9 Criteria for Selecting a Social Media Monitoring Tool

Social media monitoring tools are increasing essential for companies of all sizes as the explosion of social media content renders manual monitoring efforts hopeless. But how do you choose one? With almost 200 social monitoring tools (and new entrants still coming to market), available at a range of price levels from free to if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford-it, how does an organization select the right social monitoring tool for its needs?

Social Media Monitoring Tools (logos)Whether you’ve a selection team working on this or the entire project has been delegated to you, here are nine critical considerations to keep in mind as you review and evaluate your options.

Range of coverage. Virtually every social media monitoring tool worthy of the label covers the big social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), social bookmarking sites (Digg, Reddit) and content sharing sites (YouTube, Flickr). Many include at least the most popular blogs as well. The best also monitor message boards and forums, easy to overlook but critical particularly for niche b2b products and services. For example, a discussion of the latest developments in aerospace composites is probably more likely to happen on a niche engineering forum than on Facebook.

Frequency of alerts. News can travel extremely fast through social media. Even if it’s “only” a customer complaint, you don’t want it sitting out there unanswered for long. It’s imperative that your social media monitoring tool provides realtime or near realtime monitoring and alerting, so you can respond to critical items promptly. Certainly, not every comment requires an immediate reply, but when a customer or prospect has a question or issue, response time matters. And in social media, the whole world can see how fast (or not) your response time is.

Workflow capabilities. A blogger raises a question about your company’s financial outlook. A user is frustrated by a perceived malfunction in your product. A customer shares an idea for an enhancement. A highly favorable product review is published in an online journal. You may discover any of these events through social media monitoring, but in each case not is the response different but the respondent is too. The financial question needs to be directed to your CEO or CFO; the user issue to customer support; the enhancement idea to product management; and the product review to marketing. If there is any significant volume of social media commentary about your product, service or company, look for a social media monitoring tool that provides workflow tools that make it quick and easy to notify and direct the right person to take action on each new mention.

Value. Price is always a consideration of course, but in selecting a potentially critical business tool like social media monitoring (consider the cost of BP’s social media failure), the more important consideration is “value,” as in: does the tool do at least as good a job at meeting the specific social media needs of my company as competing tools, and is it priced similarly or lower than tools offering equivalent functionality? “Free” is always a popular price point, but in the world of social media tools (as in many other areas of life), you get what you pay for. There are several free social media monitoring tools that provide limited functionality but can serve as a starting point for small businesses; however, larger and more socially active organizations will quickly recognize a need for more sophisticated fee-based offerings.

Support and training. Even with advanced UI design, more sophisticated tools are fundamentally more challenging to use. Be sure to get clarity on what kind of training is offered upfront, how much personalized assistance is offered as part of the package, how to get questions answered and how robust the internal help system is for ongoing use.

Metrics and reporting. What kind of reporting capabilities does the tool provide? Your specific needs will of course vary based on company size, level of social media activity and your organization’s specific goals and objectives, but two critical roles of reporting for any organization are: 1) the ability to demonstrate progress/change over time (e.g. more website traffic driven by social media) and 2) actionable analytics (measures that enable you to determine whether you should do more a specific activity, do less, or do it differently).

Geographic/language coverage. Enterprises that do business globally need the ability to track social media mentions across borders and in multiple languages. Global monitoring capability adds cost and complexity to a tool, so don’t buy it if you don’t need it, but for multinational businesses, this is essential functionality.

Integration with other applications. Again, small companies with fairly simple programs don’t need to be too concerned with this, but companies with larger, more complex social media programs should investigate how their social media tools under consideration integrate with applications such as CRM systems (e.g. Salesforce.com), marketing automation tools and web analytics packages.

Monitoring beyond social media. Finally, organizations that actively target both traditional and social media may want to look at tools like Vocus, Cision and/or Sysomos which integrate PR and social media monitoring functions into a single platform. Social media isn’t an island and marketing / outreach efforts there should ideally be integrated with other programs, so in these environments, monitoring capabilities beyond social media become valuable.

Keeping these nine criteria in mind (or least those that pertain to the size and complexity of social media efforts in your organization) will help you make the right choice from among the broad array of social media monitoring tools on the market.

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  1. This is a good list, although I often times feel like metrics and reporting are over-emphasized features. For most companies that are looking to do social media marketing, the most important aspect is workflow and simplicity because it increases their chances of success. If they get to distracted by the numbers they end up doing less and loosing interest more quickly.

  2. Great point Garrett. What I would caution companies just getting started against is focusing too much on those numbers too soon. It takes time to build a following, relationships and trust in social media. The metrics are important, but social media marketers need to have and set proper expectations – with social media, benefits accrue over time, not immediately as with something like AdWords.

  3. Great article and thanks for the mention of Alterian SM2. The right tool for the right job is often the case and product feature sets are important to highlight.

    Alterian SM2 has exceptional multiple language and language sentiment qualities and a social data warehouse of 10 billion+ results.

    James Ainsworth
    Community Manager for Web & Social Solutions – Alterian

  4. Great article Tom.
    I totally agree that every company is going to be able to fit with a different tool. Although I work for Sysomos and I love our tools, I still always tell people to figure out what exactly they want to get done and then find the tool that can best suit their needs.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  5. I’m impressed by the range of questions asked, surely this article can’t be missed if Social Media Monitoring plays a large part in one’s marketing campaign or practices (and it very well should soon, if it isn’t already).

    What I’d like to see added – perhaps as a subsection of Training/Support is a section, or maybe an entire article based on learning curve. How will you be able to teach this to multiple people (if need be) within a company without having to spend more ducats on a repeat training session. You briefly touched on user-friendliness, but I think that interface difficulty and having to learn a new program is one of the biggest intimidation factors of choosing one of these monitoring tools. What I find is that most companies will more likely choose the one easiest to use, even if it isn’t the “best” fit for their company.

    Social Media Strategist @ KimberMedia

  6. The above mentioned are truly a big sites with good features but one should try with TrackThisNow. It is a tool that comes up with a package of all features that you think of.
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  8. Excellent article Tom.
    These 9 criteria are certainly crucial to picking a social media tool.. and to add I think a powerful engine but simple to learn is important as well. At EvoApp, we always try to stress the importance of a very quick learning curve for our software.. its amazing when people who we train to use the software start to train others within a matter of days!
    Thanks for the excellent post.


    Sergei Dolukhanov
    Director of Marketing, EvoApp

  9. Thanks Ryan. Ease of use certainly varies across these tools and can be an issue, but I think the training-multiple-people situation is easily solved with WebEx (as long as everyone gets trained at once). If additional people need to be trained later, then it will likely involve additional cost (unless a special arrangement is worked out with the vendor).

  10. Thanks for the heads-up Ian. This is an incredibly dynamic space at the moment. Eventually it will settle down to a few “winners” in each price tier, but it’s going to be a heck of a ride until then.

  11. Hi Tom!

    Great article. This era is what some are calling “the calm before the social media storm”. Still, you can’t ignore a feature or mention in a traditional news source like WSJ for example.
    It’s still important to integrate social media with traditional coverage so you get a complete picture of the world’s engagement with your brand.

    PR Manager, Vocus

  12. Excellent point Cassie. And the universe of tools that effectively track both traditional and social media mentions is much smaller than the pure social media monitoring space.

  13. Great article, thanks for mentioning Trackur!

    I agree with Ryan’s comment above about ease of use and the learning curve associated with the monitoring tool that a company chooses. If users are able to quickly learn how to efficiently use a monitoring tool, they are more likely to continue utilizing it. This may not be as big of an issue for large corporations that have dedicated Social Media Managers, but for small businesses it is very important!

    Erin Jones
    Director of Community Relations

  14. Great point Erin. Even for big companies, ease of use matters. There are two issues: 1) how quickly (and inexpensively) can we our people up and running on the system, and 2) how difficult/costly is it to train additional users in the future. An easy to use, intuitive system helps with both issues. And glad to see Andy’s got you out and about tracking this stuff down. 🙂

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  16. Thanks for some great info!
    There are also some really great up and coming social media monitoring sights like SWIX which should deffinitely be considered in the future.

  17. Smoeye (http://www.smoeye.com) is a social media monitoring tool.
    You can get reports of your social media accounts activity :
    Here are the currently supported plateforms :