Nice post here by Asi Sharabi on some of the shortcomings of social media monitoring services. If you sum up his analysis to “they don’t work like they’re supposed to, they take too much time, and they’re too expensive,” it comes off as a little trite. He didn’t sum it up like that, of course, but that’s the gist of it. I haven’t seen as many services in action, but I don’t think he’s too far off-base.
The comments here are worth reading, because a few things emerge.
1) He gets little argument. Comments tend to agree with his anaylsis. It’s unclear whether it’s a surprised agreement or recognition of familiar but unarticulated sentiment—I think a little of both.
2) As Jeff Scott points out, given how many monitoring companies have responded, “we know they’re drinking their own kool-aid.”
3) It’s a nascent technology. Sure there will be growing pains, but data are there and knowing how to use them is going to be important. You’ve got to start somewhere.
4) What really sparked my interest was the observation of the intersection between market research and social media monitoring, both in the problems they address and the tools they use.
How the value proposition can be worked out remains to be seen, but I think monitoring services have utility, even in their current state. I have not seen a service that will autonomously deliver meaningful results, but in the hands of a capable user, even the current technology—with all its limitations—can be valuable.
I thought Brian Johnson really nailed it:
You didn’t really state what your goals in using those platforms. While there are use cases for monitoring (crisis management, directly engaging influencers, etc), I believe that the real value is thinking of social media like a massive dataset, much like what CRM has evolved to. It’s an incredible dataset, when you sit down and think about it, offering based on the sheer volume, authenticity, and real-time nature of the data. There is amazing value to be had by performing in-depth analytics on that data and using it to inform strategic marketing decisions. Far greater than simply counting how many times your brand is mentioned, and whether it’s good or bad.
Two examples from a couple local (Kansas City) vendors (who weren’t mentioned in Asi’s hit list). I’ll say upfront that these reflections are impressionistic. I don’t have deep experience with either, but I’ve learned a bit about them, and here’s what I was left with:
Social Radar/Infegy’s game is mass data aggregation. By collecting feed data (as in RSS) and warehousing it, they are able to maintain a remarkably consistent database. Will it still include spam? Sure. Will it miss some important (non-RSS) conversations? Yep. But the theory is that you’re accumulating so much information and in a consistent manner such that trends over time will still be meaningful. It’s not foolproof. I’m unaware of any studies indicating that variation in spam conversation correlates with actual conversation, but it also seems a reasonable hypothesis. There will be error in any dataset; acknowledgement and consistency seem a step in the right direction. Though such monitoring wouldn’t meet all needs, I can see how it would meet some. The other advantage of the warehousing approach is that from the moment you start, you can look at historical data. Social Radar seems like a good approach to quantitative analysis.
Spiral 16’s approach, on the other hand, achieves consistency by limiting the universe. Whether their precise algorithm for identifying the right ecosystem is the best one, I’m not sure; but the case for doing a restricted search is compelling. Find the relevant web. Even if you miss some sites and conversations, monitoring an 80% accurate ecosystem can have value. And categorizing types of conversations (traditional media, blog, video, etc.) seems especially useful. There may be some back-end work to make sure these categorizations are accurate but once defined, there’s a lot of value in knowing how conversation about your brand is happening.