With the meteoric rise of social media marketing, it only makes sense that tools to monitor those marketing efforts would proliferate. Paid tools run the gamut, from blessedly affordable (for solopreneurs and small businesses) to outrageously expensive (only the big guys can even hope to afford them).
Just like Web analytics tools, social media reporting systems can provide a wealth of data. But, is all that data necessary? How much of it is even useful? For most small and even medium-sized organizations, I would argue that only a small slice of what most reporting tools spit out is actionable.
Please note: I am not suggesting that you cast your social media strategies out like proverbial bread upon the waters. If you’ve decided to add social media to your marketing mix, then you need to keep track of what’s going on and how it benefits your business. However, before you decide to sign up with the monitoring tool that shows up first in your Google search, you need to determine what you want to get out of your investment.
Track only the social media metrics that matter
You can spend as much time messing with your social media tracking system as you do with social media itself. And, when you’re juggling many different marketing initiatives, you can’t afford another time drain. So, before you spend between $50 and $1,200 bucks a month for a tracking system that may well drown you in a sea of meaningless data, determine exactly what you want to track and why. The numbers you’re monitoring should be tied to the organizational and social media goals that will help you move forward.
In his brilliant blog post, Best Social Media Metrics: Conversation, Amplification, Applause, Economic Value, Web analytics authority Avinash Kaushik talks about how quickly businesses get sidetracked by things that don’t matter with social media. Instead, track just a few simple metrics each week or month that are indicative of success (or failure), such as:
- Conversation rate, as measured by the number of comments, replies or brand mentions.
- Amplification rate, as measured by retweets, shares and clicks.
- Applause rate, as measured by number of favorite clicks, likes and +1′s.
- Economic value, as measured by the amount of traffic each social media channel refers to your content/website, the behavior of social media visitors on your site (i.e. visitor loyalty, content consumption) and the number of social media visitors who complete certain goals (buy, subscribe, take a survey, etc.).
If you’re a brick & mortar or a company that markets only to a local audience, you may want to add geographic metrics for a snapshot of your progress among those you want most to reach.
Try free social media monitoring options first
Unless you’re marketing an epic brand that generates consistently high levels of engagement – like Coca Cola, Oreos or Nike – the down-and-dirty information you need to check the pulse of your social media efforts can, most of the time, be garnered in less than an hour using free social media tracking tools. Choices include those provided by the social media site/channel itself (i.e. Facebook Insights, YouTube Analytics, etc.), independent developers and apps (Topsy, HootSuite, Bitly and a plethora of others), and website analytics programs.
The downside of this, of course, is that you must cobble together data from several different sources. But, once you do it a few times and know exactly what you’re looking for, it won’t take long. Grab the number you need and plop it into a pre-configured spreadsheet. If you’re tracking different campaigns (i.e. coupons, a specific content marketing initiative, etc.), make sure you segment that in your spreadsheet. Then, at a glance or with some simple charts and graphs, you can see changes, note trends and determine if your efforts are resulting in worthwhile outcomes.
I don’t think it’s necessary to do this analysis every day. Depending on the amount of interest your brand creates, you can do it weekly, semi-monthly or even monthly.
Carefully evaluate paid social media monitoring tools before purchase
If you just can’t bear the thought of gathering data from several different sites, even if they are free, then a social media reporting tool may be the next best option. But, you’ll need to evaluate your options carefully before diving in, as there are so-o-o-o many options out there.
Here are some key features to consider during the evaluation process:
- Budget. Put social media monitoring in perspective with all your marketing objectives, both traditional and online. How much are you willing to spend? Could spending that amount preclude you from doing other, potentially more beneficial activities?
- Demo. Will developers of the monitoring system allow you to try it out fully (not just some restrictive or watered-down version) for a period of time at no cost? Most will. My recommendation is to whittle down your list of possibilities before committing any serious time and energy to a demo. You should only try out your “short list.”
- Number of channels the system can accurately monitor. One thing I learned from my own research efforts last year is that most tools are great at tracking Twitter because it’s such an open platform. Few tools, however, provide much meaningful data about the other channels. The current configuration of LinkedIn, for example, is particularly challenging; none of the systems I demoed were able to track anything beyond my personal activity. No monitoring of groups and no stats on the company page. If you’re a B2B marketer (the segment for which LinkedIn is king right now), that’s sure to be a let-down.
- Number of accounts you can monitor without incurring added charges. This is an important thing to look into if you work for an agency or handle marketing for more than one business.
- Ease of use. Choosing a social media monitoring tool that’s simple will encourage you to use it more often. Make sure the dashboard allows you to check everything at a glance. If you need to read an interminable list of updates and posts before getting to your magic metric (or worse, you need to export data into Excel to quantify things yourself), the system defeats the purpose of paid monitoring tools.
- Frequency of data refreshing. This may not matter as much if you plan to check your monitoring tool only once or twice a week. But, if daily checks are necessary, make sure the tool you select refreshes its data throughout the day. If it doesn’t, then you might as well log onto each social media site and check for yourself.
- Accuracy of reports. While you’re doing a demo, make sure the system’s data and reports accurately reflect what you see on the social media site itself. If that’s not happening, then you need to scratch that tool.
Have you had an interesting experience with researching, demoing or using social media monitoring tools? Please share your experience! Comment below or reply to me on Twitter at @martijen.
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