“What social monitoring tool should I use?” seems to be the catchcry of companies far and wide lately as they scramble to catch up in the world of social media.  And it’s a great question.  It’s great for two important reasons – 1. social media monitoring is the one absolute necessity for any business – even if you aren’t looking to use social media for any marketing efforts – because it’s the cheapest and arguably one of the best ways to gain customer insights and 2. because it’s not an easy question to answer.

Coming from a private health insurance background I can see great parallels between choosing the right health cover and choosing the right monitoring tool – you can never seem to compare apples with apples,  you are never really sure what you are comparing in the first place and often you don’t even know what elements are the most important to compare.

I can sympathise because I’ve gone through the process for both.  The good news is that I can help you with the social media monitoring tool one.  Well I can help you with your health cover question too (if you are from Australia), but the social media monitoring one is the easier of the two.

Now I could make things easy for everyone and just tell you to use a certain tool, but that would make my article way too short (I have a minimum of at least 1,000,000 words per post).  It would also be misleading because it really depends on your individual circumstance. Lastly it would seem a bit of a lost opportunity because no one is paying me to write this.  Now that I think about it, I probably should have approached Radian6, Alterian or BuzzMetrics.  Complete blogging fail.

Anyway, below is a list of all the things you need to consider/ask about when searching for the right tool:

  • What is your budget? If you are looking for a free tool, slap yourself in the face and get serious.  You need to sort out what you are willing to spend  – and be sure to take into account that it is an excellent market research tool, not just a critical part of your social media strategy.  You’re going to be hard pressed to find something much lower than $10k/year.
  • Where do you want to track conversations? If your brand is operating in one country only with no plans to expand, it is probably going to make sense to track just that area.  The more unnecessary locations you monitor, the more irrelevant conversations you might pick up.  This means you need to pick a monitoring tool that can target geographical areas for ALL social media channels.  One of the biggest problems I’ve encountered with some tools so far is their inability to track twitter conversations via location.  Since I monitor a stack of brands that are acronyms that mean a whole range of different things world-wide, it’s a nightmare to filter through global results.  When the location is refined to just Australia (for the tools that allow this properly), the problem is largely resolved.  So far the only tool I have personally used that can do this well is Radian6.  But it’s important to note I haven’t used all the tools that are out there. Also no tool can currently track facebook via location because Zuckers doesn’t allow it. Yet.
  • Where are you based? If you’re based in Australia, try your best to use a provider who has a presence in Australia.  There’s nothing worse than trying to fix a problem with a supplier whose staff are all asleep during your working day.  It’s also nice to be able to have a demonstration in-person of their system.  If you’re based somewhere bigger, like America, well you can probably choose whoever you like.
  • How unique is your brand name? Is it likely to return predominantly relevant results, or are you operating under a more generic brand name like FML Enterprises or Jack Pens? If you’ve been silly enough to choose a company name (or work for one) that is likely to pick up a lot of irrelevant conversations, you are going to need to choose a tool that can create queries around your search terms in order to increase relevancy (for example, a range of exclusion and/or inclusion words).  If you have a nice, completely unique brand name, then you’re going to find this all a lot easier.
  • Do you have a dedicated resource to look after monitoring efforts? Will this person have time to sort through and delete irrelevant posts, apply post tags and manually change sentiment?  For the best results, this is advisable.  If you do have this resource then you should choose a tool that allows these features.  For example Radian6 allows you to do all of these things, but BuzzMetrics focuses on creating algorithms that return a lower volume but higher relevancy of posts.  You can’t delete the irrelevant results, nor can you change their sentiment.  If you have someone who is dedicated to the monitoring efforts, it could be frustrating to not be able to have manual control over these features, particularly given sentiment analysis is widely accepted to be a maximum 60% accurate.  I would suggest it’s much less from my experience – I spend a huge amount of time deleting irrelevant posts and tagging posts with topic tags and sentiment.  It’s time-intensive but I know it’s close to 100% accurate when I churn out my reports.  If you don’t have the time to look into this, something like BuzzMetrics might suit you more.
  • Is sentiment accuracy important? Get a tool that allows you to manually change this. See above.
  • Do you need a workflow capability? How many staff members do you have who will be responding to your customers (if any)? If there’s more than one person and you want to keep on track of it all, get a tool that can facilitate workflow and record an audit of all actions.  Radian6 is the best tool I have used that can do this.
  • Do you need a built-in engagement tool? Do you want to combine your monitoring software with the ability to respond and engage with your customers? If you only have one Twitter and Facebook account this may be overkill.  If you’re an agency looking after many different brands, this can be a lifesaver.
  • How many brands/terms do you need to track? Some tools have their pricing structure set around the volume of conversations or the number of brand profiles you can track.  For example, Radian6 charges per profile (brand) set up.  You can track as many terms as you like through each profile (eg. Your brand, competitors and industry key words) – however each level of pricing is capped at a certain volume.  The first price tier I believe is capped to 10,000 results per month, which is quite a substantial amount, unless you’re a huge global brand. Or Britney Spears.  Other tools allow you to track as many terms as you like, or limit the number of terms but have no capped amount of conversations.
  • What content is most important to track? Twitter or blogs or forums? I have found that some tools are better for some areas than others.  Radian6 is better for twitter for me because it can monitor based on country of origin (though it may not be 100% accurate) but BuzzMetrics is better for blogs and forums because they have covered a higher volume within Australia.
  • Do you need integration with other analytics or CRM systems? For example Radian6 can integrate with other platforms like salesforce.com, Omniture, Google Analytics and Webtrends.
  • Do you want access to historical information? Different tools will provide you with different historical ranges for data.  Radian6 gave me access to the previous three months, whereas BuzzMetrics gave access to a full year of historical data.  You also want to use a tool that keeps all historical data from the date you start monitoring.  As far as I’m aware, all paid tools do this – one of the big benefits of using a paid tool.
  • How will you do your reporting? Do you want ready-made graphs, or do you want to be able to export actual conversations? Different tools can create different reports.  Radian6 makes a lot of pretty graphs, but doesn’t allow you to change them.  They also don’t allow exporting of the actual conversations like BuzzMetrics, which is handy if you want to create reports that include some of the more interest tweets or blogging conversations.

These are all the questions you need to ask when you are searching for the right tool for you.  You might also need to figure out what your priorities are because so far I am yet to discover a tool that covers the best of everything.  Right now I think Radian6 is the best for my personal circumstances, because I’m based in Australia, need to track only in Australia, want to be able to manually tag posts, delete posts and change sentiment and Twitter (targeted only in Australia) is the most important channel for me to track.  But it also has a number of features that annoy the shit out of me, like the inability to export all conversations to a reportable and editable format (eg. Excel).  And the fact I can’t manipulate the graphs it creates for me.

Right.  Well I hope that has helped you at least figure out what you need to be considering when you try to compare each social media monitoring tool that is out there (and the list is growing).

For a good comprehensive list of all the different tools, check out this ever-growing wiki site: http://wiki.kenburbary.com/

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