Yesterday I gave a presentation at Social Fresh in Charlotte, NC, on turning social media monitoring into social media research. They are not the same thing. When I had finished my withering torrent of slides, the first question I took from the audience was this: "What tool would you recommend to get started in social media monitoring?" I do get this question a lot. I never answer it with a "tool." Instead, I "reinterpret" the question thusly: "How do I get started in social media monitoring?" This is a slightly different proposition, and one that doesn't require a tool, per se. The thing about any of the popular tools is this: they give you a geyser of information from any and all sources of online content. The first time you run a search for your product or brand, you might get 3000 mentions, all from Twitter. Or you might get 250 message board posts, plus a few hundred tweets, and some blog comments for good measure. How do you make sense of this unstructured, unfiltered information?
Well, a good first step is to start where your customers already are. Monitoring tools are often overwhelmed with Twitter posts. If Twitter is an important channel to your customer base, then the feed you get from your monitoring tool is likely going to be more relevant to your decision support than if your customers aren't on Twitter. Both "Dell Hell" and "Motrin Moms" were Twitter-borne kerfuffles. The former incident changed Dell's culture forever. The latter; a blip on the radar, oft-cited at social media conferences but nearly unknown to the Motrin-buying audience. The key difference? There are a lot of IT pros and Dell customers active in social media, particularly on Twitter. Twitter is a relevant channel. For headache sufferers, however, not so much.
For your brand, Twitter might be enormously important. For others, much of the content, interaction and engagement might be centered on message boards, or a few popular blogs with active commenting communities. You need to know where your customers are, before you can begin to calibrate and therefore make sense of the noisy firehose of social media monitoring. Does this mean that you ignore a channel? Never. It might mean, however, that you weight its importance up or down in the calibration of your social media monitoring metrics, depending on how representative that channel is of your current base of customers and prospects.
"Be where your customers are" is axiomatic, and hopefully ingrained into the minds of every competent marketer today. But this advice is rarely carried over into social media monitoring. If a customer has a problem on Twitter - you respond to that problem. That's a tactical interaction. If, however, you are really seeking to gain strategic insight from the mass of information you get from Twitter, you need to know just where Twitter posts (or any other form of content) sit in the pecking order. Again, not to ignore - but to calibrate accordingly.
And how do you know what social channels, if any, are important to your customers? If you read this blog regularly, I think you know the answer. You ask them.
And that's the first step in choosing a tool.