What’s Your Favourite Tool For Monitoring Conversations?

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media monitoring recently. I’m presenting on the topic at a couple of upcoming conferences, and I’m spending an increasing amount of time working in this area in my day job.

623562_whispered_secret_1As conversations become increasingly fragmented – blogs and discussion boards/forums are no longer the only source of discussion out there – they’re becoming increasingly more complex to monitor.

What’s more, there are thousands upon thousands of conversations happening, in real-time, online. The sheer quantity is almost overwhelming and it’s only going up.

So what do we do?

There are plenty of tools out there that let us monitor online conversations…

…the free ones, for example…

…and the professional ones, for example…

The search and monitoring tools out there are almost as diverse as the media we’re monitoring, and I’m seeing increasing interest from organizations in using these tools to listen.

So, I have a question for you:

What is your favourite monitoring tool (or tools)?

What have you found to be the most comprehensive/easiest to use/most logical/most cost effective?

What services might the rest of us have missed?

(If you want to hear more about social media monitoring, I’m presenting a workshop on the topic as part of a "Social Media Master Class" at The Canadian Institute’s Social Media conference in December and I’m doing a session on the topic at PodCamp Toronto 2009.)

  • Although I use Google Alerts and Technorati Alerts, I’d have to say that so far, my favourite is one you mentioned here – Backtype.

    I think it’s an excellent method of seeing not only what’s being written about you, but about your competition as well. What business wouldn’t want to know about that? So for covering both personal and business needs, I think Backtype is an excellent resource.

  • Hey there Dave,

    Thanks for including Radian6 on the list of professional listening tools. Looking forward to seeing what you gather as far as comments.

    BTW, I’m also speaking at the same conference in December so we’ll finally be able to meet in person.

    Cheers. David

  • Hi Dave,
    Appreciate the inclusion in your list and as David mentioned I look forward to what people have to say in the comments. Excited to be working with you. Thanks,
    Richard

  • Ori

    If you’re looking to publish all your comments to one web page and of course search for the comments of others – take a look at our brand new tool (launched yesterday) – http://www.commentino.com

    my comments at http://www.commentino.com/orim

  • Dave

    Is it going to be for Palm as well?

  • It all depends on what you’re trying to track. I have three criteria that I want a monitoring tool to be able to deliver on:

    1. Research/Intelligence – where has the conversation been for the last year, who’s been having it, how often, who might be interested in my story.

    2. Ongoing Tracking – following a current issue, trend or blogger relations campaign in real time

    3. Reporting/Wrap-up – showing the results of a social media program/blogger relations/whatever; being able to compare two periods in time against each other.

    Just getting the the right inputs from a monitoring company is hard enough and my knock on them have been that it’s either too hard to use/set up; too limited in scope; doesn’t go far enough back in time; too much spam in the results; that I’d have to supplement with Google/Technorati to really feel like I’ve got complete coverage.

    Analysis is another challenge altogether. Right now, I wouldn’t trust that to any supplier that automates things like sentiment without the ability to over-ride after a human has made the decision.

  • Dave – I have similar concerns, especially over automated sentiment. That said, both Radian6 and SM2 give you control over that element.

    At the moment, though, to get a comprehensive solution really takes a layered approach with multiple systems.

  • Cari

    We actually do social media marketing. We are working as an agency right now for small and medium-sized businesses but we will be releasing a consumer version of our software within the next couple months. We monitor, measure, and participate in relevant online conversations for companies that don’t have the time or knowledge to do it themselves. Check us out.

    Cari
    Buzz.io

  • @Dave, @Danny: Thanks! We’re going to continue to expand our coverage to more blogs and social news sites in the near future.

    Although we should be using all of these tools, I think that the most value comes from ones that are conversational and near real-time. Summize is at the top of the list — we’ve found it to be invaluable for support, feedback, etc. Another great tool missing from the list is FriendFeed, which is helpful because it aggregates a lot of the activity from others in addition to the native activity.

  • Thanks Dave,
    I have to add that while SM2 is definitely a professional application, there is a fully functional free version available to anyone at http://sm2.techrigy.com . You are limited in the number of results and keyword phrases (1000 and 5) but al the extensive analysis tools are there.
    Backtype is a very cool thing but it only monitors comments from people who have registered with the site. We monitor everything in social media (that we can get our hands on!).

  • @Martin: Actually, BackType monitors all comments.

  • I think your ‘back and forth’ with david jones above supports the need for human talent at the end of the monitoring system. Given that no product to date monitors every element of the conversation in one space, it takes savvy strategy and creative to properly monitor and utilize.

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  • Dave, what about your run of the mill feed burner? I use Feed Demon and the keyword search feature works like a charm, allowing me to monitor across a number of search engines – technorati, Google News, Google Blogs, Delicious, Flickr, etc.

  • I see many solutions that focus on counting/ monitoring mention of a brand name or of a product.

    This is, to me, a non-social use of social media and my view is that companies will get limited benefits with such approach.

    The issue is to define a real social marketing strategy and align ressources to reach a specific objective:

    – what community do you want to listen to and engage with
    – for what objective (mine for customer insights, adress customer satisfaction issues, buzz, promote your brand, investigate a specific question).
    – what ressources can you put on this project, do your teammates already read blogs, participate in conversations, can you make them more “effective at doing it”, can you do this as a team ?
    – what is the result you want to get, how do you measure it.

    As an example, let’s say you want to build iPod accessories for teenagers. And you want to build an online focus group of teens with ideas about it.

    Option 1: you start monitoring everything about iPod and teenagers… dauting task, no keyword will get you there. you’ll end up with untargeted conversations and mostly noise.

    Option 2:

    A- You focus first. you start gathering Blogs, social places where teenagers hang out, and you find out a handfull of blogs, forums that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Btw you’ll learn a lot in the process, and it can be done within days.
    B- You extract the footprint of what a “teen place” is , you leverage connections between places (that’s our patented secret sauce) and you cut your slice of relevance. You’ll end up with a few hundreds of places along with their respective influence in THAT community, not overall.

    C- Within this slice you look at what people say about iPod. Grab insights.
    Your team starts targeting specific conversations; let’s say about iPod cases. you can buzz, become noticed, trustes … and build relations.

    D- In our case, you spot 50-100 teens, with some audiance, and you’re offering them (via Facebook) to participate in the dedign/review of your next product. Your target is 25 people, that’s what you will measure your team against.

    E- You can follow up with buzz or even an advertising campaign, highly targeted that will leverage the community input.

    It’s not going to tell you the overall sentiment about the iPod – (It can tell you how influential teens see it so ).

    But it’s giving you much more actionable insights and connections. That’s to me what social marketing is about.

  • Dominic – thanks for your thoughtful input.

    I agree with your approach, but I don’t think it’s an and/or situation that forces us to choose between two approaches.

    These are two different processes we’re talking about, and they can work symbiotically if coordinated properly. I’m talking about tools that let you identify conversations and, in some cases, help with an analysis of them. While this post stopped there (because I wanted to explore perspectives on tools), the process doesn’t have to by any means.

    Your approach, which is excellent, looks at one case from a marketing standpoint. However, if you look at a case from a communications standpoint and adopt an issues management-focused or customer support-focused mindset, then it’s important to be able to identify where people are talking about your product, company, brand, spokespeople (and so on) so that you can figure out whether/how to reach out and engage with them, and also to gauge trends in conversations. That’s the perspective from which this post comes – it’s not the only way to use social media as a marketing or communications tool, but it is a valid one.

    Cheers

  • Dave,

    I agree. Sorry if my comment was too “black and white”, just wanted to give an additional perspective.

    By the way I really like to post from Jeremy Owyang, dashboard versus GPS (http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/index.php?s=dashboard&sbutt=Go)

    That’s to me what “pure monitoring” should be about.

    Thanks