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Sysomos 
Sysomos, now a Marketwire company, is considered by many to be one of the best social media monitoring tools due to its features, such as its simple user interface, its data history, and its social media analytics. Sysomos has a product called Heartbeat that is a real-time social media monitoring and measurement tool that provides snapshots of online conversations, including a variety of graphics.


Its key features include:



  • Metrics measurement: It offers insight about the amount and sentiment (positive, negative or neutral) of activity, which you can compare against competitors.


  • Customizable dashboard: The dashboard is fairly simple to configure to meet your specific interests and needs, including a variety graphs.


  • Key influencers: It gives you the ability to identify the key people driving conversations that are most important to you, and then engage and manage with an activity trail.


  • Geography and demographics: It enables tracking of conversations by country, state, or city, as well as by gender and profession.

Two keys to this tool appear to be the advanced sentiment feature and the ability to drill down by region. Sentiment is very difficult for an automated tool, and Sysomos does a good job of adapting over time. It identifies context within each conversation and offers the ability to assess sentences within the same article.


Heartbeat isn't for everyone, though. With a fairly hefty entry-level price of $500 per month, it seems to be focused more on the enterprise. But if you are in that market, the ease of use alone should put this on your short list.


Radian6 
Radian6 is one of the most well-known and talked-about social media measurement tools. Its product, the Radian6 dashboard, allows you to view relevant conversations about your company in real time. It aggregates those conversations into visuals that are designed to make analysis and measurement meaningful and actionable.


Some key features include:



  • Comprehensive coverage: It monitors 150 million public sites and sources including blogs and comments, forums, mainstream online news publications, public photos, and videos.


  • Social media metrics: It gives you the ability to view coverage and mentions by vote count, comment count, Twitter followers, sentiment, media type, and more. Users can see influencer data to understand who has clout in your industry and see what they're saying.


  • Web analytics integration: It ties to Google Analytics, Webtrends, and Omniture to view social media results through the lens of web stats.


  • Automated sentiment analysis: It shows whether chatter about your topic is positive, negative, or neutral.

In our review of Radian6, although it's powerful and robust, the interface and the set up can be overwhelming and daunting, especially to new users. The learning curve and investment in customizing the tool to meet your specifications is high, which can lead to some initial frustration. Again, the price point is rather high as well, starting at $600 per month. However, once you are able to customize the tool, the results and reporting are very useful and worth the time investment.


Lithium 
Like the two listed above, Lithium Social Media Monitoring (the former Scout Labs tool) aggregates and analyzes social media content from Twitter, blogs, mainstream news, photo- and video-sharing sites, forums, and comments.


Some key features include:



  • Searches: It gives you real-time access to millions of social media sources, including social networks, blogs, forums, video, and photo-sharing sites.


  • Automated sentiment: It gives you a real-time look at the tone and sentiment of your social mentions. A big benefit is that you can change this as you make your own assessment.


  • Buzz tracking: It gives you real-time metrics around your industry chatter. You can compare yours to the competition and to the industry in general.


  • Saved items: This function lets you share bookmarks, notes, and social media mentions with the entire team or select recipients.

One feature that is particularly interesting is Quotes, which allows you to see what your customers are saying about your brand. You can directly see their praise, complaints, and issues with your company or products so you can be responsive -- fast. Also, where Lithium seems to break from the pack is in its focus on harnessing the most valuable social customers to deliver real business success for their users.


Again, the entry price is not for the casual marketers. Packages start at $1,500 per month -- but for 50 searches and unlimited users (more searches than the others listed). Although this is a higher price point, the value it delivers warrants consideration.


 


Other paid applications to consider:


Alterian SM2 is a social media monitoring and analysis solution designed for PR and marketing professionals. Like the others above, SM2 helps you track conversations, review positive and negative sentiment for your brand, clients, competitors, and partners across social media. The solution also has a freemium version that allows you to have limited searching capabilities.


Collective Intellect bills itself as "social CRM" and focuses heavily on real-time text mining and analytics. The platform enables you to collect, process, and synthesize intelligence from online conversations to show you what is being said and provide early warnings on important trends. Collective Intellect also has an interesting semantic search feature that can be used by anyone on its site.

The free and low-cost applications included below and on subsequent pages obviously do not have the same power and functionality as the paid tools I've mentioned. But for those on a tighter budget or with few resources, one of these might just do the trick. While the options below are not full social media monitoring systems, they can get you started on monitoring your presence in social media.


Beevolve 
Beevolve is a professional-looking and extremely cost-effective alternative to the paid applications mentioned above. Starting at $29.99 per month (for three search terms) and $99.95 per month (for 12 search terms), companies can get a lot of the same features, tracking, monitoring, and analysis, including:



  • Broad coverage on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, traditional news publications, and the real-time web


  • Real-time monitoring that gives updates as they are happening on the web


  • Sentiment analysis that gives you an automated evaluation of tone of conversations


  • Competitive analytics that compare key metrics against the competition


  • Demographics and geography capabilities that slice and dice the conversations by geographic regions, age groups, gender, or interests


  • Engagement workflow that enables you to collaborate with your team members and clients for engagement and to measure your social media ROI

Beevolve appears to be a fairly comprehensive tool that can help you make decisions about creating marketing strategies and developing you product line, as well as measure advertising and PR performance.


ReSearch.ly
ReSearch.ly is a powerful low-cost alternative (with a free 90-day trial period) to the larger, paid platforms. It allows you to search for topics, your brand, competitors, etc., and shows you not only the raw results, but also the results by demographic and sentiment. It delivers the information in easy-to-read charts that can be easily embedded onto blogs and websites.


Most powerful for many marketers is the ability to see search results within communities. For example, you can view a search term "iPad" and see which reporters, which mommy bloggers, which CEOs, etc., are addressing this topic in real time. It will also show you a chart with frequently occurring words related to your search term.


Features include:



  • History, with access to as many as 1,000 days of Twitter conversations


  • Interest graph, which lets you discover the most interconnected community around any keyword


  • Demographics and psychographics that let you filter your results by community, gender, sentiment, and location


  • Degrees of separation in terms of the connections between your brand and industry influencers


  • Share functionality that lets you save and publish your time-stamped ReSearch.ly search with easy-to-use embedded links

Social Mention
Social Mention is a widely used free tool that allows companies to conduct social media searches and analysis, aggregating user-generated content from a variety of sources and turning it into a single stream of information. Using Social Mention, you can track and measure what is being said about your company in more than 100 social media venues. Social Mention operates in a similar manner to Google News Alerts.


While Social Mention's social media search and alerts are popular and allow you to receive instant notifications of conversations happening across platforms, it lacks the real analysis of data that most companies require. Social Mention does have an API that will allow developers to access and integrate social media data into other applications. This would really enhance the product and allow for more detailed analysis.



Other free and low-cost applications to consider:


Addict-o-matic: This platform has a good interface and is easy to understand. While it does not offer analytics tools, Addict-o-matic can instantly create a custom page with the latest buzz on any topic. All results are linked to the source. You can customize the page and bookmark it to visit at any time for updates on your search term. Results are shown from a variety of sources, including videos, blogs, news, and social media networks.


Social.Media.Tracking: While many of the platforms cover all social media tools, Social Media Tracking is focused on Facebook and offers a very useful tool. Using this product, you can track the performance of Facebook pages in a competitive environment. For no cost, you can compare the performance of your Facebook page to two competitors.


Although there are hundreds of applications to try, consider first what your business is willing to invest in order to monitor and measure your social media presence. Then determine your goals and objectives for social media and how they align with your business objectives. Only then should you decide which solutions will be most effective in measuring social media's impact on your goals, culture, and budget.


Adam Boyden is president of Conduit.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

You also need to stay up to date on the data terms of service (TOS) that vary across identity providers. The TOS cover everything from data storage to ongoing access to ownership, so do treat social data accordingly.
 
Another under-hyped benefit of establishing a socially-connected relationship with your Facebook users is that it is the only way to directly access the "like" data attached to an individual's profile. But you have to do it in a transparent manner or risk making people uncomfortable. Here's how...


Apply social data transparently
While there is quite a bit of social and demographic data available from the many providers, it is critical to apply that data in a way that enhances the user experience and builds trust with your brand. For example:



  • Set expectations, and be sure they align with the user experience for your site or app. People expect that if they connect with an existing identity and give access to profile data, you may greet them by name and display their profile photo; they expect that their friends will be accessible. People don't expect you to send messages to their friend networks on their behalf without their explicit permission; they don't expect to be asked to share their location if it is not directly relevant to the specific site experience.



  • Put controls in the hands of your users. Enable them to opt in to automated communications about their site activity, such as the "always do this" or "never ask me again" options that New York Daily News offers its users in the example below:



 



  • Create a tab or other user dashboard area on your site that enables people to manage their social connections and user experience preferences, as YouTube does in this example:


When it comes to "like" data, site trust is a major factor. In this example, after connecting on Amazon, the user is presented with product recommendations based on their own likes, and gift recommendations based on friend's birthdays and their likes. Amazon has access to both user data and some friend data, and they are careful to make the application of that data highly relevant to the core site experience:



Maintain control of user relationships and data
You've invested heavily in building your brand, site or app, and your user relationships are an important part of that investment -- don't give them away to others. These relationships are the foundation for making social scale for your business. 



  • Keep control. If you are using vendors for social sign-on or for other site features, be sure that each person authenticates with your business and brand, not the vendor.


  • Ensure all vendor-provided site features are interoperable. Most vendors are able to configure their applications to work with your company's social sign-on system. Not only will this give you more touchpoints at which to establish that user relationship, but it will provide a far superior experience for your users, who can then access any feature of your website -- from commenting to chat to ratings and reviews -- after the initial connection process.



Some website application vendors have a business model based on creating a direct relationship with your consumers in exchange for providing ad revenue. Businesses must weigh the risks of relinquishing control against the significant benefits that come when creating a direct relationship with the user.


Liza Hausman is vice president of marketing at Gigya.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.



Luckily, that strategy -- value-exchange advertising -- exists and is gaining traction across more and more of the web and mobile. Value-exchange advertising is simply the idea that you offer the consumer something of value in exchange for them paying attention. In its simplest form, such as offer walls, value exchange is paying for attention and quickly becomes something for the consumer to endure to get what they want. But in its more advanced form, value exchange is a compelling and effective way for brands to gain and hold consumers' attention. This advanced form requires several factors: access to premium placement on premium inventory, the ability to create rich media-like experiences at display pricing, the flexibility to deliver various user actions, and the ability to target and track the audience you want. When you combine these elements, what you get is one of the most effective and efficient forms of online advertising available. And it's a great way for brands to engage audiences.


When considered in this light, there are two primary components to value-exchange advertising: the opt-in offer and the experience. The opt-in offer is your call-to-action for the consumer to willingly pay attention. The engagement experience is what happens after that. Until recently, these have both presented challenges to the advertiser.


When it comes to offers, scalability has been an issue. It has been difficult to find enough environments (i.e., inventory) that can support an economically feasible value exchange. Sure, offering credits for a social game is a great way to get the attention of online gamers, but what about all those consumers that don't play social games? Now, with the proliferation of social gaming, music and video streaming, paid content, Wi-Fi hotspots, and other digital "pinch points," there is almost no limit to the scale of value-exchange advertising and targeting. Why this is important goes back to the disruptive factor: If the offer or benefit is relevant to the environment where the consumer has chosen to be, then it is more likely to be effective.


The second component, creating engaging experiences, has been even more of a challenge for advertisers and agencies. Not because they lack creativity -- they have that in spades -- but because the costs and the lack of scalability for truly creative digital advertising are prohibitive. It has simply been too expensive to create a rich media experience that will drive enough engagement across enough audience segments. What has been needed is an inexpensive way to create this same robust, dynamic experience at a reasonable price and time. Luckily for brands and agencies, ad tech companies are starting to tackle the issue.


A great example of how brands can leverage this strategy is a recent campaign from healthcare provider Anthem BlueCross. It used augmented reality to tout the health plans' free check-ups. The ads invited users to take a "virtual check-up" in which they literally saw themselves displayed on the screen via live webcam so they could interact with medical tools like a thermometer and ophthalmoscope. On screen it actually looked like the light from the ophthalmoscope was shining in your eye. The innovation paid off, too. Consumers spent an average of 71 seconds with the ad, and 71 percent of those who took the virtual check-up clicked through to Anthem BlueCross' landing page. By bringing the doctor to the consumer, Anthem was able to engage consumers in a personalized conversation around an emotionally relevant topic: their health. Best of all, there was no "interruption" -- everyone who participated willingly opted in to the ad experience and earned a benefit endemic to the site they were on -- the best way to tap into attention and create engagement.


Although these results may seem extraordinary, they aren't for engagement advertising. High engagement rates demonstrate the value of consumer attention, and also prove the level to which you can take the creativity of your message when you work with a flexible, scalable platform and network. Once you have value-exchange and engagement advertising in your media plan, there's only one question to ask yourself. Now that you have the consumer's attention, what are you going to do with it?


John Capano is chief marketing officer of SocialVibe.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


"Image of female hands pushing keys" image via Shutterstock.

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