Scanning Social Media Sources might appear to be functionality that few of us would ever use but as this article will demonstrate, this level of analysis is not only increasingly critical to our business success but also practical and cost effective to undertake. When aligned with an integrated and coordinated Social Media Strategy as described in Step6: Social Media Strategy Development and the Balanced Scorecard this type of analysis becomes extremely powerful.
I have written before about the criticality of Social Media Monitoring tools to business success. This series of articles will look in much more depth at the relative merits of Social Media Tools: high cost vs. low cost. In this first issue, we will examine how these tools ‘stack up’ in terms of meeting business requirements around analysing Social Media Sources.
It is our experience that few businesses are making use of Social Media Monitoring Tools and this is particularly acute amongst micro and small businesses. This article will seek to determine whether misperceptions exist around the “high cost of available solutions”.
Social Media Monitoring Tools can be used to identify key Social Media Sources in relation to specific keywords or search terms. When we enter “biotechnology+products” we should return results for all of the Blogs, Networks, News sites, Micromedia feeds, Images, Videos and Discussion Forums where our keywords appear. A decent monitoring tool will aggregate the findings and provide background statistics on each Source, to allow a level of analysis across the various social media platforms.
Benefits of Analysing Social Media Sources
Understanding key social media Sources for carefully chosen search terms (normally around our key customers) can immediately highlight where on the Social Web we should be spending more time e.g. our customers are ‘hanging out’ on Linkedin but not on Facebook.
This information may not detail our approach but it certainly simplifies our “business” view of Social Media. This analysis tells us that we do not need to be everything to everyone. Analysing Social Media sources allows us to focus on specific platforms – it frames our view of the Social Media Landscape.
Analysing sources can prioritise individual social media accounts or sites for further action. It answers the question as to which 30 from 1,500 Blog Sites will provide the best opportunity to meet prospective customers or influencers. Which accounts or sites should we view or “listen to”?
This type of analysis also returns a set of results that relate to “individuals”. For example, it can inform us as to who, from all of those that have tweeted about “beverage+industry+UK”, we should take interest in; determining whose network is most valuable and who has most influence over their network.
In short, analysing Social Media Sources provides critical “market” information for those considering a Social Media strategy, it helps focus scarce resources. It also provides the basis for effective engagement with prospective customers and influencers – surely a better alternative to more traditional approaches to prospecting and advocacy.
Social Media Monitoring Solutions Compared
There are a huge range of Social Media Monitoring Tools through which businesses can analyse Social Media Sources, by some accounts more than 250. For the purposes of this article we have split them into High Spec – High Cost Tools and Low Spec – Low Cost Tools.
“High Spec – High Cost” Tools
Social Media Monitoring solutions in this area include: Radian6, Alterian SM2, Sysomos Heartbeat, ScoutLabs and Infegy Social Radar amongst many others. These solutions will index most of the major media types: Blogs, Forums,Images, Videos, News and Twitter whilst making it relatively easy to find and filter sources based on keyword searches. They get to “relevant” sources quickly and provide a wealth of background data on each source to help determine priority and influence.
For example, Radian6 provides statistics for each individual source, as indicated in the TagCloud diagram below:
Figure 1: Radian6 Source Statistics TagCloud
Source: The Authors
Despite useful functionality in this area, we believe the following also holds true:
(i) These tools are still relatively limited in their ability to index “closed” platforms. Some networks and sites prefer not to be indexed by search engines or monitoring tools and unfortunately this includes most of Facebook and Linkedin (with exception of a minority of “public” indexed pages).
(ii) Search returns within monitoring tools appear less sophisticated than their search engine counterparts. In our experience, the source results for keyword search terms seldom remove all spam sources and quite often ghost sites (set up by SEO and PR companies to drive up page rank) appear prominent. It would be good to get an industry view on this hypothesis.
(iii) Even seemingly relevant returns still need to be validated to understand the value of the source – there is more information provided through a manual check e.g. the “look and feel” of a site can indicate if this is the type of place your customers will ‘hang-out’ or if the site is “authentic”. In this sense, there is always a ‘list’ of sites or pages that need to be checked by a human eye.
(iv) These tools are efficient at returning more than a thousand sites per key search term (across a range of platforms) and this efficiency can actually create more problems for the user. Any manual process can quickly become many times more difficult to undertake and complete effectively, due to the sheer volume of sites and pages to be viewed and assessed.
(v) Last, and perhaps not least these tools are reasonably expensive; approximately £150/month to £2,500/month, with varying licencing arrangements.
“Low Spec / Low Cost” Tools
“Low spec – low cost” tools are free or as near to free as possible and include: SocialMention, ViralHeat, Blogscope, Blogpulse, Trackur, Technorati, Google Alerts, Google Search, StreamReaders and RSS Feedreaders. In fact, due to the nature of this area solutions can often be “crafted” using one or more of these free tools.
These tools index most of the major media types: Blogs, Forums, Images, Videos, News, Twitter and some provide “good enough” source summary stats and influence scores. The perception of “good enough” is enhanced by the free nature of these tools. SocialMention is possibly closest to the features of paid tools.
There are limitations to use of these tools:
(i) Similar to the High Spec / High Cost tools, low cost tools are limited in their ability to index both Facebook and Linkedin.
(ii) The user will also require to validate each source in terms of topic relevance – a manual process as described in more detail above, is unavoidable.
(iii) There is no one tool that will do everything. This inevitably means learning and using multiple applications and interfaces. This has implications for search time and aggregating data. Moreover it also involves a larger commitment of time for learning; keeping abreast of where compromises exist in each tool and the changes that occur and are needed to “craft” and manage a solution.
There are pay offs and compromises within each tool or approach, some are indicated in Figure 2 below:
Figure 2 – Low Spec – Low Cost Tools Examined
|SocialMention||Social Mention: probably the closest to paid SMM tools as it allows you to explore / filter key sources from 2 perspectives: authors (number of relevant articles) and type of source e.g. photosharing, video, blogs etc. It is still incumbent on the user to validate sources and to explore relevance. There are some questions over the volume of responses and the level of information indexed. Not as exhaustive as paid tools in this area.|
|Google Search||Google Search: provides an influence rank of sources and a split by type of source (News, Blogs, Images, Videos, Updates, Discussions). For most source categories it is possible to search within the results. The information is not able to be exported. There are also no summary stats on individual sources.|
|Blogscope||Blogscope: is limited in the sources it selects (blogs only) but it provides an influence score (in terms of stars). It is possible to filter results by influence but difficult to extract the results for further processing.|
|Technorati||Technorati: is limited to the blogosphere but also provides an influence score. A useful resource in finding relevant blogs. The information is not able to be exported.|
|ViralHeat||Viralheat: provides summary stats on sources, it identifies a handful of the most influential sources across: Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and Video. It is limited in the results it provides.|
|Google Alerts||Google Alerts: provides posts with source information associated. This information can be extracted for further manipulation. There is no score or influence rank and this would need to be determined manually. There is a limit to mention returns of 50 and if Google Docs Spreadsheet is being used to aggregate this data, the limit is 20.|
|Trackur||Trackur: a more complete range of sources indexed (Digg, Delicious, Twitter, Facebook, News/Blogs, Images/Video and Custom Feeds) and provides an influence score which is searchable (in theory), this feature was disabled when tested.|
|Streamreaders||Streamreaders: allow you to search across Twitter for key search terms and also view profile information of those tweeting all from within the application. Examples include Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Seesmic. Unfortunately, they do not aggregate source statistics and are limited to the Twitter channel.|
|Feedreaders||Feedreaders: feedreaders can provide a solution to the requirement for multiple interfaces. Entering a range of RSS feeds from various search results with RSS feeds available can provide a more robust dataset that can be mined from one interface. RSSOwl is a good desk-top based, open source solution in this respect. Google Reader is also a decent free, hosted alternative. Feedreaders will not provide much in the way of source statistics and determining priority ultimately becomes a manual process.|
|Bespoke developed||Create your own Application: Free, hosted development environments like Yahoo Pipes can provide even more flexibility in terms of aggregating search data and may provide the key to developing a free or low cost solution that combines high volumes of relevant data with relevant source statistics. This may stretch the budding enthusiast however.|
Source: The Authors
Analysing Social Media Sources is undoubtedly a valuable pursuit. The range of tools available include free and paid tools and there are limitations in both. The paid tools are expensive and perhaps out of reach of many small businesses. The low cost tools involve compromising quality and performance or using multiple interfaces to find relevant information. They are also more time consuming to use.
There are numerous “good enough” solutions depending upon your viewpoint. If you are looking for a quick almost facsimile of a paid tool then a good starting point is SocialMention. If you wish to be a bit more robust in your approach then you could augment any approach with use of Blogscope and a Streamreader, like Hootsuite. If you must have everything in one place it would be worthwhile looking to a solution involving a Feedreader. If you want a solution that provides the best possible volume of responses and Source statistics, you will probably need to bespoke develop this.
“Low spec – low cost” solutions are undoubtedly the way forward for many small businesses but they require a level of practical knowledge in their use and an understanding of how they change and update over time. There is an opportunity to create a knowledge resource around low cost or free tools which does more than simply list the range of tools. It should go further in terms of practical tips and reasons why one tool is better than another.
As we move towards the end of this series of articles we will be attempting to create a more definitive “list” of free or low cost solutions that “compete” or to some extent “substitute” key features and functions of the high spec-high cost tools.
We would be interested in your contributions and hope you stay tuned and even tell others.