What to know before you choose a social media monitoring tool

Does the tool provide good customer service? What analytics does it offer? Can more than one person access the tool? You need answers to these questions and more before you purchase.

There is no shortage of social media monitoring tools. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when trying to find the best one for your business.

Since each business’s needs and goals are different, there’s no one-size-fits-all template for the perfect social media monitoring tool. However, I’ve conducted a ton of research on various tools. Here are some important questions to answer before you invest in any product:

1. What are my goals for a social media monitoring tool?

If you just want a tool that will help you monitor online mentions of your brand or topics related to your brand, establish that up front. Then you know you don’t need to invest in a tool with publishing capabilities, robust analytics, a customer relationship management function, influencer identification, etc.

2. How many people need access to the tool?

Many social media monitoring tools offer pricing options that depend on how many user seats you need. Determine right away how many people need access to the tool, as it will impact your final cost.

3. Which online channels are the most important to monitor?

Most tools will monitor Twitter, public Facebook posts, blogs, news sites and forums, but some go beyond (Sysomos monitors Instagram, too).

But the application programming interfaces (APIs) of some channels (like Facebook and YouTube) do not recognize complex search terms, like Boolean Search. You have to understand the tools’ limitations on extracting information, as well as which channels they actively monitor.

4. What are the pricing options?

This is an important one. Don’t rely on the pricing listed on the company’s website. Get in touch with a customer service representative, schedule a demo, and then talk pricing. Figure out how many people from your team and your client’s team will need access to the tool.

If you’re a large company looking to make a big investment, chances are the sales team may be able to craft something specific to your company’s needs, along with a tailored pricing option.

5. What geography capabilities does the tool have?

This may be irrelevant to you if your company requires global monitoring, but say you only care about brand mentions coming from the Midwest. No social media monitoring tools have perfected monitoring by geography, but some have made more progress than others. Make sure you understand how the tools you’re interested in handle geographic monitoring.

6. Do I want to publish social media content from this tool?

Many social media monitoring tools allow you to publish content to your social media pages, as well as monitor what people are saying about your company. If you manage multiple pages or channels, look into an all-encompassing tool to make your life a bit easier.

7. What analytics does the tool offer?

This is an important one. Some reporting functions are more visually appealing than others, and give you data in a way you can easily understand. Other tools’ analytics are way too complicated.

Look for a tool that gives you a happy balance between how much data you can get and how that data can be compiled into a report you can easily share with others. The last thing you want to do is invest in a tool that is too cumbersome.

Side note: You can’t rely on fancy graphs, word clouds and Excel documents alone to report on success. You will need to do some qualitative analysis, too. Let the data the tool provides guide you, but don’t rely so heavily on it that all you do is show leadership a bunch of graphs and say, “Look how great we’re doing on social media!”

8. How does the tool measure sentiment?

Just like geography, this is another element monitoring tools haven’t perfected. However, some have made much more progress than others.

If measuring and comparing sentiment of your brand to its competitors is important to you, find out up front how the tool measures sentiment. Some tools, like Netbase, tout sentiment analysis features and how the company uses native language processing to accurately categorize opinions.

9. Is there a white label option?

Some social media monitoring tools offer a custom package for companies that want their own branding on the tool. If this feature is important to you (it likely will be if several people/teams are using the tool), know that not all tools have this feature.

10. Does the tool include influencer identification?

Some tools have a built-in component that will allow you to find, track and report on influencers.

11. How many languages does the tool analyze?

This is only relevant if you have a global brand, or may potentially expand into a global market. However, it’s still important to know whether this feature exists. (Most tools monitor various languages—some more than others.)

12. How far back can the tool go to extract data?

Do you want to compare what people are saying about your brand now with what they said last year? How about in 2010? This feature may likely be exclusive to Twitter data, but some tools offer robust historical data capabilities.

13. How does the tool approach search queries?

Some tools rely heavily on Boolean Search, while others offer comprehensive search without it. This factor is important, because the search queries and tags you set up are what will ultimately drive the tool’s monitoring efforts.

If you need to create a lot of search terms, find a tool that is user-friendly and will allow you to efficiently add and adjust search terms.

14. What are the customization options?

Are you limited to a template report, or can you build your own report with the data that’s important to you? Can you customize your monitoring dashboard? The more customizable, the better—unless you’re a small company and only need a limited amount of reporting.

15. How does the company approach customer service?

This is another important question. The last thing you want to do is wait 24 hours to speak to someone when you’re in crisis mode and the tool isn’t working. Having a dedicated customer service representative for your company is ideal, but not all social media monitoring tools offer this.

Those are my key questions to ask when researching social media monitoring tools. Do you have any to add?

Nikki Little is Identity PR’s social media manager. She also serves as an account manager for several of Identity’s clients, and manages the Identity PR blog, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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