Is the era of free social monitoring tools over?
The world of social media monitoring has changed dramatically over the past few years.
From an initial frenzy of a large number of free tools offering a fairly broad selection of services the range of those still standing has diminished and almost all are paid for, outside of a very restricted trial service.
Part of this is due to necessary business models to make these sites sustainable and also the restricting of API and other access to services by the big players such as Twitter and Facebook.
When I was on the IIA Toolshed working group we did a review of a selection of some of the tools . I have tried all of these and a range of addition ones including
Most have started to evolve into more analytical type tools measuring sentiment type indicators and are primarily aimed at large corporation with big budgets and big numbers to crunch. This does not suit a large portion of the population.
Outside of being expensive (assume they must pay for access to the firehose) Maryrose Lyons at CongRgeation in 2015 debated the validity of what was actually being measured. There are lots of indicators (likes, RT, @, share etc) but what do they really tell us and how valid is it to saw you had an impressions figure based upon the number of followers someone has. The chance of anyone actually seeing it being pretty remote, Thankfully this practice is starting to change as we move beyond vanity metrics and the platform expose more data to something more accurate that actually tells us how a campaigns performance. Engagement metrics have gone a long way to helping but can still be a big opaque. However social media monitoring still has a long way to go before we have a commonly accepted methodology. I helped in the judging of the PRCA awards again this year and the variety of metrics recorded for campaigns was extremely confusing from simple things like new wording that measurement services have started to use to lack of clarity of how figures were arrived at. The solution was to manually check what was claimed which again is imperfect and very labour intensive.
For most campaigns the hastag is probably the most clearly identifiable marker and easiest to track. Almost all the services offer a free trial but these are time limited to a week or month and historical searches are getting very expensive. In the absence of a large budget this means searching, recording and saving on a weekly basis which is impractical.
Twitter is naturally the easiest to monitor for with #hashtags. LinkedIn allows it but the results never feel quite complete and Facebook also allows you to track #hashtags but its manual and misses a reasonable amount of posts. Snapchat, Instagram etc all feature a heavy usage of #hashtags and this explode further when you consider its including in harder to track traditional media, radio and the world of news sites and blogs.
Even with limitless budget (its not uncommon for companies to pay in excess of €10k a month to social monitoring) and powerful services they don’t stack up if the volume of social media content is not there.
However with some advance preparation and thinking you can take a lot of heart ache out of the monitoring process with automation. Previously this involved having a reasonable knowledge of APIs but thankfully its much more plug and play style.
In the next post I will explain how to set up a service I use to track #hashtag data for free.