The myth that social media is free is one of the biggest in the business. Time is money, and that’s exactly what social media needs. However, when it comes to monitoring social media, there are still some bargains to be made.
1. Google Alerts
Google Alerts is your first port of call in any monitoring strategy. Set up correctly, Google covers the entire web rather than being limited to social networks, and as the name suggests, can be set to alert you whenever you wish. Custom RSS feeds are also readily available to send the results direct to your chosen feed reader.
2. Social Dashboards: HootSuite & TweetDeck
Cost: Variable, averaging $15 monthly for a small company
Most social scheduling tools also include the capacity to add sections that monitor for key terms. One such example of this is the ability to configure additional columns to monitor Twitter searches within HootSuite and TweetDeck. Of course, this needs to be checked regularly and with diligence to be effective. It also has limited coverage; you will miss mentions on other social sites such as forums and Q&A platforms like Yahoo Answers and Quora if this is your only solution. However, it is a useful addition and provides valuable real-time monitoring where staff are already engaging with social media.
But when it comes to social monitoring tools that cover the web beyond Twitter, there are only two key players in the free category. Step forward Social Mention and Topsy.
3. Social Mention
Personally, I’ve found Social Mention to be a little unreliable when it comes to the technical expectations, with searches timing out or taking a very long time to complete. However, the cross network coverage is excellent, and it does have some interesting metrics of its own included. These are perfect for more in-depth analysis.
Basic sentiment monitoring is included, but the real selling points are the top users and top hashtags sections, which will be extremely useful when it comes to targeting key influencers. The Excel geeks amongst us will love that you can also download csv files and analyse the data away from the site.
The downside is that you can’t choose a specific date range to search, an omission that may be frustrating when it comes to running regular reports and attempting comparisons.
Your alternative then is Topsy. Topsy searches across multiple networks and also includes comparative analytics to track competitor terms and an analysis of social trends. It may not have the bells and whistles of its paid competitors — no dashboards or automated reports are included in the free version — but its strength lies in its access to twitter data running back to 2006.
With Topsy, it’s possible to choose a specific date range to run reports. On the flip side, data on influencers is basic and no scoring system exists, only a shortlist and number of mentions.
Recently acquired by Apple, Topsy is not currently promoting the paid pro accounts, but reports suggest these cost in the region of $12,000 annually.