The Problem with Social Media Monitoring Tools

Brian Chappell By Brian Chappell
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Social media monitoring is a critical aspect to any well thought-out social strategy implementation. Many practitioners often question whether or not today’s tools justify the spend and, even more importantly, what tools should be used for their company’s specific situation. The honest truth that most vendors don’t want to talk about is that mosta tools fall short on delivering what they promise. From my experience testing and using 20 + different tools over the course of the last 3 years, this is simply the case.

I did find, however, that in some instances, robust, six- figure/month social monitoring suites can be the tool that saves brands thousands of hours a month in manual labor hours sifting through conversations. Surprisingly though, this has been a rarity.

At the end of the day, you are a marketer, a communications or PR practitioner. You should ask yourself – what has this tool given me that is actionable? That is the point many bloated software suites so far fail to deliver on.

More often than not the tools themselves give you fancy-dancy GUI charts that look pretty for the CEO but fall short on delivering actionable takeaways. The best data that can be derived from social media monitoring comes with the active day-to-day listening. I am talking about reading every single post, every single Tweet and every single mention of your company, or at least making a concerted effort at doing so.

The drill-up capabilities, the word clouds, and the automated brand health analysis reports tend to be more of a distraction than actually helpful. Instead of spending time on those reports you should take time to understand the conversation with actual effort by reading through the conversations. It will take many man hours of doing so before you can adequately help your customers or garner intelligence to funnel back into your product life cycle.

Tip: Look for a tool that facilitates easy reading, browsing and collaboration (think CRM) of  insightful conversations your audience might be having. Pay less attention to the reports.

My biggest gripes with the current marketplace consist mainly of the following issues:

Over Priced Solutions:

The pricing models behind many of the popular, robust tools simply do not play nice unless you are Wal-Mart and have seven-figure budgets per year.

The alternative is to utilize a less expensive DIY tool which can run you around $100 month, and incidentally there are not many of them catering to this price point. Most businesses do not get the kind of volume that warrants a robust monitoring tool. For many, I recommend using a free solution such as RSSOwl or spinning off your own free dashboard for most situations.

Spam Filtering (or a lack there of):

You would expect when you pay $30,000 a year on a tool that you wouldn’t find yourself still sifting through MFA sites, Amazon affiliate clones and other irrelevant blog/website mentions for your companies name, right? However, with almost every tool I have tested, spam is rampant. Many times spam can become such a problem that you have to alter your Boolean variables in such a way that you end up missing over half of the conversations about your brand.

It seems that writing a piece of logic into your system that would actually work would end up looking something like this:

If site has Amazon affiliate AND > 2 AdSense blocks AND > 4 keywords in a domain THEN = Spam.

I have even witnessed one social media monitoring firm (that shall remain nameless) state that their tool is “Spam Free.” What is funny is their tool is one that produces quite a bit of spam in the data set when compared to other monitoring suites.

Automated Sentiment Analysis:

Monitoring solution providers have pushed this technology onto the marketplace.

Automated sentiment analysis is something many of the higher-end solutions state they handle. Many practitioners who are looking to gauge brand health quickly tend to lean towards these sorts of automated reports. From my experience they are usually wildly inaccurate.

Many of the tools claim around 70-80% accuracy. That simply isn’t the case whenever I peruse the mentions to cross check those sentiment metrics. I, for one, question the act of declaring something Positive, Negative or Neutral in the first place. Sentiment is subject to various interpretation, making it hard to train  a robot to decipher a long blog post that might have multiple tonalities to it.

The other problem I see with many of these automated sentiment solutions is that users who end up relying on the scores tend to lose sight of the purpose in the first place: reading what your customers actually say. If you automate sentiment, you are missing all the golden insights that might be derived from your customers.

Tip: The qualitative feeling around a keyword or topic is much more meaningful when you do your due diligence and read people’s opinions on the matter. Stating whether something is 76% neutral, 30% negative and 4% positive based off of a robot’s interpretation of it really is futile.

Social Monitoring Tools Need To Improve

The idea of using a tool to monitor conversations about your company on the web is not entirely new, however the underlying technology to monitor sources such as Facebook, Twitter and other media outlets is still in its infancy. We have to remember that many of these tools are less than 3 years old.

I would like to see monitoring tools put more effort behind fighting spam, being more open about what their products can actually do and being more transparent about how their technology works. Many practitioners simply don’t have the technical know-how to understand how things work, or don’t, and they are easily sold solutions that are not good fits for their needs.

Bringing to light the real conversations and delivering qualitative reports that highlight actual impactful data is something I really would like to see as this space evolves.

Have you had frustration with a monitoring tool? If so, I would love to hear your story.

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About Brian Chappell
With over 8 years of web design and search engine optimization experience, Brian has developed an in-depth organic search optimization background that stems from working in one of the most competitive fields around. In his work with Ignite, Brian monitors and analyzes reputations across the web, as well as optimizes facets of social marketing such as engagement, social interaction and promotion. You can find his articles published across the web and in print magazines such as Search Marketing Standard.

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