwback to the mid-2000s: Facebook was founded, and Hannah Montana premiered. Miley Stewart was an average American kid with an alter ego pop star named Hannah Montana. Miley/Hannah’s dual identity allowed her to escape the public eye while still reaping fame and fortune — ultimately, living “the best of both worlds.”

Cut to 2020: Social listening platforms (SLPs) continue to capitalize on enterprisewide appeal of social listening technologies and try to cater to both seasoned and novice users. Vendors previously addressed these two groups by offering stand-alone products; today, many go to market with unified solutions to benefit all, such as in these areas:

  • Queries. Customer references we interviewed were comfortable with established Boolean querying but also felt improved quick search (a Google-style search bar) was a good option for colleagues less familiar. Vendors also offer an in-between solution with a guided Boolean builder. Additionally, in-platform cues such as query preview and common filters (e.g., sales/promotions, spam, explicit content) steer users to more relevant data.
  • Dashboards. Ability to disseminate insights to stakeholders was a sticking point in Forrester’s 2018 evaluation. This year, vendors are reducing time to value while also offering more customization. An array of templatized reports and widget libraries assist those who don’t know where to start. Vendors offer templates for use case (e.g., brand health, trend tracking), vertical, and even theme (e.g., COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, sustainability). But users can still create a new report from scratch and take advantage of flexible widget features such as drag and drop, full customization, and deep drill-down and filter by specific capability.
  • Reports. Key stakeholders’ time is limited, and they demand insights in their preferred medium and frequency. Vendors still offer static reports that can be sent at scheduled time intervals. But live dashboards with continuously updated data are now the norm, allowing users to identify trends and changes in near real time. Surfacing insights quickly and via a variety of channels has become the rule, not the exception.
  • Alerts. Since Forrester’s previous evaluation, the general alert workflow remains unchanged for most vendors: Identify a metric of interest (e.g., mentions of a product), and determine a threshold and time period. Vendors incorporating machine learning and AI into alerts aim to surface anomalies and outliers not explicitly defined by users — and, further, determine if an outlier is actionable. For example, the number of mentions for a specific product might spike over a defined period. However, an algorithm may determine that this increase is commensurate with an already-expected spike due to, for example, a special promotional day or product launch.

Though B2C marketers were the first to use SLPs, social listening is applicable to a host of teams across the enterprise, including data and analytics, customer insights, market research, PR/corporate communications, sales, operations, human resources — and the list goes on. Vendors have responded accordingly by consolidating and upgrading platforms in order to serve these varying needs and deliver the best of both worlds for customers across the enterprise. Check out our new report, “The Forrester Wave™: Social Listening Platforms, Q4 2020,” to see our vendor evaluation. And join our live webinar on November 17 to hear more.

Special thanks to Emily Collins and Chandler Hennig for assisting in this research.