The social web is a fast-growing and fast-changing “platform” for consumers to discuss companies and products.
Social media monitoring is the process of listening to online consumer reviews and conversations about your company, its brands and services.
The overarching goal of social media monitoring is to learn from listening – learn the consumer’s concerns about your company and its industry, and then use that knowledge to improve your products and services.
Social Media Monitoring Services
Your social media listening strategy should encompass all forms of word of mouth media and consumer discussion including but not limited to blogs, “complaint” sites, message boards, forums, Usenet news groups, and video sharing sites such as YouTube. You should also monitor social community sites like Facebook, MySpace and Linked-In, along with Twitter, the microblog.
Social media monitoring services monitor all forms of social media – but not all services monitor all media. The services use specialized software to aggregate social media postings from multiple sources, index all the content on a near-continuous basis, query the index using the client’s key words and identify consumer posts of interest, and then deliver the relevant posts to the client.
Since it’s impossible to predict where or when important market intelligence will “pop up” on the Web or where it will be republished, it’s important to monitor as much social media as possible.
Market Intelligence vs. Worthless Chatter
Social media overflows with inane chatter. If the Chipotle restaurant chain monitors social media, the overwhelming majority of mentions will be about “going to” the restaurant or “meeting (name)” at the restaurant – not very useful for market intelligence purposes.
Well-constructed search queries help minimize extraneous chatter. As an example, McDonald’s could focus social media monitoring on specific product names (brands) instead of the corporate name. Or it could use an “and not” operator in the Boolean query on common phrases like “going to” or “meet”. That type of clip avoidance strategy will likely delete a bit of worthwhile conversation, but will certainly minimize useless chatter to be reviewed.
If your company is using social media monitoring as a customer service tool, it’s important to see all mentions to sort out and act on complaints and compliments.
What should you be listening for?
As a starting point, monitor for your corporate name, your brands, the services you offer, and the names of key executives.
Initially, focus on identifying and anlyzing complaints, compliments and questions about your organization. Look for any serious issues that need to be corrected. Look for patterns or trends that are emerging – positive or negative. Initially, measurement of social media is not necessary, especially for small and mid-size companies. Later, you may want to expand your listening to encompass competitors and industry-specific issues – and also do some formal measurement of social media conversation.
Who in the organization should coordinate the listening?
The answer to “who should listen?” will emerge from the central reason or the combination of reasons your organization wants to monitor social media. Is it to find service complaints and rectify them? Then “customer service” should listen and react – often called “engagement” in social media circles.
Is the reason to identify issues with product performance? Then marketing or product development should be listening.
Is it to monitor corporate reputation? Then the public relations department should be listening.
In large corporations, multiple departments should be involved in the listening process.
How to listen?
Using free social media search engines can provide quite a good cross-section of word-of-mouth commentary by consumers on the Web. For blogs, try Technorati, Google Blogs and Ice Rocket. Searching multiple services causes a problem of duplicate content that you’ll need to filter out – something that commercial media monitoring services do automatically.
For message boards and forums (which may be even more important to monitor than blogs), try BoardReader which covers about 50,000 different online consumer discussion sites. The best way to start monitoring Facebook and Linked-In is to simply sign up as a member and enter search queries into each service’s search engine.
The downside of free search services is the time required to conduct the searches. It may not be the most productive use of in-house staff. Staff time is better used for analyzing, not searching. If there are a limited number of new posts each day, it may be acceptable to monitor less frequently. But at least occasional monitoring of social media is crucial to gain a better understanding of consumer issues and to protect your corporate reputation.
Bottom Line: free social media search engines may well meet your needs if you have just a few search terms, typically receive only a few new postings each day, are willing to invest the time to conduct searches on a regular schedule using multiple free services, and have no need for advanced services to measure the quantity, reach, and tone of the social media postings. Using free media monitoring tools, though not perfect, may be “good enough”. “Free”, however, is not truly free. The staff time investment must have an adequate return.
Commercial Social Media Monitoring Services
The paid subscription services for social media monitoring provide more comprehensive coverage, save staff time, and provide many bells & whistles including online clip archives to manage the social media posts, and automated quantitative and qualitative measurement of the posts.
Prominent social media monitoring services include Radian6, Alterian M2, Trackur, and Scout Labs. Presently, more than 50 companies compete in the social media monitoring and measurement space. There is a “wiki” of social media monitoring solutions at http://wiki.kenburbary.com/ that continually updates the growing number of social media monitoring services. The Yahoo! Directory also contains a comprehensive list of social media monitoring services.
Many of the well-established news monitoring services provide integrated social media monitoring. CyberAlert, for instance, in addition to its online news monitoring service, provides comprehensive daily coverage of 50+ million blogs; 100,000+ message boards, forums, complaint sites, and Usenet news groups; 200+ video sharing sites like YouTube; and all Twitter postings for the previous 24 hours.
Social media monitoring services vary considerably in their mission and in their deliverables. In screening the companies, it’s vital to match their market niche with your need. Doing your homework in advance to narrow down your vendor list is absolutely essential.
Assessing Social Media Monitoring Services
Questions to ask in assessing social media monitoring services:
What is the core goal of your service?
Who are your key customers? What internal department is the primary client contact point for your service?
What’s your service best at doing? Exactly what social media do you cover? How do you aggregate content? May I add social media of special interest to our company to those your company already monitors?
Do you cover “complaint” sites? Which ones? Do you monitor Twitter?
Do you cover and exactly what content do you harvest from Facebook, MySpace, and Linked-In? Is your search engine capable of performing Boolean queries? What Boolean operands does it use? Is it capable of using regular expressions? How many keywords may I use in my queries?
Does your service include a searchable archive of social media posts? What are its features? Ask for a demo of the archive.
How do you differ from (another service you are evaluating)?
Who is your best competitor? Why are you better than they are?
What enhancements do you plan to your service in the next 60 days? Six months? One year?
Many of the services offer a comprehensive demo or, even better, a “test drive” of the service. That’s unquestionably the best way to sort through the features and benefits of the various vendors.
Summary: Social Media Monitoring
As a new and rapidly evolving media, online consumer discussion and social communities form the “wild west” of monitoring. No solution is perfect. But for most every company, some social media monitoring solution is necessary. The temptation is to leap into social media at full speed. But, the “full service” solution of listening, measuring and engagement may not be the best solution to meet your needs. Determining your needs before contacting or meeting with vendors is the most effective way to start the process. Even with general specifications in hand, you’re far more apt to contract with an appropriate service – and not buy more than you need.