If you are going to have an effective social media listening program you must invest in decent social media monitoring tools to support the initiative. We have spoken previously about how to get maximum advantage from the data – see our post on 5 Tips to Gain Insight from Social Media Monitoring. And we will discuss the importance of choosing wisely what to monitor in a future post.

There are literally thousands of conversations surrounding your brand, your products and services, your key executives and competitors whether you are listening or not.

Your ability to find those conversations and turn them into engagement opportunities is critical to the success of your social business efforts. So the choice of a social media monitoring tool can be pretty important and whilst free tools like Google Analytics can be a good place to start, pretty soon you are going to want more capability than it or other free tools provide.

I am often astonished at how organisations baulk at paying five or six hundred dollars per month for top tier monitoring solutions yet are happy to pay agencies thousands of dollars to “manage” their audiences and engagement. I also believe that personally spending time listening and reviewing conversations gives you a much better appreciation of the true sentiment behind those conversations.

We also believe (hope and pray) that there will be a convergence between the tools used for social media monitoring, and management, but we consider that the free management tools are better than the free monitoring tools. So we believe it’s smart to invest your dollars in a good listening platform.

Given our experience with providing these services for a variety of clients, and especially in multiple geographies, these are the top 5 features we look for in social media monitoring tools:

1. Coverage

When we think of coverage in terms of social media monitoring we consider it in three ways:

  • Channels
  • Geography, and
  • Language.

Does the tool cover all the major social media channels – blogs, forums, twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Google+, LinkedIn. It may be that conversations you are interested in do not take place in all these channels – but that is data you need to know in order to make sensible investment decisions around your social architecture. You also need to understand the nature of the tool’s API to the various data sources. There is a big difference in data between a tool which has access to the Twitter firehose and one that has a limited API.

We work with a lot of clients who want to monitor conversations across the Asia, Pacific and Japan region of the world. So complete geographic coverage by the monitoring tool is also important. By the way, we think this is important everywhere as social media is truly global – but even more important in such a diverse region as this one. And let’s not forget that many people do not even put their location on their key social profiles so an ability to filter this data is key to understanding the validity of the trends.

Thirdly, we think of coverage in terms of language. Does the tool pick up foreign language conversations where your brand is mentioned for example? Can you translate that mention in the tool? Can you search in foreign languages? This might not be a huge consideration if you are purely domestic business in North America but it is almost certainly an issue in Asia Pacific.

2. Flexibility

Social data is not called Big Data for nothing. There is lots of it. And it changes – a lot! And so does the insight that you want to glean from it. Does the social media monitoring tool allow you to ‘retag’ captured social data and slice and dice it in different ways and over a range of longitudinal periods. As Tom Webster said recently in a wonderful post at Brand Savant:

while there is tremendous value in real-time data (especially in customer service), there are other ways to process and analyze social media data that require, and reward, a bit more introspection“.

To enable that introspection, you need a social media monitoring tool which offers flexibility.

Is it an open platform? Does it have API integrations to plug-in best of breed engines – say a Customer Service application or a Natural Language Processor. What about the other way – can I utilise a widget from the social media monitoring tool in a consolidated business intelligence dashboard?

We also tend to consider ease of use in this category. Is the social media monitoring tool easy to set up? Easy to use? Easy to understand?

3. Engagement and Moderation

Whilst we said earlier that social media monitoring tools and management tools are currently separate categories any engagement and moderation capability in your monitoring platform should be welcomed.

For example, can you moderate social properties like Facebook and Twitter from within the tool? Can you respond and engage with somebody from within the tool? Can you assign mentions to other team members? Does the tool provide workflow e.g. can you convert a conversation to a service ticket or a lead inquiry?

What we are heading to here, we hope is the “socialization of applications” as IBM puts it – where standard business applications in the everyday business workflow are enabled by social widgets, including those from your chosen tool for social media monitoring – in fact the “tool” will evolve towards a platform.

4. Influencer Identification and Management Capability

If social media monitoring  tools allow you to see the wood and the trees then you are going to want to engage more frequently and more deeply with those who are key influencers around your brand or interest areas.

Does the tool allow you to find who these influencers are?  Does it identify them by key channel? Is it clear how influence is determined? Does it facilitate conversations by providing a social footprint of the influencers? Can you create a list of those key influencers and monitor that specific set of conversations. Can you determine your Share of Voice (SOV) within that set of influencers?

5. Compliance

Social media data is just like any other as far as your organisation and its legal and regulatory requirements are concerned. Key issues here include:

  • How long is the data stored?
  • Can I access it?
  • Can I re interrogate it?
  • How much does the storage of the data cost?

These may be key questions for your business and are issues of social governance, and a reason that social media monitoring is linked to social governance (and to social architecture). If you stop and consider that last sentence, you will see that while social media monitoring can be an easy place to start doing something in social media – as a step towards becoming a social business – it has to be part of a holistic social strategy encompassing far far more than just social media marketing.

Far too few organisations consider these implications when making decisions on social monitoring tools. Beyond the initial price tag, the cost of non-compliance could be a large one.

To paraphrase an old saying “tools ain’t tools” and your subsequent coverage of social data and your strategic use of properly calibrated social media data will be highly impacted by which one you choose.

Will B