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social media monitoring and measurement vendor checklistMore companies and non-profit organizations are using social media monitoring and measurement dashboards to improve customer service, conduct market research and identify successful marketing strategies. PR departments have long used news clipping services and media measurement services to manage corporate reputation, handle PR crisis, and assess the impact and value of public relations activities.

Finding a media listening and measurement service that meets the organization’s needs can be an arduous and problematic task. New start-ups continually emerge, companies are regularly acquired, go out of business, or revamp their offerings. Many organizations have experienced the unhappy situation of selecting a media listening solution that doesn’t meet their needs, and having to begin the search all over again in less than a year.

Katie Paine, measurement expert and CEO of Paine Publishing, offers valuable tips that can help avoid that unfortunate scenario in her new Guide to Measurement Vendors. The guide offers insights into the strengths of various vendors in both news and social media monitoring and measurement.

Here are some key criteria recommended by Paine and other measurement experts to use in selecting a media monitoring and measurement service:

Media coverage. Many services do not cover all media – print, broadcast, online, social – in one integrated dashboard. Make sure that the service monitors the key media types you need and the outlets you need within each media type. Most organizations, for instance, have specific local news sources or trade publications they want to monitor. Many companies have specific blogs or social media accounts to monitor. Make sure the service already monitors your required sources or can readily add them to its monitoring list.

Timely alerts. For daily alerts of brand mentions in media coverage, timing is often as critical as content. Make sure the vendor can deliver media alerts when you need them.

Clip accuracy. Seek a vendor with good keyword filters. These days, the real problem isn’t finding all the news articles and social media posts containing your key words; it’s finding the right ones. That’s especially true if you’re monitoring some generic words. If the monitoring service can’t filter out spam, porn, geographical references and other irrelevant mentions, then look elsewhere. A short free trial using your own keywords will tell you much more about media coverage and clip accuracy than a canned online demo. (If you can’t get a free trial, insist on a 30-day cancellation clause.)

Sentiment analysis. When considering media monitoring services that offer qualitative assessment of articles, broadcasts and social media posts, seek one that uses a combination of automated software and human analysis. Relying solely on automated sentiment analysis software to assess tone/sentiment, messages, prominence, dominance, and other qualitative factors can produce results that are quite misleading. Demand a minimum 88% accuracy in a Scott’s Pi intercoder reliability test. (Paine says she can help run a test.)

Social media metrics. If you seek a company that can provide comprehensive social media monitoring and comprehensive social media metrics, seek a vendor that can take the application program interface, or API, from a variety of sources and automatically extract all the data that social media networks compile. Make sure the vendor tracks the networks you seek to monitor and measure.

Graphic depictions. It’s hard to believe, but some measurement services use the wrong type of chart format to display results for trends or comparisons. Make sure the charts offered and the chart formats meet your needs – or offer flexibility to develop additional charts.

Customization. Most all companies and non-profit organizations have some sort of special need in monitoring or measurement. It can be coverage of certain media sources, or custom metrics, or certain types of measurement or graphic depictions. Find a vendor that is able to customize its standard package to your specific wants and needs. Many vendors cannot or will not.

Industry standards. Before you begin your search, find what vendors have pledged their support to PR industry standards. The list is available at the Institute for Public Relations website. Vendors who do not follow industry standers are likely to push you to use AVEs and other dubious metrics, Paine warns.

Determine Your Requirements First

Paine and other experts recommend you first determine your requirements, objectives and budget before contacting vendors. After determining your needs, interview vendors to find if they can meet them.

“This is much preferred to watching the 60-90 minute dog and pony show that vendors show to every prospective client. Make sure each requirement on your list is addressed—and demonstrated—to your satisfaction,” stresses Dr. Liz Gross, a social media and market research strategist for a federal student loan servicer.

After selecting a vendor, seek a trial period. Avoid signing a multi-year contract to keep your options open, Gross urges. The company you choose could overhaul its solution, be acquired, or go out of business before the contract ends.

Some organizations, notably larger companies and government agencies, require formal competitive bidding and a formal request for proposal (RFP) process. Although RFPs offer a methodical way to gather competitive bids, they often leave out information that vendors need to create a thorough proposal that’s specific to the organization’s needs. It’s essential to include specific requirements in the RFP in order for vendors to produce quality proposals with accurate cost estimates.

Bottom Line: These recommendations from industry experts can you help find a media monitoring and measurement service that meets your organization’s PR and marketing needs. Be sure your team first agrees on its needs, goals and budget before vetting media monitoring and measurement vendors.