Our staff has pored and turned over 100 of the top social media monitoring services over the last few weeks, and having balanced what we know as former clients with the deep-dive we did in the segment of measurement, we think we understand this world pretty well now.

We might have been blind previously in our love of certain vendors over another, but here are the essential 30 questions we’d be asking our vendors of their capabilities in the future social monitoring sphere:

The Table Stakes

1. Scope of Coverage essentially how much social real estate do you cover?

Are you platform specific e.g. Twitalyzer or an aggregator of a number of social streams e.g.  Radian6? –  What’s also involved includes: number of platforms and sources (the popular ones are social networks, blogs, video and photo sharing, rating and review  sites, ecommerce sites, forums , wikis and message boards – here is a list from Visible’s data collection environments?)  Is there an ability to access Facebook information? Do they license the full firehose of Twitter’s tweets or just a sampling? Is there access to proprietary data sources?

2. Usability of Dashboard what is the user experience of the dashboard provided?

Use of metrics is still a very human deal, insight needs to spark off the page. Is the key dashboard or operating environment intuitive, graphic, customizable, simple, easy to learn and self train on?

3. Account Support/Setupwhen you have queries and need help (and you will), will there be a shoulder to lean on?

Do they have a help desk? Are they particularly helpful and friendly? Is there quick turnaround on requested demos? Do they provide onsite, phone and text chat training and support? Are there reapplicable use cases? Are there easy to follow and digest video tutorials? How much of a  learning curve is there to using their tools? Do they provide support in your business language? What’s included in your price?

4. Numbers of Users/Search Terms/Results Supported (for the price)what is the scale value of your purchase?

Frequently social monitoring companies charge by some variant, essentially larger companies pay more than smaller companies.  Ensure the appropriate amount of users and results are supported for the right value, for now and as it grows in the future.

5. Cost how much is it now and in the future?

This can start to be a pricey game and to use the old adage you get what you pay for. There are really 4 models at play here: free, freemium, vendor and partner with accompanying levels of involvement. Many of the popular monitors starts at $500 per month which can add up over time as scope increases. What do you need for your current stage of the business and what do you need two years down the road (to avoid all the retraining)?

6. Real-time Nesshow responsive is this company and tool, both in information and action?

Particularly on some of the niche data source imports and analysis, is it automatically or loaded periodically in batch. As speed is one of the most important factors on the social web, minutes can mean headaches and hours can mean infernos.

7. Sortability/Trend Analysiscan I cut the data my way?

Many of the common sort factors are by: date, media type, geography, sentiment and influencers. Ensure they have these and any other specific needs you might have.

8. Response Toolscan I not only measure social media, but interact with it?

Worlds are colliding as more and more social monitor tools are activating interest in business and brands by allowing staff to triage and actively respond to what they are seeing on their dashboards. For example, Hootsuite, historically a  social media dashboard, has now launched its own monitoring service. Others have taken their monitoring sprinkle dust and have added team collaboration and outreach functionality. On this front, are employees able to respond in real time? Can they tag influencers and interactions?  Can they historically track conversations back and forth? Can they integrate employees, customers and social web? Can they have threaded/curated conversations?

Social Monitoring 201 – fast becoming the standard

9. Sharing Capabilitiescan multiple people handle our stuff simultaneously?

For efficiency, accountability and security reasons, most enterprise level people need team and department-coordinated usage of their social assets.  What are the number of users supported? Can their be similutaneous and synchronized sharing? Are there preferred and affiliated admin access levels?

10. Quality of Datawhat is the quality of the date pipe?

Some data is just not the same and although tough to judge from the outside, some things may be easier to ascertain.  A big one – how much historical presence of data is there – does it go back 3 months or 3 years? Is the data being passively or actively searched (and in the latter case, ensuring that they aren’t breaking any rules to access/scrape data- Beevolve‘s crawler service is interesting here?)  Are you able to filter data? And is the data backed up and secured?

11. Advanced Analytics can there more insight to be easily gained here?

Things to look for here that good user experience and algorithms could and should provide:  key word analysis, overall themes, competitive benchmarking and analysis, engagement indices, content and user similarity

12. Authority Rankingsare they identifying and measuring the top voices?

People falsely believe that everybody has the same importance on the social web. Although possible, a legitimate bonafide influencer can probably flex more weight than an angry troll. Do monitoring systems provide smart and standardized influencer identification? Can you filter influencer comments from crowd noise? Can you set monitoring and outreach priorities on a target pool of important fans, customers, users or prospects? Are you able to profile deeply influencers across the range of their social channels?

13. Case Studiesare there motivating client examples on monitoring use?

Can the company show a range of uses across multiple departments? Are there insightful testimonials? Can they provide not only monitoring outcomes but client business outcomes? Are these examples across a range of organizations and industries?

14. Presentation of Data – how strong is the visualization of data and insight?

On monitoring services, people do and should judge the book by its cover. One of the biggest issues in enterprises is the small amount of time staff spend using these tools. If you have to fight to get to the right data it won’t be used. Things to consider: do monitors have provocative looking infographics? Do they provide well-formatted automated reports? Is the data and their supporting visuals sortable and customizable? Do they provide visual displays of people’s social graph? Are you able to drilldown a number of levels across the right variables? Can you export visuals seamlessly to make quick, colourful presentations?

15. Standardized with servers/programming software/mobile appsdoes it work where I want it to?

This is more technical in orientation but an obvious is making sure it works with your enterprise’s tech infrastructure. Mac and PC-friendliness? Broswer or software-based? All browsers? Flash-based (challenge when mobile)? Can it embed itself into software and dashboards (e.g. Radian6’s Excel Add In widget)? Can it export itself into word, excel, sql and other formats in your desktop software?  Can you access the data remotely through iPhone, Blackberry, Android and/or Symbian apps?

Check out our next post for the second half of our criteria and the features that separate the monitoring “men from the boys”.

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