The free tools in my social media marketing toolkit — Part 1: Monitoring

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By Alexandra Reid

I talk a lot about social media marketing strategy here, but rarely do I mention the time-and-money-saving tools that streamline my community building activities and make our social media marketing program an effective solution for businesses.

All of the tools I use are free and available to anyone with access to a computer. They are great for small and new businesses with tight budgets and limited time for experimentation and operation. But while I highly recommend that these tools be used to support social media marketing activities, they are useless for businesses that don’t align them with a sound social media marketing strategy. Additionally, while these tools help abridge the flow of social media content so users can siphon relevant information, engage with their communities and track progress, a key challenge cited by numerous businesses is keeping on top of monitoring, measurement and engagement efforts.

We must also remember that these tools are free and far from perfect. In fact, the biggest criticisms of all social media monitoring tools (free and paid) are that they sometimes fail to provide reliable and accurate data, have lag times, bugs, and are confusing to use. That’s why we must always cross-examine data with information provided by other tools and sometimes even check information manually to ensure everything is accurate.

Today I’ll discuss the tools I use for monitoring social media. In a subsequent post, I’ll reveal my favourite management and measurement tools. You’ll notice that I don’t use many tools to do my job. This is because too many tools act as speed bumps in an otherwise efficient engagement system.

Without further ado, here are my favourite social media monitoring tools:

Hootsuite

This is a popular tool that allows you to monitor multiple accounts including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, WordPress and MySpace. Hootsuite allows you to track click-throughs, time updates, monitor mentions and assign tasks among team members. It also acts as a management tool, allowing you to update multiple accounts at once, and has expanded into measurement with Hootsuite analytics.

TweetDeck

Similar to Hootsuite, this is a great tool for monitoring social media. It is different than Hootsuite in that it works on your desktop, saving you the step of having to go to a website each time you need to check updates. I employ TweetDeck to receive instant updates of social media mentions, which pop up automatically on my desktop, so I can respond immediately to inquiries, concerns and advocacy.

Review of both tools

Both Hootsuite and TweetDeck have their benefits and determents. As mentioned previously, as a desktop application, TweetDeck is easy to access and also displays social media updates directly to your desktop. However, in my experience, TweetDeck has glitches that cause streams to not refresh automatically and scheduled tweets to be sent out at the wrong times.

Hootsuite has fewer glitches (in my experience) but it is more difficult to access as a web-based client. My biggest complaint is that it overlooks some messages altogether. However, its analytics are extremely useful.

Both tools work seamlessly the majority of the time. I use both Hootsuite and TweetDeck to ensure I never have (what I like to call) a “Chrysler moment.” I keep all client accounts on TweetDeck and manage my personal streams on Hootsuite. That way, it is impossible for me to tweet something I intended to go out on my personal account on a client’s account.

Social Mention

This tool offers useful influence-tracking features including reach, sentiment, passion and strength. It trumps Hootsuite’s monitoring service in that it also tracks updates on blogs and their comments, news, images, video and audio. Searches can also be saved as an RSS feed, making it easy to keep track of updates. Social Mention also allows you to set up alerts similar to Google but specifically for social media, where you receive daily email alerts of your brand, company, CEO, marketing campaign, developing news stories, a competitor or other high profile individual. It also offers a “real-time buzz” widget so you can display buzz on your website.

I use Social Mention to identify updates I may have missed on Hootsuite and/or TweetDeck. I use it especially to track social media pick-up of client and competitor stories and media releases. I don’t use it on a daily basis as I do Hootsuite; I only use it periodically for specific searches.

Friend or Follow

This is a great tool to keep track of legitimate Twitter connections. It is an unfortunate common practice on Twitter for users to follow other users simply to receive a follow back and then promptly unfollow. It is a downfall of Twitter, in my opinion, that it alerts you when you receive a follower yet neglects to alert you when someone unfollows you. This tool does this job for you, in that you can see who followed you temporarily.

Admittedly (like Hootsuite and TweetDeck) Friend or Follow straddles the monitoring/management line. However, I classify it as monitoring because I use it primarily to monitor the integrity of a client’s social media community. Not only does it help me understand the kinds of people interested in a client’s content, it also helps me gear content towards the interests of the community. The goal is to have a long-standing and loyal community and the drop-off of community members gives you some clue as to how you may have fallen off track, and if so, how to steer your content back on course.

Google Reader

This tool puts all your blog subscriptions in one place and so is an important time-saver for businesses eager to incorporate blog engagement into their social media marketing strategies. It automatically shows when a blog that you have subscribed to publishes a new update and allows easy click-through to the original post, saving you the time-consuming step of going to each individual site and checking to see if there is anything new.

I use Google Reader every day to keep on top of blogs that post relevant content for our clients. I also use it to keep on top of LinkedIn Answer subscriptions.

Blog Catalog, Technorati and Google Blog search

All of these tools are wonderful for identifying relevant blogs and posts where you could engage in comment discussions. I check Google Blogs every day to uncover timely posts that could be shared via a client’s social media accounts and commented on. I check Blog Catalog and Technorati regularly to find new blogs to which I could subscribe (through Google Reader) and monitor on behalf of our clients.

In my experience, Technorati is superior to Blog Catalog, which sometimes lists outdated blogs that have ceased publication. However, I advise using both to ensure you don’t miss any opportunities.

If you are experiencing any difficulties in monitoring, managing or measuring your social media activities, we encourage you to give us a call.

I’m also always interested in hearing about new social media marketing tools. If you are a new company with a neat and helpful new social media tool, share it here. I love test driving!

Image: Idea Girl Media

/// COMMENTS

6 Comments »
  • Coleman Foley

    February 24, 2012 2:43 pm

    Nice roundup. Another good free tool for monitoring blogs is Trapit. It is like a smarter, persistent Google Blog Search. You tell it the topic you want to follow, then it continually searches its index of quality web sources for relevant content. Trapit’s discovery engine trawls the web, organizing it by topic, kind of like Technorati, but on a bigger scale. A Trapit editor has to vet each source before it is added to the index. There are about 100,000 sources in the index, so there is still lots of content.

    As you thumb recommended items up and down, Trapit learns what you are looking for. Usually the initial results are pretty good, but they just get better. For example, I just started following social media marketing on Trapit, and the first results are very good. Try it at http://trap.it

    I’d love to hear what you think.

  • Alexandra Reid

    March 06, 2012 12:06 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation Coleman. This sounds like a fabulous tool and I look forward to testing it out.

    - Alex.

  • Lorena

    May 02, 2012 4:22 am

    Hi Alex,

    Another free social media monitoring tool is Buzz Equity (www.buzzequity.com). There are other products out in the market that offer a similar solution but what sets Buzz Equity apart is it’s specialized focus on Chinese/Asian social media. Buzz Equity is currently available in English, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese. We are still in beta testing and would love any feedback you could offer on our platform.

    Lorena

  • Alexandra Reid

    May 02, 2012 1:38 pm

    Hi Lorena.

    Buzz Equity looks like an interesting tool. After a quick review, it seems to me that it’s quite similar to Social Mention. As we don’t exactly cater to the Asian market, it wouldn’t be much use to me, but perhaps our readers might like to take it for a test drive. Thanks for the suggestion.

    - Alex.

  • Colleen Wolak

    May 17, 2012 4:19 pm

    Does anyone know of any good tools, free or paid, for gathering reviews on Yelp, Google, Yahoo, etc? We have 24 locations, so it’s definitely time-consuming to pull these manually.

  • Martin Kang

    October 10, 2012 8:29 pm

    Please also consider including SocialMotus. We’re a new, free social management tool platform for businesses and individuals. We’re building some innovative and powerful conversion tracking and social management features including priority messages inbox, targeted Twitter followers discovery, sales conversions by posts and much more.

    You can review it by signing up for free here http://www.socialmotus.com or emailing me for more information.

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