Choosing a social media monitoring tool

Social media monitoring is an increasingly important activity for any large organisation, but choosing a monitoring tool is a difficult decision. To help identify the key factors and...

Social media monitoring is an increasingly important activity for any large organisation, but choosing a monitoring tool is a difficult decision. To help identify the key factors and questions to consider, we recently hosted a fascinating webinar on what to look for in a social media monitoring tool.

We were pleased to have an excellent panel which included Nathan Gilliatt (Social Target), Leon Chaddock (Sentiment Metrics) and Matt Rhodes (Fresh Networks). Asking the questions was our own Luke Brynley-Jones.

For those that couldn’t make it, you can listen to the recording here. Alternatively, read on for a summary of the discussions.


  1.  We kicked off the webinar by discussing how social media monitoring has evolved in recent years.

First of all, the sheer number of monitoring companies has changed dramatically. Just a few years ago there were only a handful to choose from, whereas today there are hundreds.

The purpose of social media monitoring has also changed. Originally it was marketing and PR that were interested and the primary goal was crisis prevention. Nathan described it as defensive and pitched were ‘usually framed around scare stories’.

Today however, PR and marketing are just a small part of the picture. Social media monitoring is widely used by multiple departments, whether it’s product development or perhaps most prominently, customer services.


  1. 2.       What’s the first question you should ask yourself when choosing a social media monitoring tool?

What are you trying to accomplish? Although it seems obvious, it’s a bigger question than you might think and the conversation ultimately involves multiple departments. Everything else depends on your answer to that question.

It’s no use saying “I want to offer good customer care”. You need to get specific and look in detail about how you will do this, who will do the work, and what is actually possible.

As part of this process, you will know doubt come up with further considerations. For instance, Matt Rhodes spoke about a client he has in the US, where it is very important to monitor in Spanish as well as English.

Leon also urged us to think about the type of data you care about. Some companies are only interested in their own Facebook Page, others require access to the full Twitter firehose and some are more interested in monitoring blogs, news sites or forums. Remember, it’s not only the amount of data available that’s important, but how quickly you can drill into it.


  1. 3.       What are some other core features you’ve got to have as part of your monitoring package?

There are some features that all monitoring tools will have, such as sentiment. You need to look beyond this and find out what do they actually do with the data. For instance, do they provide detail on demographics or offer influencer analysis?

There’s also the front end to consider. As Nathan pointed out, visuals should not be your top priority, but it could make the difference when trying to convince your board to cough up the budget.


  1. 4.       What kind of skills do you need to set these things up? Do you need an analyst or is self-serve ok?

Nathan drew on his experience to suggest that more often than not, you will need an analyst. Setting up queries, drilling-down into results and creating reports has to be done manually. The question is, is that person from the vendor, an agency, or on your staff?

Matt pointed out that when a client is unhappy with a tool, this is often because they haven’t spent the time and effort to configure and set things up properly. If the vendor can offer an in-house analyst, you will help you get more out of the tool.

Looking at his own clients, Leon told us that whether they require an in-house analyst is largely dependent on the size of the organisation. For example, he mentioned a UK bank for which Sentiment Metrics set up systems for 7 different departments and they provide regular insights reports. On the other hand, self-service may be ok for some smaller businesses.


  1. 5.       Do you think the amount of human labour required to get actionable insights will increase or decrease over time?

The panel unanimously agreed that it would decrease. Given the effort vendors put in to making things work better, we should expect to see automation improving over time. Leon also suggested a there will be a change in what we actually look at. For instance, we will stop looking at sentiment and instead analyse intention.


  1. 6.     Leading on from this, Luke asked if sentiment detection and analysis really matters.

Matt advised that sentiment is very useful, but not if you only look at the basic level. You need to break down what is being discussed. For example, what are people saying specifically about your staff? Then drill down even further to see what people are saying about your staff in one area and how this compares to another. You need to keep breaking down the data to get truly actionable insights.


  1. 7.       Where do you stand on human vs. automated sentiment?

Although Nathan claimed to be a big fan of automating anything that can be automated, he accepts that this is particularly difficult with Twitter. After all, if humans struggle with sarcasm and irony how can we expect computers to cope?

Despite this, Leon was keen to point out that automated sentiment definitely has its place. It can identify trends and extremes in sentiment and email alerts can let you know of any spikes or swings immediately. When it comes to reporting, it is still important that human analysts can override sentiment.

Another question to ask is if your vendor offers human analysis, who is doing that analysis? Often it is done in cheaper locations overseas where they may not be native speakers.


  1. 8.       Where do you sit on influencer analysis?

There’s no denying that this is an important but controversial area. Nathan argued that we can’t measure influence and Matt maintained that it’s not always the individual that’s important, but often it’s a particular website, forum or thread.

Looking at his own platform, Leon emphasised that influence scores are meaningless if you don’t know what is being measured. Instead, users should be able to decide for themselves what to look for; whether this is a Klout score or something more specific.


  1. 9.       What aspects of team working would you expect to see within a platform?

Workflow is incredibly important for teams using social media, especially if it’s for customer services. What you’re effectively looking for is a ‘light CRM process’. Can you automatically assign things to individuals or groups? Can you assign tasks to yourself? Is there a place to track notes internally? Can you re-assign to someone else? Are there notifications to remind them?

As Leon pointed out, the last thing you want is to be able to click a tweet and start engaging with it without anyone else knowing about it. You need to see what your colleagues are doing in real time or you’ll end up with two people replying to the same tweet with completely different responses.

Nathan also reminded us that in social media, it’s very trendy to say “it’s not about the technology, it’s about the people”, but when you’re selecting the technology, it is about the technology.


  1. 10.   Are there certain things you need to look for in terms of reporting?

Matt argued that if there is one area of monitoring when human involvement is required, it’s reporting. You know what you want to show and you will want different reports for different people. You’ll never find the perfect solution off the shelf and therefore they need to be customisable. The best reports are when the brand/ agency work together with the provider.


  1. 11.   What should you pay for a monitoring tool?

Of course, it depends on the size of your company. If you’re an SME there may be benefit to using a free or cheap tool, but you get what you pay for. If you’re an enterprise, you need an enterprise grade tool. For some, this will mean spending £1000+ p/m. Matt even let us know about a client of his that spends £1 million a year on monitoring. That said, spending hundreds rather than thousands a month is adequate for most.

Thanks to our panellists and everyone who attended this fascinating webinar. For those of you who missed it the full recording is available here.

Our next webinar will be in January and will look at social customer service. You can register here to be a part of it.

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