Social Media Monitoring at Zero Costs

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Dr. Andreas Schroeter, co-founder of the language portal. Prior to starting in 2007 he worked for the media companies Bertelsmann and Axel Springer.

Let’s get straight to the point: Do you know what your customer / client / user / fan / friend / foe says about your company? The true answer is no. After all, how can you? Most users do not talk to you directly but about you with their friends, readers, listeners, watchers and so on. It’s nice to get an email directly from a user but also very unlikely. We at get a good handful per week, many of them being spam or just simple questions about one of our products. Real feedback and an understanding of what your user thinks is rarely done via email. But listening to your users is probably the best strategy to get valuable feedback you would otherwise pay for in focus groups or pay for by developing something no one wants.

So it’s time to start monitoring what the people say about your company. In the olden times, you got a clipping service to monitor the newspapers for quite some money and that was it. Nowadays, anyone can and will publish their opinion, thoughts and feedback via multiple Internet-based platforms. You probably won’t be able to catch it all but you can catch a lot at zero cost with the following simple steps.

Before I go into detail, two things to consider: First, these tools are free. Don’t expect to get 100% accurate results or to have the tools automatically filter out your own web activities. Second, if you have a common company or brand name, you’ll have a tough time with these tools. Try to put your name in “quotation marks” in the settings below so that you only get exact matches.

1. Google Alerts

Google Alerts is basically a free online clipping service tool. Being probably one of the oldest monitoring tools I am still surprised of how few people use it. Put in your company’s name and/or URL and get regular updates as soon as Google finds new information. Unless you are in an industry where you potentially need to act within minutes of news about your company I recommend to schedule a daily update. If I remember correctly Google sends the update exactly 24 hours after you set up the Google Alert – so get up extra early one day and set up the alert so that you’ll have the daily update in your inbox every day when you start working. Google Alerts will also find new websites from your company and include them – this might not be optimal for you but remember it’s a free tool and skimming through the results takes maximum 10-20 seconds a day.

2. Monitoring dashboard

Set up your social media monitoring dashboard. I recommend using Netvibes as it’s free, fast and stable. It takes about 30 minutes to set up (you’ll find a detailed step-by-step guide on the blog). Make it your starting page in your browser so that you can take a quick look at it every day. It takes me about 2 minutes per day to scan the news.

I’ve created a dashboard using Kirsten (thanks, Kirsten!) as an example. Check it out here – done? – here are the details:

  • Include your own twitter feed and blog feed (use the RSS feed from your blog and the “Twitter search” widget with the function “from user”). Especially if different people are working on the social media tools within your company you might not know exactly what’s going on within. This way you are always informed in case a user reacts to tweet, refers to a blog article etc.
  • Add the “Twitter Search” widget and use your company / brand name in the “search for” function. This way you’ll catch all mentions on Twitter. Make sure that you always check all mentions within the last 24 hours (or 72 hours after a weekend) if you only check the dashboard once a day.
  • Add the “Blog Search” widget and include Google and Wikio as blog search engines (then unselect the web search engines as you don’t need them). It might be useful to add country-specific search engines as well but I find that Google and Wikio nearly catches all.
  • Add the “Images Search” widget and include Google and Flickr as image search engines (again, it might be useful to include a country-specific engine). You might ask yourself “why monitor images?”. Type in “BP” and you’ll know why.
  • Add the “Video Search” widget and include YouTube and Vimeo as search engines.
  • There are a few social media monitoring aggregators out there which you can use for free.
    I use Socialmention – it’s far from perfect, sometimes displays really old results but does catch some results I do not see elsewhere. So you might want to add that as well. Go to the Socialmention advanced search page, type in your company / brand name in the exact search (“all these words”) box and get the result. Copy the URL and switch back to Netvibes. Add the “Web Page” widget to your social media monitoring page and copy the URL from Social Mention into the widget settings. Make sure to select the maximum height in the widget settings to avoid to much scrolling.

That’s it, you are done (at least with the set-up). Now it’s up to you to start monitoring. And more important, to start interacting with users who talk about you (be it positive or negative). If you don’t intend to interact with your users just forget the whole social media monitoring idea. It’s not worth the effort. Just one piece of final advice: Talk to your users at eye level – it’s what you would expect from another company as well.

Image: Berkley

  • Brad Patterson

    thanks for the netvibes tip, Andreas. I’ve been bouncing between all the different flows, and it seems that netvibes might be a bit easier. Have you tried Seesmic? somewhat similar as a media flow aggregator/crm. Cheers, brad

  • Andreas Schroeter

    @Brad There are probably a few good aggregators out there (iGoogle etc.). I have used netvibes for the last 4 years. I like that it is stable, intuitive to understand, loads quickly and hasn’t had any issues with upgrades of the platform so far. I have not been able to access Netvibes maybe a handful of times which is an excellent score considering I access it probably 3-4 times daily.

  • henry pherson

    This is good. is this the same as hootsuite? whats the difference between the 2?