Every week I get at least a couple of telephone calls offering to show me the next great social media monitoring tool, and these paid for offerings have to stack up against what is already available for free. The richness and depth of the information available makes it fairly easy to trawl the data, especially from Twitter, but each tool has a different angle on interpretation and presentation. There are tools available to assess the current social media buzz and what people are talking about; the tone of content; who the key influencers are, as well as being able to schedule and deliver content.
In considering all of these we mustn’t be blinded by flashy stats and designs, but ask ourselves two questions. The first is “why this is useful to know?” Good tools should not only help you get a feel for the social media discussion but also improve the content you put out. For example use them to learn which key words or hashtags to use, or when to send out a tweet. The second question is “do I trust the data?” Some tools do not pick up all content, others may pick up too much noise, and you have to treat all ratings of positive/neutral/negative sentiment with caution. A local council story about a successful trading standards case, with key words around “fraud” and “fake”, would probably be classed as a negative story by an automatic tool.
The six tools below are a good starter for any social media evaluation. Once you use them, and understand what you are measuring and why, you should have a clearer understanding of what paid for tools can offer and if it is worth upgrading. Paid for tools will give you a single platform to work from, a whole range of extra tools, improved sentiment ratings, and probably some comparative data as well. The world is always changing around this so please leave a comment if you have a great tool that is not already on the list.
- Twazzup: If I had to choose the best free social media monitoring tool it would be this one. It is a real time dashboard of information. You enter your search terms and it identifies all the most recent tweets and presents them in a professional format. It then uses the information in the tweets to identify the most popular content being distributed, such as a news article or blog, and the most popular hashtags and users associated with the discussion. Refresh the screen and the information updates. So it is really good for following what is going on at the moment. Use it to identify how a discussion is going on Twitter but also to see what people are talking about so you can react appropriately (for example using the right hashtag). I would recommend saving a screen grab of any dashboard you want to refer to again as you cannot use Twazzup to look at historical data.
- Addictomatic: This is another real time dashboard but picks up more content than just Twitter. It takes in content from sites such as YouTube and Flickr. You can select which sites you want to show on the dashboard and once you have designed it you can save it for future use.
- Socialmention: This is the tool to use to look at social media over a longer timeframe. It is really good at comprehensively picking up Twitter and blog content and then allows you to download a file into a spreadsheet. This file includes key information such as the exact time the information was posted. This enables you to sort the data and see how a conversation grew and who helped it along the way the most.
- Hashtags.org: Tools such as Twazzup will help you identify key hashtags to use on Twitter, but this site enables you to chart their popularity. Use this tool to see if a hashtag is regularly being used or is on the way out.
- Followerwonk: This tool helps you profile your followers on Twitter but also search for keywords in their short biography.
- Tweriod: The current fashion is to find out the best time to tweet based on when your followers are online and likely to see content. These tools are mainly paid for and linked in with the ability to schedule your tweets to go out at the right time. Tweriod is the only one I can find that offers a free analysis. Use this tool to see if timing of your tweets is for you.
Finally a great blog to follow is Tweetsmarter or follow them on Twitter @tweetsmarter. They regular post up links to other blogs not only about evaluation tools but how to improve the way you use social media.
Neil Wholey is Chair of LGinsight and Head of Research and Customer Insight at Westminster City Council. His report “Evaluating Your Communication Tools: What works and what does not?” is available here. You can follow Neil on Twitter @neilwholey