There are several free and paid-for tools available which allow you to keep track of conversations about your company online. Simon Quance looks at what's on offer.
Listening to what is being said about you or your business online has emerged as a critical part of a company's reputation management strategy. The multitude of social channels and communication technology enables customers to comment and feed back on experiences, products and services every time they interact with your brand, regardless of their location or the time of day.
This could be a tweet in response to a radio ad, a comment on fourquare when checking in at a restaurant, a conversation on a forum about a new model of car or a blog rant about poor customer service at a hotel. Whatever your business, today’s highly interactive and real-time environment means your reputation is exposed more than ever to customer comment, good or bad.
To amplify this issue, social channels are now highly interconnected, meaning one person’s forum post can become another’s Facebook post and a blog post can automatically become a Tweet. If the message is significant and reaches someone highly connected and influential, the comment can go viral very quickly, which is great news if it’s positive, and potentially disastrous if negative.
England cricketer Kevin Pieterson’s reputation may have been emphasised
rather than damaged by his recent Tweet about being dropped from the England cricket squad – but a hastily posted Tweet, even posted in error, can create a significant impact when read by someone who then chooses to use that information to enhance their own reputation and influence.
There are many different tools on the market to measure and monitor online reputation, some of which are free and others which require payment. So let's take a look what tools and techniques are available to businesses.
is a simple way to monitor your presence, and get an overview on conversations around your brand. Alerts is very easy to set up (only requiring a Google account) and can deliver coverage either as it goes live or as a report every morning.
It can be useful for alerting you to a building story or service issue, but as with all monitoring techniques, the quality of the keywords you use when setting up any monitoring is vital. You really need to think about the way people might refer to your business or service, rather than defaulting to the way you refer to it in-house or in your marketing communications. Include common misspellings or even shortened terms (like textish) in your search to be sure you capture as much as you can.
It is also important to note that the service is not complete and while it is good for traditional news and blog coverage, it doesn’t tend to cover community mentions (forums & message boards) and real-time discussions (Twitter), so cannot be relied upon for total coverage. That said it should be the first base for all brands, and Google trends can also give you a sense of how your brand mentions trend and differ over time.
Other free tools include:
- Yahoo Pipes, a web app that provides a UI for aggregating web feeds and web pages.
- Boardreader, a search engine for forums and boards.
- Blogpulse, a search engine and trend discovery system for blogs.
- Social Mention, a social media search engine that searches user-generated content such as blogs, comments, bookmarks, events, news and videos.
It’s key to recognise you can’t capture every single mention, however thoroughly you set any of these up. Some mentions and references can sit behind password protection and are invisible to general monitoring measures, so don’t assume that you will pick up everything that’s been said about you online.
Nonetheless, these tools will certainly make you aware of a buzz about your brand or business. Once you are aware of a thread or theme, you can augment the search yourself to ensure you have all the key comments and key contributors, though it’s worth noting that significant volumes of conversation are best managed using paid-for monitoring services.
Paid services have proliferated recently, with each delivering slightly different results. Some offer automated sentiment evaluation, which is a useful way to get a base measure of how sentiment is impacting on your brand, but this is not always specific enough to help you identify exactly who is saying what or how influential they are in the conversation. Only manual insight – actually reading and understanding individual posts - can give you a complete picture.
It’s really important to decide what you want to measure and then pick the tool that best delivers those results. Tools we use include Brandwatch
and Radian 6
, which are considered market leaders by many.
Brandwatch has a good wealth of data, as it uses its own search technology to hunt for mentions, but can be a bit inflexible on individual channel results. Radian 6 is more flexible and has great reporting tools, but doesn’t produce the volume of results gathered using some other services. The other tools we have trialled all cut the social media chatter in slightly different ways, all of which can be useful depending on your objectives for measuring activity. Critically, this can also depend on cost: monthly monitoring and more in-depth reports can be expensive.
These offerings include:
- Scoutlabs, a real-time social media brand monitoring & management solution recently acquired by Lithium.
- Attensity360, originally Biz360 before Attensity's acquisition, is a research and intelligence solution that aggregates, measures and analyses news media and consumer opinion information from a vast amount of traditional and social media sources.
- BuzzDing is a social media monitoring, online reputation management and customer engagement platform.
As with all services, the trick is getting the balance right between what you want to monitor and how much you want to pay for it. Once you move beyond purely monitoring and start to engage with the conversation around your brand, a long-term affordable solution is the best way to ensure you get early notice of any social mentions of your business and monitor the effectiveness of your responses.
Social media solutions
Twitter’s own search function
is useful for evaluating short-term references to your brand, but the site doesn’t save much historic data on searches, so looking for older references is difficult. Paid-for tools do save historic Twitter data, but they can be expensive to access as a one-off.
Twitter search is also not very good with advanced search options such as geographical location. For free real-time monitoring, it’s a good idea to importresults from a specific Twitter search to an RSS reader (such as Feed Demon
) and set the reader up to push those results directly to your desktop as they happen.
Facebook removed its own network-wide monitoring of pages (Facebook Lexicon) in February this year to concentrate on providing brand pages more data through Facebook Analytics. Regularly checking your own Facebook brand page statistics using Facebook Analytics will help you understand when and how people are interacting with your profile and you can also see where users are located.
Facebook is still limited in terms of monitoring brand conversations, as wall posts and chat cannot be monitored. Some of the better paid-for services will produce results from Facebook discussions, although these pages are currently not very popular, so you are likely to get very limited results for monitoring such activity.
Aggregators and others
Aggregators can be a useful way to visualise free monitoring results. They essentially gather a lot of different social media searches and deliver them in a single page view. This can be very visual, for example Dipity
, or delivered in a news format, as preferred by tools such as Leapfish
. There are also aggregators that feed social media search results direct to your browsers such as Flock
Again, how you monitor and gather brand mentions should be completely determined by what you want to monitor and how you want to depict those results. Remember, the more time and attention you devote to setting up any ongoing monitoring activity will directly impact the quality of the results you get and how quickly these results can be deciphered. Additionally, many aggregators deliver continuously refreshed real-time results, so you may find this to be a problem if you are handling bigger volumes of mentions. It’s possible to miss vital tweets or comments which could ultimately have an impact on your customer service levels.
Widgetised homepages such as Netvibes
are another way of gathering news and information about your business or brand using a single view. Essentially they allow users to harvest information using widgets that you can install on your own unique homepage. These widgets are effectively tiny elements of other websites and can include news, images, video and social media search results from sites such as Twitter.
When set up right these pages deliver a single view of many of the channels that impact your social media reputation, but again it depends on your needs and the volume of results that are returned on your brand search terms. Monitoring is a first step to becoming accountable for your brand reputation online.
I believe it will be viewed as negligent for any business (especially in public ownership) to not monitor its own mentions via social media in the future, in fact we are probably at that point already for any business with a mass market consumer product line that requires a substantial traditional customer service operation. For example, would you let a phone ring off the hook in a customer service centre knowing that there was an angry and influential customer on the other end of the phone? Of course you wouldn’t - so why make the same mistake online?
Good quality monitoring can often result in actionable insight, leading to a number of possible outcomes including online customer service, issue resolution or product promotion through PR and social media outreach. In some cases, it can even feed research and development and guide the launch of new product lines.
How open each business is to this freely available feedback about their products or services varies substantially, but not doing the basics and listening is a big mistake and at least gives competitors who are listening a potentially significant advantage.
How you use the actionable insight from monitoring (and that insight might include lots of happy customers or no mentions at all) is critical. It is possible to use the channels for short term issue resolution but that doesn’t equate to a sustainable strategy. The truth is that listening to customers in social media can be a powerful catalyst for change within any business. Planning for this requires quality monitoring data to guide a considered and balanced strategy that uses the right channels accurately and effectively.
Simon Quance is head of social media strategy at 20:20