The majority of conversation today within the measurement community pertains to social media* measurement. And the number of firms offering tracking, monitoring or social media measurement solutions is exploding, doubling or more from 2007 to 2008. So, how do you select a firm that best meets your needs or the needs of your clients? Here are ten items to consider as you start down that path.
Underlying Philosophy & Capabilities – There are many different approaches and underlying philosophies driving the various social media measurement vendors. Some of the approaches translate directly into unique capabilities. For example, CoreX, a company focused on defensive monitoring, is driven by a belief that participating in a discussion may unintentionally influence its outcome. Therefore your identity is hidden when you use the tool. Compete tracks a consumer’s online behavior/clicks while most other vendors track consumer artifacts like comments or posts. Kaava focuses on communities and not blogs and believes they better represent consumer opinion. Pick a partner with a philosophy that is compatible with your own views and needs.
Metrics and Analytics – Give some thought to the specific metrics you want to track and the analytics that will give you the best data upon which to make decisions. While most firms track basic metrics like volume of posts or comments and number of links, more complex or algorithmic metrics vary widely. There are many different interpretations of Influence for example. Also evaluate the range of analytics that are available. If links analysis or social network analysis is important to you, some social media vendors offer these while others do not. The good news is the analytics and visualization tools available are rapidly becoming more sophisticated and useful.
Content – It is important to understand how content is brought into the social media measurement site, and how many different sources are looked at in order to find relevant content. Some sites claim 10 million sources while others claim 30 million. You also want to ensure the sites trolled are the ‘right’ sites for you or your clients. Develop a list of your 100 most important sites and ask the prospective vendor to verify whether or not each of the 100 is included in their universe of content. Also note which categories of content are tracked – discussion groups, blogs, review sites, traditional online media outlets, etc.
Language Support – Are you most interested in the United States, Europe or perhaps China? How you answer may well lead you to consider an entirely different set of vendor alternatives. If Europe is most important to you, you might consider a European specialist like London-based Attentio, or perhaps Onalytica. If you are most interested in social media conversations in China, you might consider a vendor like CIC that offers a deep understanding of Chinese pop culture and works in Shanghainese as well as Mandarin and Cantonese. Just offering language translation is vastly easier than understanding cultural nuances of language usage within a given country. If your requirements are global, either make sure your analysis partner supports the languages that are important to you, or select two or three regional partners that collectively can support your global requirements.
Real-time Orientation – Do you need information for crisis or issues monitoring or perhaps investing (Collective Intellect)? If so, you will need a vendor that provides near real-time updates of information. The search orientation model offered by many vendors is more akin to batch processing. You define terms you are interested in and then bots go and gather the information for your review and analysis. If crisis or issues monitoring is your primary requirement, make sure your vendor also offers capabilities like email or phone alerts.
SaaS or Consultative Models – Do you want a platform to do your own social media monitoring or do you want a firm to do the research and prepare a monthly report for you? Hands-on or hands-off? Some vendors (BuzzLogic, NetMap Analytics, Radian 6 and Visible Technologies to name a few), offer a software-as-a-service model while, at the other end of the spectrum, others (MotiveQuest) are very oriented toward consulting – helping to answer the “so what should we do about it” question. Most of the firms offering a SaaS use a dashboard as their main interface. If creating dashboards for reports and/or having a dashboard interface is important to you, make sure to ask whether or not this capability exists and have it demonstrated to you to assess the overall ease-of-use and utility.
Automated or Human Analysis – One of the ongoing controversies in the measurement field is what can be successfully automated in content analysis and what must or should be left to human analysis. A few vendors, Umbria for example, are fully automated, even for sentiment analysis. The majority of social media measurement vendors employ a hybrid approach, with simple items like post or comment counts and number of links fully automated, but sentiment analysis left to human analysis. Some vendors perform the sentiment analysis while others leave the user to define sentiment for themselves.
Ability to Directly Engage with Consumers – Some monitoring and analysis vendors allow you to directly engage in consumer discussion without leaving their platform. Visible Technologies and Digital Influence Group are two examples. This may be advantageous in situations where you are attempting to ‘Listen and Engage’, rather than just Measure online conversations.
Customizability – As you look at specific vendors and the tools and metrics they offer, you would be wise to ask whether or not any of the approaches, content sources, metrics or algorithms can be altered to better meet your needs. For example, if specific social media sites are critical to you, make sure they are being included in the content population. Filtering capability allows you to exclude sources you may not want to consider. Some tools, like Radian 6 for example, allow the user to customize (via a graphic equalizer-like interface), the weighting given to specific elements when calculating Influence. You can put more of less emphasis on elements like Number of On-topic Posts or Number of Links to better fit your own definition of online Influence.
Cost – Costs vary greatly, driven by many of the factors above. Obviously human analysis and consulting are major cost drivers. Tools range from free (always a strong price point!) to one to two thousand dollars a month, to $100,000 or more per year. Decide what you can reasonably spend before you do too much vendor analysis. For example, there is no sense in looking at vendors oriented toward consulting if you have only $1000 per month to spend.
There are many additional factors you may want to consider when comparing firms. Number of years in business, clients/customers they do business with, and their ownership structure to name a few. I hope you will find the ten considerations presented useful as you try to find the best social media analysis for you. Happy hunting!
For more complete information to help you select the right social media measurement company, please visit Social Target. Founder Nathan Gilliatt produces the industry’s best reference guide of social media analysis vendor information. His reference guide has informed much of what you see above. His 2008 reference guide will be available soon. You can order it here.
*I am using ‘social media’ broadly to include blogs, online discussion groups, forums, review sites, CGM sites and social networking sites
Disclaimer – My employer’s parent company, IPG, has a non-exclusive agreement with Radian 6.