You’re blogging. You’re Tweeting. You’re participating in online discussion forums. This is good, right? You’re promoting your brand online. But how do you analyze your social reach, share of voice, engagement and so on?
When it comes to social media in business, participation alone isn’t enough. All the time you’re investing must be effective. And to do that, you need to understand how your brand is faring in the wider conversation. That means monitoring the social web continuously, and adjusting course when necessary to make sure your voice remains relevant.
What is social media monitoring?
It’s the process of continuously watching and listening to the social web for comments and discussions about your brand. This includes blog posts, microblogging platforms, status updates on social networks, forum discussions and so on.
Manually monitoring the social web would take far too much time, especially for small organizations in which employees tend to wear multiple hats. However, software tools are now available to automate social media monitoring and make it possible for small organizations to extend their social reach. There are basic tools that simply capture key words in comments and conversations, as well as more advanced solutions that can help decipher the meaning of all the data you collect.
Why you should monitor social media
The purpose of social media monitoring tools, of course, is to know when, where and how often your brand—or topics that matter to your brand—are appearing on the social web. This provides a snapshot of your brand’s reach and relevance. For example, a lack of brand mentions among an important customer segment can help you identify where to focus your social media efforts.
Social media monitoring can also provide insight into your competitors, both what they’re up to online and how customers are (or are not) interacting with them. This can help you adapt your social media activities to better differentiate your brand, counter any negative claims by your competitors or establish a stronger presence on platforms your competition dominates.
A third reason to monitor social media is to understand what’s on the minds of your customers, in real time. You can spot trends as they start, and understand customer concerns, challenges and pain points. Using this insight you can then demonstrate thought leadership on issues your customers care about, or address their challenges and concerns directly. Whatever action you take, you’re bound to increase brand relevance and affinity with your customers.
What to monitor
Once committed to social media monitoring, your first decision will be which platforms to track. You’ll obviously want to include those platforms on which you’re already active. But to get a complete picture of the social web, you need to monitor a broader range of social sites and platforms. Start by picturing the world through your customers’ eyes. Where are they hanging out online? Some customers may spend more time reading blogs, whereas others may be active in online communities.
Next you’ll need to determine what, specifically, to track on these various platforms. The what will be determined by keywords and key phrases that you select. These might relate to any or all of the following:
Your company, brand and product/service names (as well as those of your competitors)
Words and phrases that closely relate to your business and offerings
Industry related terms
The names of your company heads or key stakeholders
Events that you’re involved with or would like to be associated with
Terms and phrases you want associated with your brand
You may need to conduct manual searches to build your keyword list initially. And be sure to identify common variations of your keywords, too. Some search engines have tools to help with this, such as word maps that visually link related terms. Once you begin your monitoring, you may find new keywords and phrases to add to your list, or that some of your initial words and phrases are no longer relevant.
Selecting the right tools
For most businesses, a combination of social media monitoring tools will be the best approach. How many tools you use and their degree of sophistication will hinge on a few things: the visibility of your brand, the size of your organization and the depth of resources you have for social media monitoring.
If you’re assigning just one person to monitor a brand with relatively limited visibility, a combination of free desktop tools is probably fine. However, more pervasive brands will need more sophisticated tools (read: paid) that can analyze and help understand the range of sentiment expressed toward your brand.
Many social media monitoring tools perform multiple tasks, but they tend to address the same basic functions. Here’s a list of the general types of tools you’re likely to find, and bear in mind that new types of tools are emerging every day.
Data collection tools: These perform the basic function of scanning the social web for key words and phrases that you’re monitoring. You input the keywords and phrases and the tools send results back in the form of email alerts or ad hoc reports. Most basic data collection tools work across the entire Web and produce time-elapsed reports, the results of which are anywhere from 24 hours to one week old.
Real-time monitoring tools: Useful for PR professionals, events or product/service launches, these tools track the buzz as it’s happening. They typically feature an online dashboard or desktop application that provides real-time visibility into key words and phrases you’re monitoring. Real-time monitoring tools are best suited for microblogging platforms, but many can incorporate social network accounts as well.
Analysis tools: These perform more sophisticated functions and usually require subscription fees. There are free tools that perform some basic types of analysis, but predictably, the tools that perform robust analysis typically require purchasing a license.
Analysis tools collect data, and then run it through algorithms or filters to determine factors such as:
Sentiment—how customers feel about something
Reach—how widespread something is across the internet or social web
Influence—how impactful a term or user is
Frequency—the rate at which a term or brand mention appears online
These tools can also help you identify things like trending keywords, users, platforms and the like.
Refining your approach
As you continue work with social media monitoring tools, whatever combination you choose, you’ll develop insights into what approaches work best for your organization and brand. There’s definitely an “art” to finding success with social media. But there’s also a science. And with the right monitoring tools, you can apply a little science to make sure you’re getting as much value from your investment as possible.
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