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Social Media Monitoring: Where to Start?

Effective Listening to Online Conversations Requires Automation

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Screenshot of twitter on computer Mary Turner/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Social media monitoring involves "listening" to social media conversations, tracking what's being said and measuring various forms of expression online in order to gain insights or knowledge into trends and other activities.

It could be as simple as manually participating in one or more social networks to see for yourself what people are saying and doing. Or it could involve using a software tool to monitor particular keywords that people are using in social media conversations, such as "train travel" or "Florida vacations."

But more often for businesses, social media monitoring involves the use of sophisticated apps and services to automate and quantify the monitoring in order to gain insights from the voluminous data available across the social mediasphere. These apps offer complex dashboards with displays of data that pull social media content from a wide variety of platforms.

Most perform simple tracking functions and count mentions of a company and its competitors.

Beyond such simple functions, many social media monitoring programs also employ sophisticated algorithms created by linguists and computer scientists to monitor millions of status updates, tweets, blog posts and comments across multiple social networks in order to allow users to determine such things as:

  • positive and negative sentiments
  • trending or popular topics of conversation
  • particular behavior types
  • responses to particular campaigns, product launches, other events
  • correlations between attributes of anything
  • frequency of public customer complaints or criticisms

Social Media Monitoring Apps

Professional apps for monitoring what people are saying in social media come in various flavors, including limited free versions. Many are sold as a subscription-only service with tiered pricing.

Examples of monitoring apps by type:

  • Social Mention offers a free tool that lets people type in a keyword and research its mentions across a wide variety of social media sources. This Social Mention Tutorial explains how it works.
  • Research.ly and Sentiment140 are tools specifically for tracking chatter on Twitter. Research.ly's PeopleBrowsr service lets you type in a keyword or name and see a ton of statistical data about that topic. It offers free trials and premium subscriptions.
  • Sentiment140 is a free service that attempts to analyze sentiment from the tone of conversation on Twitter.
  • Sprout Social is a fast growing social media management tool that brings together into a unified interface a lot of chatter from different social networking platforms and attempts to help businesses evaluate it to optimize their engagement methods. It's aimed at smaller or moderately sized businesses with prices that start at $39 monthly.
  • SocialBakers is a more robust premium program for monitoring, tracking and measuring social media activity. Its "Analytics Pro" software starts at $50 a month.
  • Radian6 is a powerful monitoring and analytical tool owned by the online business software company, Salesforce. It's an expensive, enterprise-class social monitoring and management platform. Pricing starts at $600 a month.

Analytics and Metrics

In the rapidly growing field of social marketing, monitoring social media is just the first step toward using social analytics platforms to evaluate a ton of data or social metrics in order to gather useful business intelligence.

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