It is one thing for someone or some organization to join the virtual world of social media, but it is quite a different matter should they wish to derive some benefit from this effort and engage their respective audiences. From the corporate perspective, because individuals rarely have these options, the virtual world of social media may take on two different streams of monitoring/listening that I would like to cover here: free listening and paid listening software.
Before we do a comparison between free and paid listening software however let us be clear as to what we are trying to capture in terms of media channels. (See Basic Social Media Monitoring Workflow diagram)
Clearly, trying to monitor and listen to both traditional and social media can be a daunting task for any person or corporation. So there are essentially two types of software available to help: Free and paid social media listening software.
Free Social Media Listening Software Characteristics:
This is largely a consumer tool that relies on the openness of traditional media to offer their information for free.
As you will appreciate, the number of traditional media outlets that offer their product to social media listening companies for free is rather limited. Partnerships between media outlets and free social media listening software companies are rare so any analysis based on this partial information will be circumspect at best. Free listening software also means that your search begins from the day you entered the search parameters and you cannot go backwards for research purposes.
Once you have decided to use the free software and define your search parameters, you will receive all the data as one big package. So you will need to devote a lot of time and effort to conduct a triage between the useful and the not-so-useful information you have collected and determine the themes and trends. Moreover, if you use a Google search program, for example, you do not have access to Facebook or Twitter. So you will need to search for content on each of these mediums independently. Finally, the results you get from your free social media listening software cannot be shared, it only works on an individual basis so you need to send every article or post individually to other people or organizations.
Paid Social Media Listening Software Characteristics:
So what is the value associated with paid social media listening software compared to free software? and how are you able to justify this kind of expense? First of all, paid social media monitoring products are a business tool vice a consumer one. To that end, these software companies have partnerships with both traditional and social media outlets ( e.g. Postmedia, Facebook and Twitter). The result is a tenfold increase in access and a commensurate level of confidence that you truly have your finger on the traditional and social media’s pulse throughout the province, throughout the country or anywhere in the world.
With this huge increase in raw data there is an increased need to determine what it all means – hence the need for an analytical software capability. Data can be categorized by themes, by specific times (as far back as 2010 in the case of Meltwater), articles and posts are listed in chronological order, by province and by language. You also have a contact person that is either a phone call or email away from helping you with your monitoring/listening effort. Finally, paid social media listening software can be shared with others (albeit the number of users that can share depends on the package you have purchased).
To conclude, I suppose the old cliche applies here: “You get what you pay for,” and businesses that wish to engage their customers on social media would do well to consider the benefits of social media listening software “because its always easier to join a conversation than to create and nurture one.”
What do you think? Is social media listening necessary ? and do the benefits of paid social media listening software justify the costs?
NB: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Royal Canadian Legion.