Evaluating Social Media Monitoring Tools. Do I really need all that?
This post is the over-due follow up to this one. It took awhile to write not just because I’ve been busy but because I wanted to add to the conversation when other people have already written great comparisons of the social media tools available. Plus there are some smart people writing about how you should use these tools. What I haven’t seen is what I’m going to write today – which comes directly out of a hallway conversation the other day.
“Why don’t you just look it up on Social Radar? That’s what it’s for, right?”
Well, not exactly. Which begs the question: do you need to define what you’re expecting to accomplish before you go off and buy one of these tools? Because if your goals are pretty simple, you may end up spending more than you should. Or if you’re not ready for some of the more complex monitoring tasks, maybe you could start with the easy stuff first.
Categories of tools
I think the easiest way to look at the array of tools available is to use three categories. There are several tools out there to search the Web. There are other simple tools available to monitor the Web and provide you alerts. And there are tools out there that track activity. The last category can be further broken down, which I’ll get to a little later.
Google, Nielson and Technorati all provide excellent resources to search blogs in more or less providing real-time information about your brand. Bing has a social search team working on new tools and now has a Twitter search in beta. And Yahoo will even let you tailor a search engine. So there’s no need purchase an expensive tool if you’re just out to look up a little information about what’s happening on the social web. If you want to search Facbook, today you’ll have to do it on their site if you need anything more than the most basic results (Facebook is moving in a more open direction, so stay tuned). And when it comes to Twitter search, there’s a lot of options for searching Twitter since they have their API open. Some dedicated free social-search tools include:
For search, one benefit of the more expensive tools is the filtering of the results. Many providers claim to have the least noise – all appear to be better than the free ones. Another benefit is speed – it takes servers to deliver the goods fast and, well, that costs money.
Tools for alerts
For simple monitoring and alerts, Google, Yahoo, BackType all provide the ability to monitor the Web and provide almost real-time alerts when something is posted on the internet about you or your brand. If a site is popular and has good SEO, Google will give you a pretty close to real-time alert if something you need to know about is posted – for example, I get an almost instantaneous alert every time I click publish. Frankly, even if you’re using another tool, you should be using these services. You’ll find that some search engines see somethings and others see other things. It’s just the nature of the Web and the different algorithms search engines use. Now if you want alerts that look for aberrations or spikes in volume or sentiment you’ll need to spend money.
For tracking tools, I break this down into two classes: the free/freemium or inexpensive ones and then the premium tools. Obviously the premium are better for certain purposes (and do a lot more than track) but not necessary for everyone. If you need to get a general idea of the conversation about a brand and watch what’s happening over time there are some affordable, if not free options including from Trackur and Trendrr.
A step up from these tools are free and cheaper tools would be the premium version of the previously mentioned ones or Scout Labs. These tools usually provide on demand search results with sentiment, alerts and some basic charting of activity. I took advantage of the 30 day trial of Scout Labs and found it extremely useful for a pitch we were in at the time. At this price point you will find some great features available.
So if you can do all this stuff relatively inexpensively, or even free, why would you want one of these other expensive tools?
Because you require the ability to slice and dice a fire hose of raw data. And you want to be able to sort, dial in, tweak and drill down into the result without having to deal with noise. You want to reliably gauge sentiment and evaluate trends. And you want the easiest UI available, maybe you even need training and someone to call on the phone to ask questions. You may even want an on demand analyst to help you build reports and make judgements. Not everyone really needs this kind of capability and service or even has the time and perseverance to gain anything valuable from it.
But if you do have the time to dedicate to it, and you have the aptitude for figuring out the right questions to ask the tools, you will discover some great information that may not have been obvious using a cheaper option. And they can just make it easier to do some more complicated tasks like gauging sentiment and mentions during a campaign for a deeper analysis of how a marketing or PR campaign is functioning, comparing the sentiment of your products to your competitors over time to look for market opportunities or product problems, or using them as an on-demand customer research tool.
One outcome of the eavaluation process for us was that we found the tools were useful in ways we hadn’t yet realized. This was especially true for our brand strategists who found ways to test hypothesis and prove and her case to team members and clients. But that’s another story.Jimmy Gilmore