Social media marketers have been around for nearly a decade now, and the rapid creation and expansion of this entirely new industry has not been without its growing pains.

As of last year, nearly 200,000 Twitter users included the term " social media" in their bio.

Of those Twitter uses, tens of thousands described themselves as social media gurus, evangelists, ninjas, rock stars, mavens, warriors, and—my favorite—missionaries.

Just as these cringe-worthy job titles are falling out of fashion as the industry as a whole matures, so does the technology that serves as its foundation. First-generation social tools, which have been around nearly as long as sites like Twitter and Facebook, just are not delivering the results that modern social media marketers need to perform in today's crowded marketplace. 

Even today, marketers continue to struggle to quantify the ROI of social listening. It's time for us to start demanding more from the tools that we rely on.

Let's take a look at the three ways that first-generation social listening tools are falling short, and propose solutions that the next generation of social media marketers can implement.

1. Social listening is a manual process

We all know the drill. Set up your dashboards. Enter your keywords. Choose bar graphs or pie charts. Then, the real work starts as the social media (insert your title here) continuously and manually monitors the monstrous river of real time data that you've just released.

I know of some major public relations and marketing firms that dedicate special monitoring rooms where two or three employees work in shifts to keep up with the data streaming into their listening tools. One firm even set up a camera to record this diligence as selling point to their clients!

That level of manual oversight in our age of automation is beyond unnecessary.

As marketers, we should spend our time thinking strategically, executing on our campaigns, or engaging with customers and clients—not sitting in front of a computer screen watching words as clouds billow.

The next generation of social listening tools need to free today's busy marketer from monitoring screens. Those tools must play a more active role. Instead of merely presenting the data as it accumulates, the tools should also provide intelligence and recommended actions or next steps.

Automatically flagging problems for marketers to review is a good first step, but the best of the new tools will empower marketers with automated peaks, alerting them to issues and recommending solutions.

Technology must play a more active role to enhance the human decision-making process. The solution should not only present the data but provide intelligence and recommended actions.

2. Actions speak louder than words

As social media became an established communication channel for today's customers, brands reacted by hiring "social media ninjas" and installed first generation, out-of-the-box social listening solutions that required 24/7 attention.

Even after spending all that money on technology and manpower, most brands are only doing the bare minimum for their customers—merely listening to the chatter.

Although listening is a good start, successful marketers know that we must go beyond this first step. We must listen, understand, react and engage… but the tools available just don't offer those levels of interactivity. When a customer interacts with a brand on social media, it's one thing for a brand to respond with an automated tweet, but it's an entirely different level of customer care if you can demonstrate that their feedback enacted an operational change.

Our social listening tools can help this process by allowing marketers to engage in real time to impact business performance—combining process, people and technology to enhance your service based on actual customer feedback.

3. Social data isn't operationalized

Second-generation social tools need to bridge the gap between the CMO and the COO, as the latter looks to the former for business advice based on social data.

Unlike customer surveys or email questionnaires, social media data provides us with direct, unsolicited feedback on our brand's performance, which, if parsed effectively, could be immensely powerful for enacting change at the organizational level.

Social data today is collected and filtered into categories, but it is not strategically analyzed.

Acquiring and filtering a massive amount of data is useless unless we have tools that can translate that data into actionable insights, and do so in near real time.

Armed with these automated organizational actions and recommendations, future marketers should be prepared to demonstrate their value across departments within their organization. Next-generation tools will pinpoint operational areas that either need improvement or are functioning well, allowing you to strategically and effectively leverage that data within your company.

We need to demand more of our technology vendors.

* * *

As marketers, we must take the time to explore social intelligence offerings to move past listening and monitoring to hearing and engaging with our customers in real time.

Elevating your department to the next level will positively impact customer service, which will translate directly into your organization's bottom line, making you an invaluable resource to your team.

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image of Kristin Muhlner

Kristin Muhlner is CEO of newBrandAnalytics, a provider of social intelligence solutions.

LinkedIn: Kristin Muhlner