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Navigating the social media monitoring market

Trying to select the best social media monitoring tool for your company can result in overspending or in a patchwork of low-cost but inadequate tools.

How can organizations choose the best social media monitoring tools for their needs when the market is splintered into so many different options?

The problem is that social media monitoring is the tip of the iceberg with analytics. Analytics is the primary weapon that you can carry into the marketplace to cut through all the noise and remain competitive. When you look at social media monitoring tools, which are one of the frontline tools for using analytics, it's like you have to get a complete education in analytics to even know how to choose your first monitoring package. That's a disadvantage for the newcomer, because a lot of organizations want to get into the game and learn analytics and make themselves competitive with the big boys -- and they can, but the learning curve is horrendous. It's a problem when even the freebie tools out there are hard to understand.

Choosing the correct social media platform is a big part of that initial decision. It's a confusing thing to do because you're not always sure if the product you choose to do your monitoring will do justice to the platform you're supposed to be examining.

For example, there are a couple of packages for Twitter. There's one called TweetMe, there's another called BackTweets. Basically they're tracers that see exactly how pervasive the viral attempts to promote a product or service have been on the Twitter platform. Those particular products are Twitter-specific. Now, if you're shooting for Twitter-only, that's the kind of decision you want to make.

On the other hand, if you want to hit a broad audience and you want to hit metrics that are coming from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and WordPress, there are packages like Social Mention. Social Mention is a tool suite that streams all of the social media sites. There's a package called HootSuite, which is also multi-platform but has dashboarding built in. The problem there is all it's going to give you is marketing campaign planning metrics. If you're not trying to do marketing campaign planning, then it's not going to do you any good. The fragmentation is horrendous because of the number of platforms and because of the different purposes you might have for gathering the metrics.

With these suites, we're getting into trading dollars for time. There are tool suites that are going to give you everything -- all of the social media platforms, all of the metrics, campaign planning, marketing support and dashboarding. Basically one-stop shopping. The trouble is, you're going to pay more for those. While many packages are out there for free on the Internet, or for a very minimal cost, a suite like the ones I was just describing is a very powerful platform that will give you everything but you're going to pay for that. So the swap-off is you either go out and learn about this and pick out, very specifically, in this huge ocean of products, the one that's right for you, or you pay big bucks to get a suite that will do whatever you might want.

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Beyond the tips about lightweight vs. more comprehensive tools, I'd say one of the key things to consider is whether your organization is ready to use the information that these tools give you. No matter how complete the data set and no matter how cheap it comes, if you don't know how to respond to it, it's not going to be worth the money you pay.