Listening to the voice of your consumer in social media is fast becoming a strategic imperative.  According to a recent survey by Leger Marketing, the majority of companies have some kind of social media listening strategy in place.  For some, this means a simple and free solution like Google Alerts, while larger organizations, usually those with larger social media footprints turn to enterprise grade software as a service (SaaS) solutions.

Literally hundreds of software tools have emerged to meet the demand of this market, presenting companies with the challenge of deciding what the right tool is for their company.

Creative Commons. All rights reserved by Don Moyer

At Social Media Group, we’ve done the due diligence on a healthy contingent of the tools that are out there.   Our process entailed creating a scorecard based on an established set of criteria that aligned with our business needs.  While your company’s requirements will likely differ, here are some smart questions to ask prospective vendors:

1)      Do you have access to the Twitter fire hose? Twitter is a huge source of social media activity, with 250 million messages being produced each day.   It is not uncommon for brand mentions on Twitter to account for 75% of all social media messages.  At SMG, we refer to Twitter as the social web’s circulatory system – a network that people use to readily share information that inspires and interests them.  People also use Twitter to complain.  A lot.

Regardless of how Twitter is being used, you want to feel confident that you’re getting all of the relevant messages.  Yet, Twitter is increasingly selective about who gets their data.  Not all social media monitoring companies have access to the “fire hose,” (the full stream of Twitter data) so you best understand what your vendor is getting (or missing).

2)      What is the service level agreement? Service outages can be a major source of pain and frustration.  If the system goes down, you might be left with a team of analysts sitting around with nothing to do, and your company is exposed to risk because the social web never sleeps.   While some interruptions are inevitable, make sure you have sufficient recourse in place should the software you choose fail to operate as needed and expected.  Make sure you have a dedicated representative who will be responsible for working to resolve issues quickly and satisfactorily.

3)      Can you engage with consumers directly through the tool? If customer service is a priority for your company, then you’ll want the opportunity to address customer questions or confusion as soon as it’s discovered.  The ability to do this from within a listening platform is by far and away the most efficient way to manage this process.  Needless to say, if you are empowering your customer service team to manage online customer issues, then you’ll need to have the appropriate rapid response framework and escalation processes in place.

4)      What enhancements have been released in the past year?  What’s in the development pipeline? This social media listening market is moving quickly.  Companies are being acquired regularly and innovation is essential to break free of a commoditised market.  Sometimes when these companies are acquired, innovation is accelerate, while other times it stalls.  Getting a track record of what improvements have been made in the past year will help you understand if you can expect the tool to be continually upgraded.

5)      How much will this cost? Ahh, price. There are many different pricing models in this field, user seats, search profiles and pricing based on data volume being the most common. Whatever the pricing model, ensuring that the pricing is both reasonable and will remain consistent is what you should strive for.  The last thing that you want to worry about during a crisis (read increased data volume) is to lose control of the costs required until the matter has been diffused.

6)      Can the system integrate with other platforms? Surely, one of the most interesting developments in the social media monitoring market of late was’s acquisition of Radian6.  For sales driven organizations, this move holds great promise, foreshadowing a future class of applications that’s capable of moving customers down from the upper reaches of the sales funnel into legitimate sales opportunities.   SMG will be keeping a close eye on this one.

The social media listening market presents a vast sea of options for companies today.  When choosing a tool, start with your listening objectives, define your selection criteria, then be prepared with questions and try before you buy!



  1. Really great post Richard – a lot of different things here compared to the usual advice and they are all issues that people need to be aware of.

    For those comparing tools, here is where Brandwatch stands on each of your suggested questions.

    1. Yes we do have access to the Twitter Firehose.

    2. Brandwatch maintains over 99.9% up-time each month, along with full tech-support and an account manager for each client.

    3. Users can tweet (and reply/retweet) and post on Facebook directly from within Brandwatch.

    4. Brandwatch is automatically updated every week with various enhancements, and significant new features are added every month. One of our most powerful recent additions is called “Rules” – this feature allows users to set a series of filters (including a sub-search) to automatically categorise or tag all future mentions that match those criteria, in a certain way.

    5. We have two main pricing models, one where you pay per mention (10k, 20k, 50k) – this is good for low-volume brands and topics as you get an unlimited number of queries. The other is you pay per query, (15, 35, 50 and beyond) and this is more suited to high-volume queries as it caters for large amounts of data.

    6. Integration with other platforms has always been a major focus at Brandwatch. We offer free API access to all our clients, and are in the middle of some big projects with clients integrating our data with their current systems.

    Thanks a lot



  2. Another question I would want to see answered is: How can you do any kind of sentiment analysis in languages other than English?

    • Patrick.Gladney

      Good question, Mark – I am not sure who / if anyone covers French, Spanish or Asian dialects for sentiment.


  3. First off, great post! The Twitter stream is the most relevant point to me personally.

    I would start by asking Alterian SM, they are one of the only providers with a bilingual interface to my understanding.

  4. Patrick,
    Great Post. Now that these types of platforms are becoming more mission critical (listening + engagement) the need for SLAs are more critical that even. One that I’m surprised that you missed was service after the sales. Do they have a help desk, what can/will they offer or is it simply a purchase and you are on your own type of offering.

    @David you are correct about Alterian offering a multi lingual interface and being able to handle multiple languages for sentiment.

    But generally, sentiment analysis needs to be taken with a grain of salt from any vendor. No technology is perfect and needs to be treated as so.


    • Patrick.Gladney

      Hi Jim –

      I couldn’t agree with your more – I always valued the advocacy and support you’ve provided over the years! It makes a big difference.


Comments are closed.