My second post for OxonDigital:
…If you don’t know the answer to this question then you’re doing it wrong!
At the last OxonDigital meetup I was happy to be on the first Q&A panel to talk about social media. There were some excellent questions including one about monitoring that I thought deserved further attention. I must begin with an apology because I don’t remember who actually asked the question on the night. If it was you let me know in the comments You asked what options were available for a small operator to monitor for mentions of your business or yourself online.
The first question – Why?
Before I get too deep into the tools I think it’s important to take a step back. First you must answer the question ‘why?’ Why do you want to monitor online communication about you or your brand? I hope no one is thinking ‘because so-and-so told me to!’ There is no absolute right answer but there are few wrong answers. The reasons are individual to you and your company but probably include at least one of the following:
- Knowing instantly when someone says something about you
- Hearing what is being said about you, your brand or your products
- Responding quickly to customer service queries
- Keeping track of the competition
- Identifying conversations where your brand could get involved
- Finding people of influence in your industry
- Understanding the most important sites to monitor
Now that we know why you want to know who is talking about you online, we need to decide where to monitor. Wikipedia (obviously meaning it’s true) has 204 ‘social networks’ listed as being ‘major active’ sites. There are many, many more. Then there is the small question of 75 million WordPress blogs, 55 million Tumblr blogs, 12 billion forum posts and that’s just the public stuff! No, you don’t need to monitor them all, but how many should you be watching? This comes down to time and budget. For an individuals, start-ups and SMEs you can go a long way by monitoring just a few select sites. Twitter is always a good starting point, alongside the blogosphere and the forums.
There are a number of paid services which will promise the world and from all accounts some of these services are excellent. However I’m going to focus on free systems which are usually more than enough for individuals, start-ups and SMEs.
Google Alerts should be everyones’ best friend. Depending on how quickly you want to be alerted you can receive the latest content matching your search query by email immediately, daily or weekly. Setting search queries on your company name, employee names and products will give you a decent picture of where you are being mentioned online. For housekeeping purposes I would recommend setting your alerts to be emailed to you daily, and then setting rules/filters for your email system so they feed into a specific folder. Your alerts will be there in the folder when you want them. If you need instant alerts then you’ll obviously need to keep them in your standard inbox to see them quickly.
Let’s move on to Twitter. For live monitoring I recommend the desktop version of Tweetdeck. I always have this open on my laptop, with a number of columns running to track myself, Bright Digital and, of course, OxonDigital. I also have columns for people I have added to private Twitter lists of relevant, interesting or influential people in my industry. Tweetdeck lets me choose the way in which I am alerted to a new tweet in any given column with a popup, sound, or nothing. Other tools I’ve used to do a similar job are Seesmic and Hootsuite.
The Tweetdeck mobile app lets me take these same lists and searches with me on my iPhone too.
A number of services offer the equivalent of Google Alerts for Twitter. The one I have been using recently is TweetAlarm.com. The features and interface are similar Google Alerts and when I’m out and about I’m more likely to see a new email notification than a tweet notification.
The hardest part of monitoring on Twitter is probably storing and making sense of the data you collect. (I’m assuming you aren’t paying Twitter for access to the Firehose) None of the storage tools available are 100% reliable. They are hampered by Twitter server restrictions, private accounts and other roadblocks. One of the better systems is The Archivist. I’ve used the desktop version extensively with great success. It works well as long as you don’t need to archive more than 1,000 tweets a day. The other limitation is having to manually search and export the data. Backupify is a much talked about Twitter back up service which automates the process and sends you frequent batches of tweets matching your searches. I have rarely managed to make this work. Even when I request the content manually I rarely get what I need. Maybe you’ve had a better experience with it? In the end, here at Bright Digital, we built our own application to store tweets on our specified search terms.
To monitor forums I would normally recommend BoardTracker but, as appears to be becoming customary for sites that I talk about on OxonDigital, it is currently offline being redeveloped with promised improvements. So instead I will talk about BoardReader. Like any search engine BoardReader uses search queries, however the way that message boards are built makes it very difficult for standard spiders to access the data. BoardReader searches in a way specific to message boards and brings back either posts, topics or forums related to your search. Once registered you can setup email alerts for your searches as well.
There are a huge number of message boards out there, and a lot of spam content, so I would advocate using board search tools to identify the forums of interest and relevance to you. You can then sign up for those sites and search manually. This will be a massive help if you decided to get involved in the conversation (that’s a whole different post though!)
You will already be receiving a lot of blog content through Google Alerts, but I wanted to point out a couple of specific blog search engines which are also useful. Of course there is Google Blogs, but that will return very similar results to your Alerts. Technorati has been around for a long time now, offering a useful directory structure. I think it is limited however by only indexing 1.2 million sites (remember the 75 million WordPress sites mentioned earlier?). Finally, IceRocket which works in a similar way to Google Blogs.
Congratulation. You have now collected thousands of pieces of data showing what people have been saying about you, your company and your products online. But what to do with it?
If you are using one of the paid for services, they will be offering you sentiment analysis on the content using NLP (natural language processing) technology. Call me a skeptic but I’m yet to see an NLP system which is truly accurate enough. We’ve all heard the urban legend about the company CMO woken up in the middle of the night by an automatic alert system because someone called one of his products “badass”.
I know of one agency still using real people to analyse content. This is an incredibly labour intensive way of doing things, and there is still a large amount of interpretation to take into account but it must be more accurate than a computer program.
If the volume of data you have is manageable then why not look through it yourself and decide whether comments are positive or negative, and what subject they relate to? You will very quickly get a picture of what parts of your company people are being nice about, and those they aren’t. If you are lucky it may even be constructive criticism and you may find out what they don’t like, but don’t hold your breath.
From the data you have collected you will also be able to work out which sites are the most important for your ongoing monitoring . If you haven’t been mentioned once on Piston Heads this quarter then maybe you can focus your time somewhere else instead.
What are you using to monitor your reputation? Do you do it yourself, in-house or with an external agency? Have you tried any managed services? If your experience has been different let us know with a comment below.