Free social media monitoring tools

When it comes to social media, everyone rightly talks about the importance of listening. The web is teeming with conversations about everything you can think of – and quite probably even your company, organisation, candidate, issue or brand –¬† and being fully aware and up to speed will help you shape your communications so that it responds to the trends, interests and concerns topping people’s agendas at any given moment. Luckily, you can now monitor most of what’s going on in social media with a vast array of free tools. Here’s a sample.

Blogs and microblogs

Google Blog Search and Technorati are the standard dedicated blog search engines. I prefer Google because¬† it tends to find more items, especially when searching for more obscure things. For more detail and graphs, I’d recommend Blogpulse and Trendpedia. Graphs don’t just look nice: having an illustrated timeline is useful to see if buzz has grown regularly since the launch of a campaign or if there’s a spike in activity around a launch or event etc. Serph should in theory be really useful because it takes into account social networking and social bookmarking sites such as Delicious, Stumbleupon and Digg, but I’ve not found it to be great. Premise is good though so maybe it’s just a question of time.

Microblogging is on the increase and Twitter is the platform of choice for most. Search tweets using Twitter Search, Tweet Scan, and Tweetag (had not heard of this one until this morning when James pointed it out – thanks). The advanced search on Twitter Search is especially useful as it allows you to search for people as well as search items and to narrow down location and time.

Forums, comments and groups

Search engines struggle with forums, so these dedicated forum search tools are very useful: Boardreader and Forum Discussion. Search engines struggle even more with comments than they do with forums, so Backtype, which scours comments, can be a very handy tool indeed. They’re a bit out of fashion now, but Google Groups and Yahoo! Groups still have an enormous number of daily users, so a search on both is always worthwhile, although most search findings are useless to be honest.

Search items

Google Trends shows how popular any given search term is. The measurement is not that precise, as it’s a percentage of total search traffic on Google, but nonetheless useful to see if more or fewer people have been searching for the term in question over a given period of time.

Not strictly social media monitoring

Digg, which allows users to rate webpages, is still going strong. It’s handy way of finding top stories, although less useful when looking for detail about more obscure items. Yahoo have launched Yahoo Buzz, which is a lot like Digg but not as good, so not an alternative yet, but it’s still in beta, so worth checking out at a later date. Both tools can be used for any webpage, not just social media.

It’s often quite useful to find out what sort of traffic is going to your site (or any other site of interest for that matter). Quantcast,¬† Compete, and Alexa help to give you some idea of what amount and type of traffic is going to any given site (although in-depth and additional services are not free, except for some on Quantcast).

Any others?

If anyone can think of a tool I’ve missed, please do let me know. Thanks.

Blogger outreach: it's about engagement

I met with a client’s marketing team team last week to give them a presentation on why they should do a blogger outreach campaign to help launch a new product, and how I would recommend they do it. To my surprise, they seemed to buy it. By stating my surprise, I don’t mean that I don’t fully endorse blogger engagement as a marketing tactic. I do, with the right brand and with the right product or service to promote. No, it’s surprising because the company in question is huge and probably amongst the top 10 most recognisable brands in the world. And it’s the big cheeses that have usually proven most difficult to get onboard before: they tend to be fairly conservative; have complex, multi-tiered decision-making processes; and are very protective of their brands. So something that’s both new and gives away control tends to be rejected from the off.

The main reason for this shift lies with the growing prominence of bloggers. Blogging is hitting the mainstream: bloggers are reaching huge audiences, and are increasingly being viewed in the same vein as journalists, namely people that can help spread your story. However I think the clincher in the approach I recommend lies in how bloggers are different from journalists, and how their stories can actually be made more interesting by asking them to engage rather than just write.

Bloggers don’t have editors, they’ll usually only write about what they really want to write about, and they don’t have deadlines, which means you don’t need to approach them in the same way in which you’d approach journalists. Sure, the old PR approach is required: providing high-quality and high-relevance material; but bloggers have more time and more space to write on a single topic or theme if it’s caught their fancy, while journalists follow editorial plans and deadlines set by editors. So rather than sell a great story for a single article you can actually say to a blogger: try my product and write about it if you fancy it, and assuming you’ve got faith in it and it really is a good product, you’ve got impartial users testing it and spreading a positive message, which in an age in where consumers are trusting “people like me” far more than traditional media or PR, can prove invaluable.

There should also be a hook, however. It’s not as simple as “try it and write, please”. The hook can either be an incentive e.g. one winner gets to keep the product or get a discount on the service? I don’t really like this approach to be honest. Although I think it can be done with total honesty and transparency, I prefer an approach where you make the blogger’s engagement with the product/service so interesting, funny or challenging, that they really want to do it. To pull this off, you need to do plenty of research to: 1) define the right type of engagement e.g. set a challenge, compare service A to mainstream services B and C, find the whackiest use for Product A; and 2) find bloggers that are really interested in your area and are capable of the right sort of engagement.

What’s more, the engagement approach does not just make for a better story: it also minimises risk. Bloggers get in a huff when they receive material from PR professionals that they really do not want. But whereas with a journalist, a PR professional only risks his/her pitch being binned and in the worst case being placed on a block-sender list, bloggers control their own space and can publish whatever they want. Including the atrocious pitch they really did not want. Every few months the blogosphere is buzzing with conversations on how PR is dead and PR professionals are worthless, sometimes starting off from a post where a PR pitch has been cut and pasted, sender and all. This then does the rounds and is seen by up to millions of people within days. Humiliating to say the least, for agency as well as consultant in question.

Instead, by focusing on engagement, you ensure that you’re actually seeking bloggers’ expertise rather than just their fanbase, which makes for a better story AND helps to ensure that you do not incur their wrath in case that they’re not interested, because you’ve shown them the respect they deserve.

UPDATE: came across this entry from B.L. Ochman’s what’s next blog – a couple of examples highlighting that dumb PR pitches are both a waste of time and a liability.

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