Join and get your FREE copy of our How to Analyse Social Data Workbook
Social Intelligence Tools
Social Listening Tools
Social Media Monitoring
Sponsored
Tools

Key Features and Factors to Consider When Buying Social Media Monitoring and Listening Tools

Investing in a new social media tool? Social media monitoring? Social analytics? Social listening?  

Don’t buy anything until you’ve read this article.

With so many social media tools out there it can be a minefield trying to select the right one to fit your needs. It can even be difficult to tell them apart. Sometimes it might just be one tiny aspect of functionality that will swing your decision…

While tool demos are great, it’s never that easy when you go to use it yourself.  Even going through long RFP processes can lead to the wrong choice because you don’t always know the right questions to ask or the functionality to look out for.

And the thought of getting locked into a year’s contract can make the best of us a little hesitant in making the decision.  Make a dud choice and you’re stuck with a tool you hate for a year.

There’s also the fact that there is no single tool or service provider that can effectively measure and address all aspects of social media.

Yeah, we said it:  no one tool can give you everything.

But don’t be disheartened. There is a way to properly compare tools and decide on the one that’s best for you.

Our partners at Ideya have recently published a report offering you a comparison of 173 different social tools to help you select the right tool for you.  

This is the most comprehensive tools report we’ve read so far, and, currently in its 8th year of publication,  continues to be a leading reference point.

In this bumper article, we’ll highlight the key features and factors to consider when making a social tools purchase.  At the end of the article, you can also access a free presentation by Ideya, in which they provide further detail about the considerations you’ll make, as well as a bit more insight into the tools themselves.

You can also gain access to a sample of the report and we’ll provide the links if you’d like to buy it.
And, as a bonus, we’ve also created a ‘Questions to Ask Cheat Sheet’ if you want to compare the tools yourself.

Want to skip to the right section?

Tool Type

Knowing what you want the tool to be able to do is a great place to start.  There are many different types of tools on the market and they all treat the data in a slightly different way. What you want to be able to do with the data will determine the tool type you are looking for.  

The Ideya report categorises tools into eight types:

  • – Social Media Monitoring: the tools that allow you to gather, categorise, analyse, monitor and       possibly engage in online conversations about brands, products, competitors, industry and other topics across different social media platforms.
  • – Social Listening: the tools that provide the basic capability of collecting online conversations based on user specific search queries and offer basic insights through the analysis of those conversations.
  • – Social Intelligence: the tools that offer quantitative and qualitative analysis of social data to guide decision making and offer deeper understanding of consumer behaviour, audience segmentation, sentiment towards specific topics, deeper trend analysis, prediction, clustering and much more.
  • – Social Media Analytics: the tools that offer standard metrics such as volume of mentions, tweets and impressions for a collection of online conversations. They also often have the capacity to analyse the effectiveness of organic and paid social efforts and gauge ROI.
  • – Social Media Management: the tools that help companies manage their brand presence on major social networks by offering management, and often the analysis of user’s own social media accounts.  Their primary focus is engagement with consumers, building an online presence and reputation management.
  • – Social Media Marketing:  the tools that facilitate the company’s engagement with their customers, fans and followers and increase brand awareness and reach to new audiences across social media.
  • – Social Media Customer Care: the tools that facilitate a company’s engagement with their customers across multiple social channels, by providing powerful social engagement, analytics and workflow management.  
  • – Social Suites: integrated social media solutions that typically perform multiple functionalities such as listening, publishing, customer engagement, analytics and content creation through a single interface and replace several social point solutions with one integrated product.  

We advise thinking through what you want to use your new social tool for before going any further.

Key Features and Factors to Consider

Ideya offers a strategic approach to considering and employing social tools and services.
This approach emphasises three key areas to consider before you make a purchase, as well as highlighting a few other options worth taking into account.  

  •      – Data Management
  •      – Data Analysis and Visualisation
  •      – Process Management and User Interface
  •      – Other Factors

A word of warning: we know this step is not the most glamorous but if you’re doing your due diligence properly this will help.

Data Management

Under the data management banner, you’ll want to consider data acquisition in terms of data acquisition, data alerts, data export, API integration and data archiving.

Data Acquisition

You’ll want to know where the data is coming. This will include:

  •      – Media Coverage
  •      – Geographic Coverage
  •      – Language Coverage
  •      – Industry Specific Coverage

Think about the important media sources for your company (hint, more than just Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).  You need to consider the regions that you want to be able to cover and the languages you want to analyse. Depending upon your industry, you may also want to look at any industry specific coverage.  

You’ll also want to know about data latency, that is how long it takes to retrieve the data.  This can be from a few seconds to 48 hours depending on the data source and processing.

Data quality and cleansing is also an issue, you’ll want to make sure you’re able to cleanse your data for spam, inappropriate mentions and duplicates. Check to see how this works with a particular tool before making an investment.  

Data Alerts

How are the data alerts set up?  You’ll need to consider if they are standard alerts, triggered by a specific keyword or phrase that is monitored or threshold alerts that are triggered when key metrics fall below or rise above a threshold you have set up.  

You should then consider how these alerts are delivered (by email, RSS feeds or SMS) and how frequently.

Data Export

Data export is a big thing for us at DRJN because we do manual analysis and run bespoke algorithms. If you’re looking to do a little more with your data, you’ll want to consider:

  • – Can you export data.  From the 173 solutions analysed in the Ideya report, 88% of the tools allowed for some level of data export.
  • – How much data you can export each day.  Some tools may place caps on what you can do.
  • – The format of the export.  For example, xls, csv, pdf.

API

You might also want to understand more about the tools’ Application Programming Interface (API). This is important when you have more complex social intelligence programmes and want to build on or integrate the tool into other processes.

Data Archiving

If you want complete control over your data or to perform analysis based on compiled data, you’ll want to make sure that the tool allows for data archiving.

Data Analysis and Visualisation

There’s rather a lot to consider when it comes to thinking about data analysis and visualisation features.  You might want to take into account:

Media Statistics

This is where you need to think about the types of metrics you want to be able to track with your tools because different tools offer different metrics. For instance:

  • – Channel Metrics: metrics unique to specific channels like Facebook or Twitter.
  • – Cross Channel Social Performance: that provide performance metrics across multiple social channels (e.g Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram) including owned channel metrics and earned channel metrics.  
  • – Category Metrics: like audience metrics, social listening or social media monitoring (sentiment, reach), engagement metrics, content performance metrics, total exposure metrics, social graph, customer service metrics or customer relationship metrics.

By understanding what you want to achieve with the tool, you’ll get a clearer picture of what metrics will be important to you.

Filtering and Sorting

You’ll also want to consider how the tools’ results can be filtered.  For example, by media, language, geography, topic, sentiment, demographic.  And also how they can be sorted. For example, influence, time, source, relevance.

And, a big one for us at DRJN – if you can create your own filters.

Sentiment Analysis

While proven not to be the most reliable analysis from social tools, you may still want to understand how sentiment analysis works on the tools that you are considering.  Areas to explore include:

  •      – How sentiment is calculated
  •      – The key sentiment metrics covered
  •      – The coverage of sentiment analysis
  •      – The coverage of sentiment analysis across all languages you analyse
  •      – The accuracy of the sentiment analysis and algorithm effectiveness

Influencer Analysis and Profiling

There’s a lot of chat about influencer analysis and influencer marketing, and a lot of tools offer you some way of identifying influencers, advocates and detractors.  But bear in mind that these tools can run influencer analysis and profiling in different ways. You’ll want to consider:

  •      – How the influencer analysis is run
  •      – The key metrics included and what these metrics mean
  •      – What profiling information is given
  • One thing we would recommend looking at is if social network analysis is run.  The Ideya report shows only 10% of the tools covered actually run social network analysis.  For influencer analysis, this is important because it observes the structure and impact and quality or effectiveness of a relationship between individuals or a group of individuals or organisations.

In an easy to understand sense, instead of focusing on the number of followers a person has, social network analysis looks at the strength of relationships between the connections.  And, if we do say so ourselves, is a much better basis for identifying influencers.

Audience Analysis and Targeting

If you’re looking to understand your audience and what they talk about a little deeper, you’re going to want to find out more about what the tools offers in terms of audience analysis.  

Many tools offer basic audience analysis based on demographic data, geolocation, gender, languages, values and digital behaviour, however some tools do go a bit deeper. You’ll want to ask questions about:

The metrics used for audience analysis.  Are they simple metrics or more advanced? Do they offer online habits, affinities and interests or personality and psychological insights?

  • If you can properly segment the data based on audience insights.  For instance, while age can be given for a group of posts, you generally cannot segment the data on age (something that annoys us at DRJN).
  • If you can create and compare custom audience key differences.

Viral Content Tracking and Analysis

If one of your business objectives is to measure campaign and content performance then viral content tracking will be for you.  You’ll want to find out if this is available, how it is measured (read post, share post), and what metrics are covered, such as:

  •      – Measure of spread
  •      – Social velocity direction
  •      – Duration of conversation

Trend Analysis

If you’re looking to understand changes in conversation or behaviour over a period of time then you’ll want to look out for trend analysis functionality.  To understand this functionality you should be asking questions about:

  •      – What you can monitor on trends.  For instance, changes in conversation, hashtag usage.
  •      – How the trends are monitored and filtered (and also how you can get notifications).
  •      – How far back you can search historically.

Topic and Theme Analysis

If you’re looking at any social listening capabilities you will want to understand how the topic and theme analysis works. Pay particular focus on how you filter and segment the data, and how much control you have over that.  You’ll also want to understand more about cleansing the data and your ability to delete comments.

Word/Tag Cloud

We would argue that word and tag clouds are some of the most basic functionality. We’ve never found a word cloud that we’ve liked but it can be an ok starting point to direct research – depending upon the question you are trying to answer.  Look out for what the word cloud can filter:

  •      – Frequently discussed words
  •      – Frequently discussed brands or organisations
  •      – Frequently discussed locations
  •      – Frequently discussed media
  •      – Frequently discussed sentiment
  •      – Frequently used emojis

Clustering

If understanding the relationship between words is something that is important to you, you’ll want to look for clustering functionality.  This shows the most common words and connection between words that are commonly used together.

Competitive Analysis

If you want to benchmark your performance against your competitors then you’ll want to find out more about a tool’s competitive analysis capabilities.  

  • – How does the tool compare to it’s/your competitors?  For instance, against an industry category or selected business competitors.
  • – What are the key measures? For instance, reach, share of voice, sentiment, product feature analysis or impact against competitor.

Predictive Analysis

This is when you’re looking for a more mature capability to assist in predicting future behaviour.  Of all the tools outlined in the Ideya report, 18% have predictive analysis capabilities.

Key uses for predictive analysis could be purchase history, customer service interactions, sentiment and demographics predicting customer churn, customer satisfaction, next purchases and customer lifetime value.  Predictive analytics may also be used for predicting trends, issue impact, content matching, post timing recommendations and much more.

Campaign Monitoring

The base standard functionality if you are analysing campaign performance and looking to deploy campaigns across channels more rapidly.  Many of the tools offer campaign measurement and optimisation functionality. Think about what you need in terms of:

  • – How you want to measure campaign performance.  Is it content performance, channel performance, influencer identification?
  • – Metrics you want to measure.  Incremental sales/revenue, conversions, achieved mission, leads per dollar spent.
  • – How the management works.  Do you want to be able to reply, archive delete, mark as spam, move to tag?
  • – How the inbox works.  Can you get mentions, direct messages?
  • – Is there content archiving functionality?

Process Management and User Interface

When thinking about the process management and user interface you’ll need to explore the dashboard, workflow management, engagement function and publishing, and customer relationship management.  


Dashboard

The dashboard is really important as this is what you will be looking at each time you access the tool.  We find that the dashboard aesthetic and user interface is one of the big things that stops us from using a tool.  Before making a purchase make sure you can stand to look at the dashboard design and that the UX is easy to use. You’ll also want to look at:

  • – Are there standard or pre-defined dashboards.  What do they do and what business case will they be useful for?
  • – Are there customisable dashboards so you can design the dashboard to meet your needs?

Workflow Management

If you’re working in a team, need to share insights across multiple stakeholders, have multiple social accounts, have many pages not monitored or controlled by corporate departments or work in a highly regulated industry it is likely that workflow management will be important to you.  Look out for:

  • – What productivity and collaboration functionality is available and how this works
  • – If there is permission management functionality and how this works
  • – If the workspace is customisable with social inbox, folders and tags
  • – If there is a central file library
  • – If you are able to set processes, priority levels and classifications
  • – If you are able to directly engage with audiences on the platform
  • – If there is the ability to leave comments or reviews for approval
  • – Account management features that allow you to track compliance, connections, profiles, account history and statistics

Engagement Function and Publishing

If you want to be able to interact with your audiences or post content via the tool then you’ll be looking for engagement and publishing functions.

Engagement functionality allows you to interact with social authors one to one, while the publishing function allows you to publish your owned content to your channels.  Look out for these elements of publishing functionality to make sure the tool does what you need it to do:

  •      – Administration functionality
  •      – Managing multiple streams and accounts
  •      – Facilitate drafting, editing, content scheduling based on user roles
  •      – Content distribution
  •      – Assigning statues and workflow
  •      – Assigning links and attachments
  •      – Event login

Customer Relationship Management

If managing social contacts is top of your agenda then you’ll want to look at CRM integration. Again, you should first have a think about what you want to do with the data then find out if the tool allows you to:

  • – Organise contacts and keep track of their communication history, user profile, notes and reminders. – As well as looking at their social profiles, sorting and flagging messages.
  • – Combine transactional data and conversations with personal information from social media.

Other Factors

There are a few other factors that you might want to consider:  


Pricing

Pricing can be a big thing with social tools. Tools can be priced slightly differently and you may get locked into a year’s contract.  Think about:

  • – Your budget and how much you’d be comfortable spending on a tool.
  • – What pricing model is offered by the vendor: free (pilot/trial, introductory offer), free commercial open source, or subscription/software as a service. How long the contract is for.
  • – How the tools charges.  For example, monthly, quarterly or annually, or by project engagement.
  • – The pricing structure and packages.  For example, volume of data, number or queries or other ways.

Clients and Partners

Keen to know if the tool already works with businesses like yours?  Find their sample client list and assess the type of client they typically attract.  You might also want to know who their partners are if you’re looking to integrate solutions.  

Year of Release

New social tools are frequently released. Have a look and see how long they’ve been around for.  It’s also good to find out how their product has developed over time and the future direction they are moving in.

Product Applications / Use Cases

This goes back to the first question you should be asking yourself before comparing social tools – what do you want to use the tool for?  Example applications might be:

  •      – Marketing
  •      – Communications
  •      – Monitoring
  •      – Market Research
  •      – PR
  •      – Event Management
  •      – Investor Relations (IR)
  •      – Product Development
  •      – Customer Care and Support
  •      – Advertising
  •      – Search Engine Marketing
  •      – Sales Lead Generation
  •      – Operations
  •      – Human Resources
  •      – Legal (Corporate Governance/Risk Management), Compliance
  •      – Crisis Management
  •      – Open Source Intelligence

Industry Focus

Have a look at their industry focus to make sure they have experience in servicing businesses like yours or that they offer additional support for the nuances in industry sectors.  For example, compliance understanding in the financial services market.

Company Size and Offices

You should also check out if they typically work with businesses of a certain size.

It’s likely that there is going to be a lot of flux in the social data industry. This may increase your desire to work with tried and trusted suppliers.  Also, if you’re comforted by having representatives and offices close at hand or that you’re in the same time zone as your account manager or support, check out where the tools’ offices are located.

Additionally…

We have also added a couple of points that haven’t been covered in the Ideya report that we know from experience are important for you:

User Experience

You’ll need to test the tool (not run through the demo with someone who uses the tool every day) to see how you like the user experience.  If you’re lost when you use the tool and don’t know what all the buttons, filters or functionality do then you’re not going to get the most from it.

Aftercare Service

Speaking with our clients and membership community, they tell us that the major consideration they didn’t think through was the level of aftercare service available.  When you get stuck you want to be able to speak to a knowledgeable person. Think about how you want your aftercare delivered:

  •      – Online training and forums
  •      – Account manager at your chosen tool
  •      – Purchasing additional help and support when it’s needed

Check out what is on offer from your chosen tool and how much it is going to cost.  
The Ideya report will provide details in each product profile on what type of support is available to a client.  For example, telephone, email, online customer support, support portal offering video tutorials or webcasts, dedicated account management support, online on-board training, success training.  

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to buying a new social tool.  The different factors outlined in this article and the Ideya report will vary in importance depending upon what you’re looking to do with the tool.  You may also find that not all the tools do everything you need them to do so then it becomes important to look at the partnerships they have and see what tools you can combine.  

Taking the time to decide on what the important factors are for you and asking questions to the vendors is really important – you don’t want to get stuck with a tool you hate or don’t feel comfortable using.  We’d also advise pushing for a trial of the tool. There’s one thing being shown a demo by a skilled user and another working out how everything works by yourself.

And, if you’re slightly overwhelmed we definitely recommend checking out the comparison table in the Ideya report.  This is super helpful as they show you what tools you should be looking at for your functionality requirements.

Good luck!

Ideya Presentation

Here’s the Ideya presentation about the report.

Ideya Sample Report

Or if you’re looking to see a sample of the report you can get that HERE.

Ideya Full Report

If you’d like to make a purchase of the full report, you can do that HERE. The full Ideya report has a great comparison section so you can quickly select the right tools based on your specific business, goals, product requirements and budget as well as get answers to all the questions we’ve gone through in this article.    

DRJN Questions to Ask Social Tools Cheat Sheet

If you want to do the legwork yourself then you can download our cheat sheet HERE.  This guide has all the questions you should ask when considering features, factors and functionality of social tools.   


Want to share your experiences with social tools? Join DRJN for free and share your experiences!

Join Now
Jillian Ney
the UK's first Dr of Social Media and a Digital Behavioural Scientist. For over ten years I've been analysing social data to find insights into how people make decisions. I now use this knowledge to help brands to make their social data work harder for them and turn noisy social chat into actionable marketing intelligence quickly. More content by

Want to write for us?

Interested in writing content for us? We'd love to hear from you.

Write for us