You’ve probably heard people talking about social media monitoring. It’s wise to listen to conversations before you participate in them. Social media monitoring allows you to do just that.

But many brand and marketing managers responsible for social media don’t quite understand what social media monitoring is and why it’s important. Here’s a quick primer:

Social Media Monitoring Is Listening

Listening to online conversations is technically done without ears. Using search engine technology, social media monitoring tools scan the Internet looking for documents that contain keywords you select. They return those results in some sort of order that allows you to see where people have mentioned your brand, company, product or whatever you specified.

Seeing these results reveal which websites or blogs you should visit to either see what people are saying about you or actually participate in those conversations. Without monitoring, the conversations are happening without your knowledge.

Social Media Monitoring Can Be Free

The easiest way to start monitoring social media is to sign up for some free tools and services. Google Alerts allows you to search for a word or phrase just as you would in a regular search, and then notifies you when something new pops up on the web with that search term. You can subscribe to email updates of the new search results or add them to your RSS subscriptions. (If you don’t know what RSS is, watch “RSS in Plain English,” a video from CommonCraft.)

You can also search for your company or product name on Twitter to see real-time conversations that include mentions or discussions of your brand. Add Technorati to the list and your monitoring will cover the majority of blogs as well.

Paid Social Media Monitoring Solutions Are Often Worth the Investment

The one drawback to the free monitoring solutions is that manual work will be required to quantify the results for your executives or report your findings. Paid social media monitoring services like Radian6, Scout Labs and Techrigy pull all those conversations together into an organized, web-based dashboard and allow you to pull charts and graphs that explain the information with very little work on your part.

One big benefit to many (but not all) of the paid solutions is their ability to analyze sentiment and tone of the conversations through fancy computer algorithms using natural language processing. What this means is that you can log in to your service, see that there were 250 conversations mentioning your brand this week, and of those, 83 percent were positive, 10 percent were negative and the other 7 percent were neutral.

Paid monitoring solutions offer dashboard experiences like this one from Radian6 which makes monitoring your brand easier

Monitoring Is Only the First Step

Finding and cataloging the online conversations about your company is just the tip of the iceberg in social media monitoring. Once you know where conversations are taking place and what is being said about your company, you can then participate in the conversation. This is critically important for companies because today’s web-savvy consumer requires direct access to the people behind the products and services they buy or shop for.

Let’s say you find a customer upset about the service she received at your place of business earlier today. Letting the individual mouth off to her friends who have a natural predisposition to either agree or jump on the bandwagon of hate only guarantees your company will be thought of negatively by those involved in the conversation. However, social media case studies show time and time again that entering into similar conversations with a simple, “I’m sorry you had a bad experience. What can I do to help?” shows the disgruntled fan—and her bandwagon-jumping friends—that you’re truly interested in improving the situation. The customer response is almost always something like, “Wow. I didn’t know you were listening. Thanks for offering.”

Smart Monitoring Can Build Your Business

Please don’t think that social media monitoring is limited to mitigating online detractors. By analyzing the conversations around not just your company, but also your industry or even competitors, you can gain a significant market advantage and actually drive business.

Let’s say you’re monitoring mentions of your nearest competitor and uncover a trend that people are complaining that their product (say, a coffeepot) is great but not durable. You then change your advertising campaign to trumpet the fact your coffeepot lasts three times longer than the competitor’s.

For another example, suppose you have a national product that has inconsistent sales patterns from region to region. Your social media monitoring shows you what people in the Pacific Northwest say are the best and worst qualities of your product, but the answers are different in the South. This consumer intelligence helps you better market your product based on geographic and cultural specifics which can be the difference in customers choosing you or your competition.

Last but not least, sophisticated monitoring can even reveal individual customers who are at the point of making a purchase decision, enabling you to reach out and help them make a connection to your product at the absolute perfect time.

What Are You Waiting For?

Now that you have an idea of what social media monitoring is and what it can do for you, dive in. Start a Google Alert for your company or product. Add one for some general industry terms your customers might use when discussing your category. Add one for each of your competitors. As you feel comfortable, add Twitter and Technorati searches, then branch out and start exploring other social media monitoring tools. At the very least, you’ll have a better idea of what people are saying about you.

What social media monitoring tools are you using? What are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment below.

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  • Great post for the monitoring novice. I think it is particularly good that you say monitoring is only the first step. The top-line numbers are merely a windsock in the direction of meaningful action. The data has to be applied to be worth it. If you don’t leverage the conversation, adjust your communications or product offerings based on what you see then the data is going to waste.

  • I agree with jakerosen (btw: great windsock analogy). We fit in the category of paid listening/monitoring vendors and would urge your readers to check out RepuTrack™ as well. I particularly liked the advice of using monitoring as a first step, and with it, the reasoning that social media monitoring needs to be more than just a specified campaign period. More specifically, the brands that have been most successful in the social media space have incorporated it as an integral part of an overall business outlook/commitment and are doing everything right by demonstrating they are in it for the long haul.


  • I think using twitter and facebook search can also be used to be helpful to others and answer questions in your niche. Rather than follow people who you hope will follow you back without any conversation, you can help others – similar to what you might do in the forums or yahoo answers.

  • Michael Fraietta

    Another great reason to monitor your industry is to show that your company is staying abreast of current trends and issues. For example, you have a company that makes yoga balls (Yes, the first thing I saw in the office) and hear the term “yoga balls” while monitoring. There is a discussion on a blog or forum about creative and interesting uses of yoga balls that you never have seen before. You could possibly take these uses into consideration in next marketing campaign. It might also be useful to drop a few creative uses that you have seen that would be new to the audience. You are not only showing a presence, but bringing something to the table as well.

    Michael Fraietta
    Community Manager for Filtrbox

  • Excellent article Jason, thank you for sharing your insights.

    I for one use a variety of monitoring tools but I find them a bit “laggy”. Sometimes a couple of minutes is too long, so on occasions I also do manual monitoring.

    I found it interesting that there isn’t any monitoring tools for Facebook, but I guess this is due to the limitations of their API. I would love to see a tool that monitors all brand mentions across Facebook, I’m sure it won’t be long until one will be developed.

  • I am totally in this monitoring phase with my company. I was just hired as the social media specialist. I don’t have a professional monitoring system yet, so I am using Google Reader. I send my Google alerts, RSS feeds and Twitter searches to it. The problem is I have TOTAL overload. At first monitoring can seem totally overwhelming especially if you are targeting a common keyword, but I have been able to narrow down to smaller ones. But still, if I neglect the reader for a few days I have hundreds of articles, ect backed up.

    I am putting the most important things I find into an excel spreadsheet, but I always have to ask myself, WHAT AM I DOING WITH THIS INFORMATION?? How long am I going to monitor? What exactly am I hoping to find?

    Just some thoughts from someone deep in the trenches. Any advice or sympathy would help!

  • Stephen Wertzbaugher

    This is a great article and a perfect example of how companies can use technology to not only stay abreast of trends within their industry, but also help them serve their customers better by addressing their needs in almost real time.

  • Thanks Stephen. Appreciate the compliment

  • I’ve been there, Annie, as have dozens of others. The best thing you can do using the free or paid tools is tweak those search results to death to get exactly what you’re looking for. Study the Boolean syntax so you can filter down to what really proves useful. Using the AND, OR, and AND NOT commands within your search result can help a ton.

    And what are you doing with the information depends upon what you want to do with it for your company. Do you want to just find and react to conversations? Do you want to report numbers (no. of conversations, how many were positive, negative, etc.) to the higher-ups? Do you want to mine the mentions of your company for insights into how you can improve your product or service?

    Once you know what you want to get out of the data, you’ll better know what to look for and where.

    Good luck!

  • Thanks Lorand. The Facebook issue is that groups and brand pages are the only real places that are considered “public” in Facebook’s eyes. Conversations that take place on our individual wall posts are technically private and aren’t indexed by the monitoring services. Will that change? I’m sure parts of it will – perhaps you can elect to have your wall posts included in public searches. But Facebook is going to be keen on protecting individual’s privacy, largely because most people want it that way.

  • Thanks for chiming in Michael. Love your tool and need to spend more time learning it more in-depth. Glad to see you chiming in here.

  • Excellent points. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Thanks Jake. Great points and analogy! Glad you dropped the comment.

  • Thanks for the input Joseph. I have not heard of RepuTrack yet. I’ll add that to the list to do! Appreciate the comment.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting post on a hot topic! As this is my business (Buzzdetector is my company) I wish to add my two cents: from social media monitoring you may learn more than you expect. Fix a goal but do keep your eyes open so not to lose other insights.

  • Great article, Jason. Of course, not every Internet user tirade can lead to a full-blown crisis, but monitoring and knowing who is talking about your company and who your influencers are is essential. It is a great tool for so many purposes. As you mentioned, you can often find potential customers and communicate with them in a meaningful way before they make a purchase decision, but you can also discover entire communities talking about your brand that you had not known about. This can lead to marketing research insights, new sales leads, and different business opportunities.

    Also, great point to Annie’s question about using the data how her company needs to. Each company’s strategy is slightly different and, as such, their monitoring should be as well.

    Thanks again.
    @Synthesio (B2B international monitoring)

  • Anonymous

    Nice post Jason. Annie’s challenge of filtering the results is something I see a lot. It is frustrating when 2 people get very different results even when trying to measure the same thing. Or when people conduct a search and get lots of noise in the results. We feel getting social media measurement and marketing right starts off with creating the right topics. I posted an example yesterday of how using the right filters is critical to saving time sorting through results and more time acting

  • Hey Folks,

    This post is a great example of the power of social media monitoring.

    Clearly many of the businesses who’s names are in this article have visited and commented.

    In addition, others who monitor the competition have also come and commented.

    Just goes to show you how this stuff works.

  • Thanks for the reply, Jason! This really does help a lot. Much, much appreciated.

  • Thanks, Brad. I’m going to check out your blog post.

  • There are 2 problems with social media today from the point of view of a enterprise client:

    1. Measurability – what should we measure and what’s the ROI, if there is one? Our tool ( helps companies answer some of these questions. But the ROI is still an open question.

    2. Actionability – what can be done? Your comment really nails it: it depends on the organization and your objectives. PR is the most accessible one, the low hanging fruit. But you could use for customer development, product development, support etc… But you need different tools for each category. The good news is soon enough social media will be an important part in all of the categories above.

  • Jason, I just wanted to say that you are really doing this the right way. Write a good blog post, reply to the people commenting on it and provide further insight in those replies. Its great to see you focusing on the social part of social media.

  • Thanks Jake. If I were only interested in my perspective and not those
    of others, well I’d be kind of an ass, wouldn’t I? Thanks for noticing.

  • Hi Annie – Hang in there!

    You have done the first important step, which is realizing you need to listen and initating that effort. Don’t give up. Getting your searches setup so that you see what is relevant to you is a critical part of any monitoring initiative and worth the time investment. If you are using a paid tool, your provider should offer you some best-practice assitance to get your searches setup optimally.

    Also, your tool should be doing more of the work for you. Once you know your objectives, you can tie specific reports and alerts to help you accomplish those activiites and to highlight where you should be spending your time. Your solution provider should also be able to help you with that.

    Biz360 recently launched Community Insights. While it is based on the platform we developed for major enterprise clients, it is more flexible and affordable for any sized company. A major benefit is you can get best practice support when you need it from folks who have been doing this type of monitoring for years.

  • Michael Fraietta

    No worries. Thank you for another great piece. DM or email me and we’ll set up a walk-though.

  • Hi Jason, Socialtality has put together a decent features scorecard on some of the more prominent monitoring and listening platforms. Might be of some value to those freshly foraying into the land of Social Media Monitoring:

  • I cant referain myself from posting this. It’s been quite some time that I found and that it kinda provides me with a monitoring value. To put it simply with I filter the noise of the internet and keep myself focused only on the discussions that I am interested in.

  • Excellent post! I am a marketing director who wears many hats for my company, including management and sales responsibilities. I have realized the need for social media marketing for some time now, but it has been difficult to bring the US and European divisions on board. This post is helpful for showing someone who is just getting started what they can do on their own for little or no investment. And, to answer your question regarding tools we are using today, it is mostly Google Analytics for evaluating website traffic patterns. I am starting a Twitter page for our company, as well as FB, but more importantly a blog which will be the first of its kind. I am excited and enthusiastic about the opportunity!

  • Very informative. I too agree to the point “Paid Social Media Monitoring Solutions Are Often Worth the Investment”. I’m quite familiar with Radian6 tool as my company has been using it for a while now. Thanks for sharing the info.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your illuminating post, i appreciated a lot, being a novice.
    I would like to point the FLOCK browser, that is doing a great job on “services integration”.
    From FLOCK i can access all the services you mentioned in 2 clicks, save id and pswd, check the updates and even to have a split page with fb, tw, rss in real time.
    FLOCK do stream its own “activity log” in RT.
    Best regards.

  • Tanya should definitely be on your list. If you want to keep in the loop and stay up-to-date, you should be using noodls today. It is the no. 1 gateway to facts and your source to official information in real-time! offers you more coverage and less noise. It is a veritable treasure for the media-savvy. How much relevant information are you already missing while reading this page? How much noise is killing your search results? So what are you waiting for? Just choose your path today and get access to noodls, your gateway to facts.

    Cheerio !

  • Tanya should definitely be on your list. If you want to keep in the loop and stay up-to-date, you should be using noodls today. It is the no. 1 gateway to facts and your source to official information in real-time! offers you more coverage and less noise. It is a veritable treasure for the media-savvy. How much relevant information are you already missing while reading this page? How much noise is killing your search results? So what are you waiting for? Just choose your path today and get access to noodls, your gateway to facts.

    Cheerio !

  • Annie, I see you got quite a few useful pieces of advice on helping you manage the sea of info. I manage social media for Biz360, which is a social media monitoring platform. So I monitor and engage in conversations about SM monitoring – haha. What I have found useful is searching for intent. For example, I have set up searches that look for “social media” AND “monitoring” AND “looking” – this helps me look for people who are looking for monitoring solutions – it can’t get more targeted than that!

  • There is a discussion on a blog or forum about creative and interesting uses of yoga balls that you never have seen before. You could possibly take these uses into consideration in next marketing campaign. It might also be useful to drop a few creative uses that you have seen that would be new to the audience.

  • Xiaoxiao

    I am sure they bought the fans like Vin Diesel at Anyone can buy fans easily, maybe Shell also paid for these boycott bp fans 🙂

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  • Great post! What have you used to monitor twitter conversations?

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