questions for media monitoring & measurement vendorsCorporate public relations departments, non-profit organizations and their PR agencies employ media monitoring to handle crises, manage corporate reputation, and evaluate the impact of their PR activities. Social media monitoring and measurement also helps businesses and brands improve customer service, conduct market research and pinpoint fruitful marketing strategies. The widespread popularity of social media has caused social media listening to become a must-have service for large and mid-sized companies.

While more companies embrace news monitoring and social media listening, finding the right media monitoring solution can be difficult. The market is saturated with a range of monitoring tools. Media monitoring firms continually emerge, go out of business, overhaul their products, or merge with competitors. All too frequently, companies chose a media monitoring vendor that doesn’t meet their needs and must start a new search almost immediately or when their contract expires.

Asking these questions can help you find the best media monitoring service for your organization and avoid such unhappy scenarios.

Does your service monitor the media I need? Many media measurement vendors do not monitor all types of media. Some monitor strictly traditional media outlets such as online or print news; others focus on social media. Some social media listening services may not monitor online news, radio, television or print. Ask if the vendor monitors the social media networks, blogs, online forums and specific news outlets you need. Most organizations need to monitor particular local news sources, trade publications, blogs or social media accounts. If a service doesn’t monitor a certain website or network, it may be able to add it to its monitoring list upon request. If the service does not monitor some sources on your “must-have” list make their inclusion part of your agreement, including an option to cancel if the vendor does not add the required sources within a specified time.

Do you provide timely alerts? Customers with problems expect a response within hours. Organizations must act quickly to solve customer service issues and to extinguish potential PR crisis. Ask if the vendor can send media alerts at the times you need them and, if needed, multiple times per day to multiple people on your staff.

How accurate are your reports? Only a high-quality media monitoring service with good keyword filters can weed out the large numbers of irrelevant mentions, including spam, porn and geographical references. Unrelated mentions can be an especially large problem if you’re monitoring generic words. Negative keywords and other advanced search operators can deliver targeted results.

Do you offer sentiment analysis? Sentiment analysis, either by human analysts or automated software, rates the tone of mentions on a positive to negative scale. Although automated sentiment analysis offers major brands with large numbers of mentions a cost-effective option, software programs are less accurate than reviews by human analysts. Seek a vendor that can combine human analysis and automated software for greater accuracy.

Do you integrate analytics from all media into a single report? The best media monitoring services integrate analytics from all media and social networks, including the client’s Google Analytics, into a single dashboard for easy viewing. An integrated analytics approach provides a 360-degree view of how earned media, marketing or social media campaigns impact key business objectives.

Can we customize your tool to meet our specific needs? Some measurement venders including offer dashboards with search and measurement profiles customized for different divisions, departments or brand managers. They can generate charts and graphs for their particular needs, and create new custom metrics for clients. PR teams monitoring a crisis or a campaign can create specific views, filters and dashboards.

Do you support PR industry standards? Narrow down your list to vendors who have pledged their support PR industry standards. The list is available at the Institute for Public Relations website. Vendors who do not follow industry standers may urge you to use advertising value equivalencies (AVEs) and other questionable metrics.

Will you provide customer support? Some vendors provide “self-service” products. You’ll be on your own. Other vendors help customers write advanced search queries, teach them how to best use their dashboards and have customer service representatives readily available to trouble-shoot issues.

Do you require a long-term contract? Many media monitoring vendors ask customers to commit to a one-year contract. If the vendor fails to meet expectations, the contract will limit your options. To keep your options open, seek a vendor that offers a month-to-month service that can be cancelled at any time.

Do you offer a free trial? Of course, a vendor can tell you most anything during a demo – and hide any shortcomings. A short trial will reveal the accuracy and features of the service much better than a canned demo.

What are your prices for the following services I want?  Write up a concise RFP for your media monitoring and measurement needs and ask each sales rep to provide you with line-item pricing. You might even consider supplying each vendor with a pricing spreadsheet to complete. Asking for line-item pricing helps assure that you are not paying for services you don’t want or need. It also allows you to make better price comparisons.

As a final note, it’s usually better to unbundle PR services. Bundling multiple PR requirements such as media database, news release distribution, media monitoring and media measurement, and executive newsletter production into one RFP from one vendor is usually NOT the most effective or cost-efficient way to purchase PR services. The disadvantages of bundling PR services with one vendor greatly outweigh the advantages – both in the quality of each service and cost. No one vendor possesses the best of all the PR services or the best price for each service.

Bottom Line: Exhaustive research will help you select a media monitoring service that meets your needs. Asking the right questions will separate high-quality firms from the less desirable services.