Recently I carried out some pretty extensive research into social media monitoring tools. No small feat, there are literally hundreds to choose from. Where to start? I did a little digging around Slideshare which turned up an interesting report from last July that by a UK based consultancy called Ideya that analysed about 250 paid and free tools on a number of factors.    That formed the basis of a long list.   A very short pitstop on the vendor websites didn’t yield that much information.  Most maintain their proprietary information and only make it available when you set up a ‘test drive’.  17 test drives later, I can safely say I have a very good idea of what to ask for when selecting a social media monitoring tool. While every organisation will have different needs, there are some general things to look out for which I’ve detailed below:

1.  Coverage – where does the tool crawl for its information?

You’d expect Facebook, Twitter, and blogs at a minimum – but I was surprised to discover that some of the tools can’t crawl WordPress blogs for example!  Some tools have incorporated Foursquare and Gowalla, and I’m sure there’s a race on now to be the first to offer Facebook Places (I’ve not come across any yet).  Some specialise in types of media, for example, video sites only.  But for a general all-purpose for you and me, I’d be looking for FB, Twitter, all blogs, forums, ratings & review sites, photo & video sites, and some mainstream media.

2.   How often does it update its sources?  What is the data latency?  Does it come with historical data?

You pay more for tools that offer direct access to the platform’s API’s.  And you pay more for products that come with access to historical data.  Perhaps the Number One learning of all that… you pay more.   Oh boy!   It depends on what your organisation does as regards how updated the feeds need to be.  For the average organisation, I’d suggest 12 hours would be sufficient.   And whether you need historical data really depends on whether you want to be able to search for trends in your data, or whether you’re happy to simply listen to what’s being said now and respond to it where appropriate.  If the latter, don’t pay for historical datawarehouse access.   Which brings me on the next point…

3.    Does the vendor offer training or an analyst service?

We’ve seen it all before – the bells and whistles software is purchased but the bells are never rung… how many times have you found yourself in a situation where you’re forced to use an expensive piece of kit to do more or less mundane tasks?  Be really clear on what you want your software to do and what kind of situations you wish to monitor and only buy what you need.  There is no point in going for the tool that offers 27 languages if you operate in just one or two.  When selecting, make sure to ask about the level of training you get.  And not just the how to use it variety either… find out if there is an analyst service available where your team can work with experts from the vendor side to really show you how to get the most out of it.  In some cases you may have to pay extra for this, but if your team is not expert in Boolean analysis, then it’s good to allow a little budget for this.

4.     Workflow & Reporting

Good tools allow your team to communicate and escalate and assign tasks to each other.  When you’re listening to a sales pitch, ask yourself “is this little more than glorified email?”.  If the answer is yes, walk away.  I was truly surprised to see how many tools that charge a mighty wad of cash include little workflow and nothing more than a built-in notepad feature!  Likewise, reporting.  Surely to God if you’re creating a tool for monitoring and reporting, you’d invest heavily to get the reporting right.  At a minimum, include good-looking graphs, customisable, exportable, and drillable downable (or uppable!) as the need fits.  When you’re buying into this software, ask yourself if you’re happy to pay big bucks and then have to export all the data into csv’s in order to be able to make some good reports.  If you don’t want to do that, then look at the reporting and see how much can be done from within.

5.  How does it identify Influencers? How does it handle Sentiment?

Every tool uses its own algorithm to assign values to the level of influence that a person has.  Obviously you need to know if someone called Stephen Fry is talking up/down your product on Twitter!  Many tools uses Klout which I think is OK.   I’ve written about this before.  But a lot of it is down to quantitatives like numbers of followers.  Some tools offer the ability to overwrite this and customise the data but you have to pay more for this.  I like the idea of tools that learn from overrides.  Sentiment is a little more straightforward.  The software can tell whether people are talking you up, or speaking negatively.  Again, this can be overwritten in some tools, but not all.

So there’s my top 5 things to be looking for.  The one thing I didn’t mention in that is PRICE.  Save yourself and the vendor a lot of time and establish a budget in your head and, before you take a test drive, make sure that what you’re looking at is within budget.  There’s no point going to the candy shop if all you’ve got is a rusty penny.  🙂

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