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?
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.