Participating in social media for brands is no longer a question of if, or even a how. Even the stuffiest of CEOs and their companies have joined the conversations, and they've hired social media experts and PR firms to advise them on how to build campaigns and engage customers. In fact, eMarketer's recent study "Social Media in the Marketing Mix: Budgeting for 2011" estimates that 80 percent of U.S. businesses with 100 or more employees will use social media marketing this year.
So now that we are all here, the questions shift. What now? And are we doing this right? There are scores of companies out there trying to help brands answer these questions. Just search Google or Quora for "social media analytics" and "social media monitoring," or check out OneForty. The results are enough to make anyone's head spin. There are literally hundreds of apps and websites that purport to do the best job of monitoring, tracking, and analyzing your social media presence. Consequently, this abundance causes confusion and frustration among companies trying to find the right solution.
As a company, we have evaluated dozens of social media measurement applications and products, and we have found that currently no one has "the" solution for providing a comprehensive look at marketing campaigns across social media platforms. Every tool has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own way of tracking and reporting results, and its own pricing structure.
Rather than having you start from scratch when evaluating these tools, I'd like to give you a leg up by outlining the three paid and three free or low-cost social media measurement tools that we've found most interesting. And, for good measure, I'll include a few others for consideration that we are still in the process of evaluating.
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 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.
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 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 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.
- 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 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.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.