Social Media Monitoring Tools: Buying Guide

Wednesday Nov 23rd 2011 by Jeff Vance
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As your IT organization evaluates social media monitoring solutions for Data Loss Prevention, here are five questions you should consider.

A buying guide about social media tools for an IT audience? What gives? After all, these tools will be handled mainly by the marketing department, right? Not necessarily.

According to Sarah Carter, vice president of marketing at Actiance, a social media compliance and security technology company, social media tools are currently being managed by revenue generators. “So the concept that the management of it sits in IT doesn’t play that well with a lot of organizations. How many firms have the management of their marketing automation system or CRM in IT? Not many right?”

Why, then, should IT care about social media?

First, even if IT doesn’t own tools as it does with CRM suites, it certainly help maintain them. The IT department can help patch them, secure them, retrieve lost data, manage user privilege and so on. IT doesn’t need to “own” something in order to have a crucial role in the success of that tool.

Next, think about the many intersections between social media and areas that are currently under IT control. Are you worried about data loss and IP theft? If so, you’d better figure out how to integrate social media monitoring in with your DLP (Data Loss Prevention) efforts.

If you’re in a heavily regulated industry, you may well be blocking social media now, just saying “No” to everything, which probably won’t be sustainable for long. After all, even if you are blocking social media, most of your employees have high-powered smartphones pre-loaded with plenty of social media apps. There is little you can do to control or manage these devices, since companies own fewer and fewer of them. Your best bet, then, is training and monitoring.

Meanwhile, as your heavily regulated organization tentatively wades into social media, how will you maintain compliance? How much archiving is necessary? What sorts of alarms should be in place? Who should be alerted when an alarm is triggered?

I would also argue that IT should have a seat at the table as companies scrutinize various social media monitoring tools. You’ll be in a better position to identify problem areas that the marketing team wouldn’t even think about. You’ll be able to identify possible security risks, the potential for integration with other key systems, problems with user interfaces, the pros and cons of open versus closed platforms, etc.

OK, enough with the discussion of IT’s role in social media. This is a buying guide, after all, so back to it. As your organization evaluates social media monitoring solutions, here are five questions you should consider:

1. How much are you willing to spend?

If your organization is small, you may do just fine relying on free and “freemium” services. Free tools like Google alerts, TweetDeck and Hootsuite will give you good insight on where your organization is being mentioned, what people are saying about you and who is following you. To dig deeper into Facebook, which has absolutely horrible search functionality, Bing Social should do the trick.

Many large PR and marketing organizations turn to upmarket suites like Radian6, which offers a million and one features and advanced collaboration and workflow capabilities that the “freemium” tools don’t . . . well, at least not all in one place.

Your organization will need to decide whether or not it needs the features offered from the big social media monitoring and analytics suites. If you need to collaborate, to allow multiple team members to share accounts and to dig deeply into competitive metrics, chances are that at the very least you’ll need to pay to turn on some of the advanced features of “freemium” tools.

For smaller organizations, many will get along just fine with the free tools. Another solid free option is available for organizations that already have a Saleforce.com account: the free Saleforce.com app for monitoring Twitter and Facebook.

David Ciccarelli, co-founder and CEO of Voices.com, a marketplace for voice talent, says that his organization has added over 10,000 new sales leads with this tool, which it also uses to monitor thousands of conversations relevant to their industry.

2. How accurate is the tool?

Georgiana Comsa, Managing Partner of Silicon Valley PR, a boutique PR firm that focuses on storage and cloud computing startups, tried out Radian6 and another large suite, Tap11, which was recently acquired by the founders of YouTube and will be part of their new company AVOS.

“When I tested various tools, accuracy was a problem,” Comsa said. “When I did searches, the number of relevant Tweets that would show up varied greatly from tool to tool.” Comsa ended up signing up for UberVu’s service because it is both accurate and offers the feature set her firm needed.

3. How is sentiment determined?

Accuracy is about more than just search. “Showing a Tweet is one thing, but how much influence does that person have? How many people have read the Tweet?” Comsa added.

Determine sentiment (or the mood, opinion or emotional state of the person posting something) can be tricky. Brooke Gabbert, director of PR and Social Media for Service Magic, a site that screens, rates and recommends home repair service professionals, warns that tools that measure sentiment only through natural language analysis won’t be accurate enough. Analyzing purely factual text is one thing, but with social media, natural language analysis will miss irony, sarcasm and context.

The popular tool Social Mention, for instance, looks at things like emoticons and symbols to help determine sentiment. That may not sound like much, but when you consider that when human beings are asked to determine sentiment, we often disagree. For instance, a word like “conservative” will return a vastly different sentiment depending on your political point of view.

Or take a statement like: “my hotel room has a view of an alley.” Most tools will probably rate that as neutral, whereas most people will consider it negative.

4. How well does the tool monitor your competitors?

Social media monitoring isn’t just about keeping tabs on your own organization. Proactive firms also use it to monitor their industry and their competitors.

“Knowledge is power. With the amount of information about every business available on the Internet, smart businesses have an opportunity to gain an advantage over the competition by harvesting that data in real-time,” said Steve Farnsworth, Chief Digital Strategist at Jolt Social Media, a social media consulting firm.

How do the tools compare competitors? Is it simply mentions and followers? How well does it determine reach? Is sentiment included in competitive analysis?

5. What are the security implications and how will the tool help you address them?

As you scrutinize competitors, rest assured that many will study you as well. “Most companies miss the bigger picture. They need to be as concerned, if not more so, about the security aspect of social media as they are about reputation, because for many of them a breach would create a negative public backlash and possibly put them out of business,” said Shane MacDougall, Principal Partner at Tactical Intelligence, a consulting company that helps organization gather competitive intelligence.

Unfortunately, social media monitoring tools aren’t looking for data leaks, and, to be fair, that’s not what they were designed for. Meanwhile, most DLP tools focus on classifying information and securing egress points. They don’t scour the web and social networks to see what risky information is out there.

Social media monitoring tools won’t have built-in DLP features, but certain features can help. If you are a large organization with developers on staff, look at the availability and quality of APIs. For organizations of any size, look for the ability to generate granular reports and to set alerts sent via email or IM.

Surprisingly, many of these tools lack the capability to trigger real-time email or IM alerts. In fact, Gabbert dumped Radian6 for Postling simply to get email alerts, which Radian6 lacked back when she was using it (email and IM alerts have since been added).

“I've seen executives sail through Glassdoor.com’s [a website that provides an insider’s look at companies and positions within those companies] forums focusing on some disgruntled ex-employee, completely oblivious to the fact that in the same forums current employees were inadvertently giving away the farm information-wise with posts about upcoming projects and product plans, reshuffling of executives, new sales territories, and so on,” MacDougall said. “Information that a competitor would pay good money for. Why? Because the reputation management tools pointed them to the negative comments.”

If IT security pros are pulled into the process, they will look at the information through a different lens, focusing on data loss and IP theft risks, rather than reputation. That alone could be the difference between success and failure in a hyper-competitive market.

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