Social Media Listening Platforms – Plan, Select, Deploy (Part One – Plan)

19 May

It is not difficult to find a social media listening platform/tool – there are over 100 to choose from.  What is difficult is to find the right tool.  It takes a keen understanding of your scope and requirements.  It takes an evaluation and selection process that will surface the best platform to fully meet your requirements.  And it takes a well thought-out process for deploying the platform across the organization in an effective and efficient manner.   There are many questions to be asked and answers to be given.  Asking the right questions at the right time is crucial.

It is helpful to think of the overall process in three phases:

Plan – Define requirements, stakeholders, scope

Select – Create a platform evaluation process tailored to your unique requirements

Deploy – The selected platform across the organization with training, workflow and other important issues addressed.

This three-part series will tackle each phase one at a time.  First up – Plan.

In many ways, the planning phase is the most important.  Overlook an important detail here and you may or may not be able to overcome it later.  Here are ten topic areas to discuss within your organization to make sure you are setting yourself up for success.

  1. Stakeholders – What are the primary stakeholder groups within my company or organization?  Possible stakeholder groups might include marketing, corporate communications and customer service/care at the macro level.  Depending on the size of your organization, various regions, divisions, groups or product lines may also be distinct stakeholder groups.  Once you have identified the primary stakeholders, set up time to meet with each group.  Understand how they currently use social listening tools and what, from their perspective, are ‘must have’ capabilities versus ‘nice to have’ capabilities in a social listening platform.  Ask each stakeholder group the applicable questions from the list below.
  2. Geographic Scope – What languages and countries are stakeholders interested in including in the platform?  Try to understand the relative priority of each country and language.  Also be sure to comprehend future requirements.  For example, if Chinese is not a priority today but will be within two years, you may want to only consider listening platforms that support two-byte languages.  Also probe to assess if social media content will need to be translated into other languages.  This may be primarily an internal workflow issue or outsourcing issue, but might also be a platform consideration.
  3. Value-added Services – It is very important to develop a point of view on how monitoring, analysis and reporting will be done within your organization.  Will each stakeholder group be responsible for doing this themselves or will a centralized analytics and insights group be responsible?  In addition to the self-serve approach, you could consider outsourcing this work to your social listening platform vendor or to one of your agencies – PR, digital or advertising.  In my experience, it is easy for a company or organization to underestimate both the skill and time commitment necessary to make the self-serve approach effective.
  4. Content/Data Types – Social media listening platform vendors generally include content from the primary social media properties –  Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Forums, YouTube and MySpace (being generous here).  Flickr is also included in many.  Currently on vendor roadmaps are properties like Linked-In and perhaps customer review sites.  Make sure the content types the platform supports meets your stakeholder requirements.  It is also very important to understand how the social content is being aggregated and how frequently (see Reporting for more on latency issues).  The fundamental ways in which content is aggregated in social listening platforms are crawling the web, RSS feeds and third-party content aggregators (e.g. Boardreader for Forums).  Many platform vendors employ a hybrid approach.
  5. Metrics and Analytics – Most social listening platforms either have a set group of analytics that deliver specific metrics or they offer configurable analytic ‘widgets’ that may be used to create metrics like share of conversation or volume and tone trend.  Some platforms offer a combination of these two approaches.  Based on your needs and measurement strategy/approach, define the analytics and metrics you would ideally like to see (e.g. volume, sentiment, messages, share-of-conversation, association with key topics).  In the vendor selection phase, this list will be useful to compare and contrast vendors.
  6. Keywords and Topics – During the planning phase, it is wise to develop a list of the major keywords and topics you believe will be necessary for the listening platform.  These keywords might include the company name, key competitors, industry issues, market segment names,  brand names, product names, key spokespersons, executives and competitor and industry spokespersons.  Social media listening platforms have varying degrees of sophistication with respect to their search capability.  Some have full Boolean logic, others offer very simple AND/OR logic.  The importance of this difference depends to some degree on you company/brand name as well as the sophistication of the people who will be configuring and maintaining your system.  If, for example, your company name is a common word (e.g. Apple, Visa), you will need stronger logic capabilities that include proximity search.
  7. Integration – Integration of varying data types – search, web, social, advertising, customer opinion and others – is the present and future of online measurement.  It is therefore important to understand what capabilities, if any, the social listening platform vendor has to integrate with other data types/streams.  Do they offer the ability to connect with web analytics packages via API for example?  The web/social integration is becoming increasingly common.  If you need to integrate traditional media with social, it might be a nice feature if the social listening platform allows third-party content aggregators like Factiva, Lexis Nexis, VMS or Critical Mention.
  8. Reporting – During the planning phase it is helpful to think through a series of questions about reports and reporting.  What type of reports are necessary?  Who will be responsible for their creation?  How often will reports be issued?  Does the system need the capability to automatically generate and deliver reports?  What about automated alerts?  There are quite a wide range of report capabilities represented by the various vendors in the listening space.  One potentially critical area to explore during the vendor evaluation phase is related to report frequency and perhaps to report type (think crisis).  That is how often new content is brought into the system.  Content latency issues may cause real problems during a fast-moving crisis.  Generally, the content latency differs by media type.  Best for Twitter and worst (perhaps) for forums, some of which restrict crawling to no more than once per day.  Within Twitter, the type of relationship the vendor has with Twitter should also be explored.  Not all Firehose arrangements are the same.  While most social media listening platforms claim to be ‘real time’, it is interesting to ask the vendors to define what they mean by ‘real time’.  The answers may surprise you.
  9. Access – Discuss who needs access to the listening platform and what they want to see and be able to do once they are in the system.  Do your different stakeholder groups (Divisions, product lines, brands, corporate, marketing, etc.) want or need a customized view of the data perhaps presented on a separate dashboard within the system?  It is also a good idea to have a perspective on who your power users will be versus the casual users.  This distinction applies not only to system access, but also in areas like training.
  10. Engagement – Some social media listening platforms support engagement with content owners directly from the platform, others do not.  Some engagement capabilities are elegant, others are rudimentary.  Make sure to explore the engagement needs of your stakeholders and understand how important this capability is to them in the short and long-term.  If engagement capabilities are important, you will also want to explore if the system allows users to tag content, assign content, manage assignments and track workflow.

In Part Two, we’ll examine a rigorous process for social media listening platform vendor evaluation and selection.

14 Responses to “Social Media Listening Platforms – Plan, Select, Deploy (Part One – Plan)”

  1. Mike Girard May 20, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    A great blog and a pleasure to read. You’re right to highlight the planning stage as being of paramount importance. Identifying what you want to achieve with your social media strategy is the first step and figuring out how you are going to analyze and report on the data contained within the social web is vital.

    I look forward to the rest of this series.

    Michael Girard
    Community Engagement, Raidan6

  2. Disha May 20, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    Hi Don,
    Great Blog! It’s excellent in the manner you have defined the sourcing process – I am amazed by how you have captured each and every relevant criteria and the versatility a system should be able to offer/meet to be a right fit. I couldn’t agree more on the emphasis on Integration of Social Media with Traditional that shouldnt be ignored, Reporting, Access, Engagement everything! I am glad I came across your blog.

    Thanks for writting. I can’t wait for Part 2.


  3. metricsman May 20, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. Couldn’t agree with you more on the wisdom of thinking through what outcomes you are trying to achieve with your social strategy before deciding on your listening, engagement and measurement strategies. -Don B @Donbart

  4. metricsman May 20, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    Hi Disha,
    Glad you like my blog and the post. Integration of different data sets is indeed important – social, traditional, web analytics, search, even advertising data paints a richer, more holistic view of consumer exposure, engagement, influence and action. Look for Part 2 next week! Cheers, Don B

  5. Babar Bhatti May 23, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Don – love your thorough approach here, especially on reporting, access and engagement capabilities, which most people tend to skip.

    Increasingly social data is becoming a commodity. Its about the distilled social intelligence: how to identify the most interesting and relevant posts, sharing insights with your entire team (not just marketing or PR) and engaging seamlessly with audience/followers with the right enterprise level security controls.


  6. Adam North May 24, 2011 at 4:32 am #

    What is a social media listening platform, what is their purpose and how do I find them? NB. I am working with web 2.0 and social media daily and have no idea what this article is about. Hope you can help.

  7. Michelle May 30, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    Always a pleasure, Don. An interesting part of starting out in social media listening is (for us) carrying out an audit, which can either help companies include or exclude keywords and topics.

    Looking forward to Part 2 😉

    Michelle @Synthesio

  8. metricsman June 5, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Thanks for your comment, Babar. Fully agree with your points. As you suggest, data is not the issue – we are overwhelmed with data – insight is the real issue. Discovering true insights amongst the disparate data streams is largely a human process. I’m not aware of a tool that has an ‘Insight’ button you can push to get an answer.

  9. metricsman June 5, 2011 at 8:01 am #

    Hi Adam,
    Listening tools allow you to aggregate and analyze social media conversations about your company or organization (or competitors, issues, etc.) happening on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and other social channels. Radian6 is perhaps the most popular listening tool. They have some good information on their site ( about why you should listen and what you can do with the data. It might be a good place for you to start. -Don B

  10. metricsman June 5, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    Hey Michelle, Thanks for stopping by. I’m a fan of the audit idea as well. As you suggest, the audit can help refine keywords and also entities you wish to exclude. I’m going to address that as part of the deployment process (part 3), although it could be part of planning as well. Cheers.


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