The social media monitoring tool with the most up-to-date results? Brandwatch.

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social-media-monitoring-toolsOur sixth post from the social media monitoring review 2010 series will look at the issue of data latency.

While most tools prioritise key websites to ensure the fastest possible upload of conversations, we found that some tools can take several days before the  conversation that’s being held online is available in the tool. This delay is known as data latency.

Of the seven tools we tested, we found that Brandwatch was the fastest at searching for and processing new online data, while some parts of Nielsen Buzzmetrics proved the slowest at collecting up-to-date information.  It’s important to note that Brandwatch doesn’t cover as many geographies and conversation types as Nielsen does.

As mentioned in previous posts, one of the ways that social media monitoring tools gather data is by using similar web-crawlers to those that Google uses to produce its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This is an automated process that copies content from a list of websites into the tool.

Once the conversations have been collected they are processed - sometimes by analysts but mostly by automated processes. The speed at which conversations are collected by a tool is limited by the frequency of the web-crawlers and the length of time it takes the tool to process the data.

This has an obvious impact on clients wanting to look at up-to-date conversations. It can also skew historical data as it’s possible to look at a conversation trends for the last few days, but then the next day more conversations may arrive from the previous day, changing the results.

People carrying out social media monitoring need to be aware of data latency and to keep it in mind when using the tools to track online conversations.

Tracking specific influencers

In the video below, Charlie, one of the Directors at FreshNetworks,  talks through an example of a client who needed to track a small number of key influencers. They could not afford to wait days or even hours for updates and had to find a unique social media monitoring solution.

The Hare and the Tortoise

Social media has driven a yearning for real-time information. A desperation to know exactly what’s going on right now. As a result you might believe that a faster tool is the better tool. However, as with the other comparative measures between the tools, it depends on your business need.

Our experience of the different social media monitoring tools suggested that high latency was often the result of more sophisticated data processing and de-duplication. Thus if your goal is to track what’s going on with minimal effort, or to see only the really important conversations, you may be better off with an apparently ‘slow’ tool because it will cut out more of the online waffle.

To give an example, some of us at FreshNetworks like to read the most important blog posts from all of AdAge’s 150 top blogs. To do this we use Postrank to filter out the most popular posts and then Feedburner to email them once a week. It can occasionally feel like you’re a day behind on the news, but it’s certain that you will be seeing the most important posts by the end of the week. This system only works because Postrank tracks whether other people think a post is great - a process that performs better after a post has been live for a couple of days. Hence, in this case, higher latency drives better results.

Our next post will look at sentiment analysis across the seven tools.

Read the other posts in our social media monitoring 2010 review series.

Social media monitoring review 2010: Test 1 results

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social-media-monitoring-toolsThis is our second post from the Social Media Monitoring - 2010 review series.

In it we’ll be giving you an insight into how we have set up the comaprison of tools (which proved rather a challenge) and the volume of online conversations that each social media monitoring tool was able to uncover.

Setting up the search string
We decided to use Starbucks as a test brand for our social media monitoring because it’s a global brand that is frequently discussed online. Also, the word ‘Starbucks’ doesn’t have any other meaning or use other than being a brand/company name.

As well as tracking the word ‘Starbucks’, we also tracked the phrase ‘Flat White’, a new addition to the Starbucks coffee range which launched in December 2009 . We also tracked their new ready brew coffee, ‘Via’, which was released in the autumn of last year in the US and in March 2010 in the UK. We wanted to see what impact this new development was having on online conversations about the brand . Finally, because Starbucks is associated with its ‘Reward Card’ and the phrase ‘Fair Trade’ we tracked these subjects too. To keep things fair we created a similar search string for each tool.

It is important to note that some tools are capable of more sophisticated search strings than others. So we were testing to the lowest-common-denominator in this sense.

Comparison challenges
Although the tools are very different, we wanted to try and evaluate them all as fairly as possible. Thus the tools were used ‘out-of-the-box’, as they come, for the fairest comparison. Again, there are limitations with this approach. Some of the more sophisiticated options offered in some tools are only relevant to more experienced users. And some providers (e.g. Neilsen) are set up to provide a much greater level of analyst support than, for example more technology focussed firms like Radian6.

Our sense for the market is that most firms are still learning the art of social media monitoring and that tools are often managed day-to-day by people with only limited training in how to use them in anger. This drove our approach to the research.

Coverage
As the tools all have different coverage, whether it’s for different media or markets, we set up the same filters for each tool to create a comparable ‘universe’ of conversations for Starbucks. Our test was carried out using only the English language and for the same time period on each tool.

Sentiment analysis
One of the areas we wanted to test was the sentiment analysis accuracy of each tool. In order to compare the automated sentiment (ie, sentiment that is coded automatically positive or negative by the tool) with our own analysis we had to extract the conversations and manually code them. Some tools don’t allow you to extract certain conversations, others do. Where we weren’t able to extract sentiment for some reason, we’ve marked the tool:

Picture4

Number of conversations
The seven tools gave very different results when looking at overall conversations -  the smallest number of conversations was found by Biz360 and the largest by Radian6 - over 11x the difference! But remember, more conversations is not necessarily better - there is often duplication.

Picture1*You can usually make arrangements with your account manager if you need more data.

Conversation types
When you compare the conversations by media type, again each of the tools shows quite a different result:

Picture2

*Scoutlabs doesn’t allow you to extract Twitter conversations with sentiment. The tool does allow you to browse the latest twitter conversations though.

At this top-level, it’s clear the tools are each doing something quite different…

Next…
More detail on these tests, and the results,  can be found in our final report which will be available to download on Friday 16th April. We’re also holding a free social media monitoring breakfast seminar on 15th April in London, where we’ll be presenting the findings of our report, as well as giving practical tips and advice about social media monitoring and the best way to analyse results. You can register for the event by clicking on the button below:

Register for Social media monitoring in London, United Kingdom  on Eventbrite

Read the other posts from our social media monitoring review 2010.

The basics of social media monitoring

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social-media-monitoring-toolsThis is our first post from the Social Media Monitoring - 2010 review series. In it we’ll cover the basics of social media monitoring.

Background

Social media tools make it possible for people to have conversations online. The uptake in conversations, comments and reviews has been explosive and the importance of these conversations is growing by the day. Among many other things, people are discussing brands, describing their purchase intentions and asking for assistance in making buying decisions or product support.

The opportunity for organisations is clear. They can now listen-in on the conversations of their customers, potential customers and other stakeholders in a way that was previously impossible. Through social media monitoring it is possible to gain insights from the conversations people are having online every day and to make improvements to products, customer service and marketing as a result.

Real-world ethnography has been around for a while – the process of analysing the context in which people act, usually researched by observing subjects in their natural habitat. It can teach us a lot about behaviour and influencing factors, however it is expensive and subject to The Observer’s Paradox (see also Schrödinger’s Cat).

Social media monitoring brings observational research to a mass audience. By tracking what is said in forums, on Twitter and in other social networks, brands can gain customer insight. But beyond getting geeky researcher’s excited, it can also offer very practical benefits to organisations. Customer service teams can listen out for customer issues online and then and resolve them. Competitor Intelligence departments can find out what customers are saying about competitors’ products. PR Managers can get early warning of pending PR disasters before they hit main-stream media and most of all, by listening first, companies can be better prepared to join online conversations and become social.

Social media monitoring clearly has tangible business benefits and as a result it’s a hot topic. Furthermore, the power and importance of what people are writing online is increasing. The reach an influential blogger can have is extraordinary. And according to Neilsen, consumer recommendations have now become the most powerful form of advertising (78% of people trust customer reviews). As a result companies need to monitor word-of-mouth more than ever.

Using search engines to monitor online conversations

Many online conversations can be accessed with ease and for free using Google or other search engines. Simply using your brand name as a search term, or using keywords that are associated with your brand (eg, for Starbucks you could search for “Starbucks” or “whole bean coffee”) you can find conversations that are related to your brand. Taking that process a step further you can set up Google Alerts so that you get an email when someone mentions your keywords.

However, if you search in this way you’ll probably end up with hundreds of thousands of returned results and a limited number of ways to analyse the data further. You will also get a mixture of professional and user generated content. It is possible to use some free buzz tracking tools to focus on certain areas. For example Omgili and Board Tracker are great ways to search forums. But until Google enters the social media monitoring market, the best way for enterprises to track social media is by using a paid-for tool.

The benefits of using social media monitoring tools

Social media monitoring tools deal with the two problems of searching and analysing the online conversation. The tools use similar web crawling technology to search engines in the way that they read online conversations. However, unlike search engines, the tools clean, de-duplicate and categorise the conversations and then store them in a database.  As our report and future posts will show, some tools do these things better than others.

Social media monitoring tools also allow you to enter search terms into the database so that you can customise the way you view the results. The tools count the conversations that contain your search terms and provide you with the ability to display this information in graphs and charts.  Most tools also allow you to divide by location or media type (eg, Twitter or blogs) and at the cutting edge, some social media monitoring tools provide workflow management process that can help you disseminate conversations within your organisation, others are starting to combine buzz tracking with CRM in a bid to create single-customer-view Social CRM. And there are some tools that allow you to respond to conversations across the web from a single dashboard.

One key feature that marketeers have been most keen on is sentiment analysis.

What is sentiment?

Sentiment is a thought, view, or attitude that is often based more on emotion than reason. In the context of social media monitoring, it is the concept of deciding whether a specific online conversation is positive or negative. This is really useful in helping you determine the themes and topics that are driving both good and bad conversations about your brand.

Sentiment can also allow you to track the overall impact of marketing campaigns or news about your brand. We suspect the main reason people have latched onto sentiment is because it gives the impression that the plethora of web conversations can be summarised in a single number. Businesses love to track numbers and sentiment is often the KPI of choice for social media.

This is dangerous. Sentiment is more nuanced than a single number and using an automated tool to assess how people feel puts too much faith in the today’s software. We don’t believe that the tools on the market have nailed sentiment analysis yet. The tools can be extremely valuable, but it is important to understand their limitations as it is to understand their capabilities.

One piece of advice - it’s not about the bike

The most important thing to bear in mind when choosing a social media monitoring tool is that ongoing human interaction and interpretation are essential to get real value. If there is one mistake that companies are making it’s that they buy into a dashboard expecting insights on a plate. Months later they look back and wonder why the dashboard hasn’t changed their business.

Buzz tracking opens up opportunities for insight, but it is worthless without sufficient people resource and internal processes to act on information.

I am biased. My background is research (FreshMinds, our sister firm, has been twice named UK Research Agency of the Year by the Market Research Society) and we’re not selling a tool. Rather we help companies select the right tool and help them get value out of it on an ongoing basis. But I think you’ll find most of the software vendors will concur that their happiest clients are the ones who have properly resourced the listening effort and invested sufficient time in interpretation, dissemination and action. After all, what’s the point in listening if you never act on what you hear?

The next blog post in our series will be about setting up each of the leading tools to get the most out of them.

Social media monitoring breakfast seminar

We’re also holding a free social media monitoring breakfast seminar on 15th April in London, where we’ll be presenting the findings of our report, as well as giving practical tips and advice about social media monitoring and the best way to analyse results. You can register for the event by clicking on the button below:

Register for Social media monitoring in London, United Kingdom  on Eventbrite

Read the other posts from our social media monitoring review 2010.

Social Media Monitoring Tools - 2010 Review (intro)

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social-media-monitoring-toolsOver the last few weeks we’ve been carrying out detailed tests and analysis on 7 of the leading social media monitoring tools - Alterian, Brandwatch, Biz360, Neilsen Buzzmetrics, Radian6, Scoutlabs and Sysomos. Our aim is to provide an in-depth comparison of buzz tracking tools that accurately depicts their individual pros and cons.

We’ve put the tools to the test by tracking well-known international coffee company Starbucks. We compared over 19,000 online conversations, giving us some really unexpected results and highlighting some staggering differences in the way each tool performs.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be blogging about our findings, and at the end of the series you’ll be able to download the full report for free. We’ll cover:

  • The basics of social media monitoring
  • An overview of our results
  • The location of online conversations
  • Social media monitoring and duplication
  • Data latency
  • Sentiment analysis
  • International/multilingual social media monitoring

We’re also holding a free social media monitoring breakfast seminar on 15th April in London, where we’ll be presenting our findings, as well as giving practical tips and advice about social media monitoring and the best way to analyse results. You can register for the event by clicking on the button below:

Register for Social media monitoring in London, United Kingdom  on Eventbrite


So what are social media monitoring tools?

In a nutshell, social media monitoring tools pretty much do what they say on the tin - they monitor online conversations taking place through social media.  They track anything that’s being said about your business or your brand on blogs, forums, Twitter and other social spaces. Each tool is different, varying in complexity and in the way they gather and process the information, as we will show you over the next few weeks.

Our sister company, FreshMinds Research, has been using social media tools to generate customer insights for years. As we’re a social media agency, we usually work with FreshMinds Research to conduct social media audits or monitoring when establishing a  social media strategy for clients. So over the next few weeks you’ll benefit from the unique findings of a research company working in collaboration with a social media agency.

We’ll start with the basics and work through our research step-by-step. If at any time you want us to explore a certain aspect in more detail, please let us know. Our next post will explore the basics of social media monitoring.

Read the other posts from our social media monitoring review 2010.

Foursquare, Google Maps & Sysomos social media monitoring

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fourwhere-logoI’ve just been playing with FourWhere. It’s a mashup of Foursquare location data and the Google Maps API. It has been built using the Sysomos social media monitoring tool

It is neither as fun as PleaseRobMe nor as useful as Wikitude, but it is mildly interesting to see what is being said at venues near me. And more features are promised in the future.

fourwhere mashup google maps

Most of all, this mashup reminds me of why I have been impressed with Sysomos recently. Sysomos is behind this mashup and they are  one of many Social Media Monitoring tools that we use. Over the past month they have really cranked up their PR efforts and seem to be emailing me with news every week. For examples see their analysis of Oscars buzz and their look at how people use YouTube.

In the next month we’ll be releasing a study of buzz tracking tools (subscribe to the blog to ensure you get to see it) and Sysomos have scored highly with many of our team. Their tool is very easy to use - especially good if you are likley to have multiple people from your company accessing your social media monitoring dashboard. They also allow for post-search filtering of results; essential for international or multi-segmented buzz tracking projects. And they also offer a simple influencer search.

There are drawbacks - for example,  I would treat the sentiment analysis with care. One test we ran on blog sentiment showed a 40% innacuracy in sentiment analysis (once you strip out neutral comments). But overall, it’s a good tool if put to proper use. They are definitely one of the market leaders and we look forward to telling you how they compare to Radian6, Neilsen Buzz Metrics, Alterian and many more over the next few weeks.