Think Before You Pay Too Much for Social Media Monitoring

SMS Text

With the meteoric rise of social media marketing, it only makes sense that tools to monitor those marketing efforts would proliferate. Paid tools run the gamut, from blessedly affordable (for solopreneurs and small businesses) to outrageously expensive (only the big guys can even hope to afford them)

Just like Web analytics tools, social media reporting systems can provide a wealth of data. But, is all that data necessary? How much of it is even useful? For most small and even medium-sized organizations, I would argue that only a small slice of what most reporting tools spit out is actionable.

Please note: I am not suggesting that you cast your social media strategies out like proverbial bread upon the waters. If you’ve decided to add social media to your marketing mix, then you need to keep track of what’s going on and how it benefits your business. However, before you decide to sign up with the monitoring tool that shows up first in your Google search, you need to determine what you want to get out of your investment.

Track Only the Social Media Metrics That Matter

You can spend as much time messing with your social media tracking system as you do with social media itself. And, when you’re juggling many different marketing initiatives, you can’t afford another time drain. So, before you spend between $50 and $1,200 bucks a month for a tracking system that may well drown you in a sea of meaningless data, determine exactly what you want to track and why. The numbers you’re monitoring should be tied to the organizational and social media goals that will help you move forward.

In his brilliant blog post, Best Social Media Metrics: Conversation, Amplification, Applause, Economic Value, Web analytics authority Avinash Kaushik talks about how quickly businesses get sidetracked by things that don’t matter with social media. Instead, track just a few simple metrics each week or month that are indicative of success (or failure), such as:

  • Conversation rate, as measured by the number of comments, replies or brand mentions.
  • Amplification rate, as measured by retweets, shares and clicks.
  • Applause rate, as measured by number of favorite clicks, likes and +1′s.
  • Economic value, as measured by the amount of traffic each social media channel refers to your content/website, the behavior of social media visitors on your site (i.e. visitor loyalty, content consumption) and the number of social media visitors who complete certain goals (buy, subscribe, take a survey, etc.).

If you’re a brick & mortar or a company that markets only to a local audience, you may want to add geographic metrics for a snapshot of your progress among those you want most to reach.

Try Free Social Media Monitoring Options First

Unless you’re marketing an epic brand that generates consistently high levels of engagement – like Coca Cola, Oreos or Nike – the down-and-dirty information you need to check the pulse of your social media efforts can, most of the time, be garnered in less than an hour using free social media tracking tools. Choices include those provided by the social media site/channel itself (i.e. Facebook Insights, YouTube Analytics, etc.), independent developers and apps (TopsyHootSuiteBitly and a plethora of others), and website analytics programs.

The downside of this, of course, is that you must cobble together data from several different sources. But, once you do it a few times and know exactly what you’re looking for, it won’t take long. Grab the number you need and plop it into a pre-configured spreadsheet. If you’re tracking different campaigns (i.e. coupons, a specific content marketing initiative, etc.), make sure you segment that in your spreadsheet. Then, at a glance or with some simple charts and graphs, you can see changes, note trends and determine if your efforts are resulting in worthwhile outcomes.

I don’t think it’s necessary to do this analysis every day. Depending on the amount of interest your brand creates, you can do it weekly, semi-monthly or even monthly.

Carefully Evaluate Paid Social Media Monitoring Tools Before Purchase

If you just can’t bear the thought of gathering data from several different sites, even if they are free, then a social media reporting tool may be the next best option. But, you’ll need to evaluate your options carefully before diving in, as there are so-o-o-o many options out there.

Here are some key features to consider during the evaluation process:

  • Budget. Put social media monitoring in perspective with all your marketing objectives, both traditional and online. How much are you willing to spend? Could spending that amount preclude you from doing other, potentially more beneficial activities?
  • Demo. Will developers of the monitoring system allow you to try it out fully (not just some restrictive or watered-down version) for a period of time at no cost? Most will. My recommendation is to whittle down your list of possibilities before committing any serious time and energy to a demo. You should only try out your “short list.”
  • Number of channels the system can accurately monitor.One thing I learned from my own research efforts last year is that most tools are great at tracking Twitter because it’s such an open platform. Few tools, however, provide much meaningful data about the other channels. The current configuration of LinkedIn, for example, is particularly challenging; none of the systems I demoed were able to track anything beyond my personal activity. No monitoring of groups and no stats on the company page. If you’re a B2B marketer (the segment for which LinkedIn is king right now), that’s sure to be a let-down.
  • Number of accounts you can monitor without incurring added charges. This is an important thing to look into if you work for an agency or handle marketing for more than one business.
  • Ease of use. Choosing a social media monitoring tool that’s simple will encourage you to use it more often. Make sure the dashboard allows you to check everything at a glance. If you need to read an interminable list of updates and posts before getting to your magic metric (or worse, you need to export data into Excel to quantify things yourself), the system defeats the purpose of paid monitoring tools.
  • Frequency of data refreshing. This may not matter as much if you plan to check your monitoring tool only once or twice a week. But, if daily checks are necessary, make sure the tool you select refreshes its data throughout the day. If it doesn’t, then you might as well log onto each social media site and check for yourself.
  • Accuracy of reports. While you’re doing a demo, make sure the system’s data and reports accurately reflect what you see on the social media site itself. If that’s not happening, then you need to scratch that tool.

Have you had an interesting experience with researching, demoing or using social media monitoring tools? Please share your experience! Comment below or reply to me on Twitter at @martijen.

Jen Carroll
Previously a freelance business writer for more than 10 years, Jennifer specializes in content marketing and social media consulting for Web marketing agency Pole Position... Read Full Bio
Subscribe to SEJ!
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!
  • Robert Deans

    Great article Jen,

    You are absolutely right about about how easy it is to get disctracted.

    I think sentiment is an important aspect to monitor. It is so important to be able to respond to any negative sentiment and stop any potential issues snowballing with the viral power that social media currenly has.

    • Jennifer Carroll (@martijen)

      Thanks, Robert! I agree that sentiment monitoring is important; however, most of the low-cost options I reviewed did not offer it.

      Honestly, Google Alerts and a quick look through your social media streams will give you a very good feel for sentiment. For example, we work with a client that’s nationally known in the pet care industry. They have thousands of fans and followers. But, in less than an hour once a month, I can scan through their entire Twitter, Facebook and YouTube streams and know the good, the bad and the ugly.

      So, for a small business, I don’t think sentiment monitoring is a must-have feature, especially at the big bucks price.

      • Sandy

        I am speaking for myself now, not my company, and have to say that I agree with your excellent post & also agree that for the average client who is not Dell or Southwest Airlines, it doesn’t take long to eyeball social mentions & determine the few that have any sentiment but neutral. And as far as piecing together all the parts, I know there are sites that let you monitor several services at once (HootSuite, as I recall; Social Mention is another) that are free or cheap.

  • Mark Stegman

    Thanks Jen. Great timely article.

    Piece-mealing social analytics is a PITA for agency’s and a real headache when trying to train SMB’s to operate their own social campaigns. Having everything in one place helps to not miss important bits of info that can sometimes slip through the cracks when compiling reports. The cost of the software has to be affordable as social analytic and operating software is just one part of the campaign.

    Can anyone recommend software solutions being tested that could work for the SMB?


    • Jennifer Carroll (@martijen)

      The three I demoed last year were, and They are all very affordable options for small businesses. And, actually using one for 6-12 months can help you better gauge your need for a paid social media monitoring tool and how much value you’re getting for your money.

  • Ignite Visibility Social

    We have some clients that want all the bells and whistles with social media monitoring… But honestly, paying over $1,000 or even $500 a month for that type of service makes no sense unless you are a savvy enterprise level client. It really comes down to this, how much better does access to that data make you? This is the most important thing to consider… If it really makes an impact, sure, get the service.

    Great post.

    • Jennifer Carroll (@martijen)

      Exactly! If you aren’t going to take action on the data – or, more likely, you aren’t generating that much data to begin with – what’s the point in paying thousands each year. Like most agencies, we’ve got a handful of larger clients and lots of smaller ones. It can be tough to cover the expense of a pricey social media monitoring system if it’s out of reach for the majority of businesses we serve.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I’m still waiting for my “perfect” social media monitoring tool (which if it did everything I wanted I’d be more than willing to pay top dollar!), but I don’t know if it will ever actually exist. I think a lot of businesses think they need a social media monitoring tool because that’s what they are “supposed” to do. You really have to think about if it makes sense for your business and if it’s going to be worth the cost.

    • Jennifer Carroll (@martijen)

      Perfect would be nice but, I agree, may be unachievable…

  • Pia Sen

    A Very Nice Article indeed
    Your content is very useful and resourceful in the context of the importance of social media monitoring tools at organizational levels. However social engagement is just one part of a successful social media strategy. While engaging with the target audience, business organizations also need to listen carefully to conversations surrounding their brand/s, products and services, understand the sentiment behind the conversations and continue to do this consistently over a long run. Anyway nothing proves to be useful more than the Social Media Monitoring Tools in this regard.
    We have been writing Blogs on current matters of similar concerns
    Expecting you to share your views with us and please do keep on posting

    Thanks and regards
    Pia Sen