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Are social media monitoring services right for you?

For companies that lack the resources or in-house expertise to invest in tools, social media monitoring services may offer a solution.

What are the benefits and downsides of using a social media monitoring service, as opposed to performing social media monitoring in-house?

Here are some of the potential benefits of social media monitoring services:

Objectivity. If I'm using a social media monitoring service, I know that whatever feedback I get is going to be objective. I need to handle social media data, which is essentially emotional data, with the same objectivity I would apply to the raw numbers of sales vs. inventory vs. production.

Monitoring expertise. A social media monitoring service can make sure that your brand is being sought out in the right places, because that's what they do. You don't have the hit-and-miss that you have if you're doing it on your own with a tool suite.

Planning services. Many times, a monitoring service offers more than just applying the tools for you. They also offer strategic planning services because they know this business -- they can help you develop a plan for what to do with the data once you get it, which is something many organizations struggle with.

Moderation services. Analyzing text is a tricky business, and you need a human involved to do a good job. On a forms site or a blog, a moderator can track everything that's being said and knows when to gather information. A lot of social media monitoring services offer a moderation service. But it's not enough to listen -- you also have to talk. If you've got a moderation service in place, the social media monitoring service will also stimulate more buzz about your product or service.

But keep in mind that there are a couple downsides to social media monitoring services:

Lack of specific industry knowledge. One of the downsides of using a service as opposed to doing social media monitoring yourself is that the service provider doesn't know your industry as well as you do. You've got a lot of subjective information and dialogue going on, and a service that doesn't know your industry or service as well as you do isn't going to pick up on everything.

Lack of integration. One of the big benefits of social media monitoring is that the data you draw in closes your business intelligence loop. You're integrated with your existing platform and you basically have feedback coming in that lets you know in real time how your marketing is going. It lets you know in real time about threats to your business or product from competitors. With a service, you don't have that closed loop. A service is going to give you reports and its systems stand apart from your systems. The lack of integration might not matter early on, but there will come a day when it does.

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I think the last point is the most important one - if you don't have integration, you ultimately won't get as much out of the monitoring services as you could. Think about that in advance before making the investment.