The last decade has witnessed a revolution in the way that companies understand the influence of their brands, products, goods, and services in the context of consumerism. The exponential explosion in social media channels, including weblogs, message forums, and networks such as Twitter and Facebook, have created an immense “corpus” of digital content, which contain billions of conversations about brands and products. Instead of the traditional survey or focus groups to extract data, companies are now clamoring to listen in to this buzz and discern what exactly consumers like or dislike. Whether a forum on diabetes, a travel site offering the latest hotel reviews, or the pros and cons of the latest iPad, companies as never before can now can hear firsthand what people are saying about their products, goods, and services. The ability to listen in and capture this new media intelligence is what comprises the exciting and ever-expanding universe of “social media analytics.”
The Market of SM Listening Platforms
In contrast to the early history of the Internet that relied upon SEO as the primary means for optimizing a website’s performance (think ‘Google AdSense’ circa 2004), the current generation of Web 2.0 companies leverage social media networks as the “new playing field” where consumers converse with others about products, brands, and services. Social media analytics’ “Listening Platforms” are designed to capture this conversation through a variety of metrics, charts, data visualizations, and other discovery features that aggregate, sift, analyze, and interpret the vast ocean of social media data. Any serious SMB owner today must consider the implications of Social Media Analytics as an important influencer of branding and marketing in the 21st century. The universe of social media monitoring options for business owners is ever expansive and there are many types, styles, and pricing options to choose from, ranging from less expensive, easily scalable platforms to more complex and expensive enterprise suites. We will briefly survey below four popular social media management solutions that are either free or that involve a relatively low monthly cost to implement.
Google Analytics is one of the most well-known sites to offer website statistics and analysis and is used on around 55% of the 10,000 most popular websites. GA’s tagline is “Enterprise-class web analytics” and it demonstrates this through a comprehensive suite of analytics tools divided into content, mobile, advertising, and conversion.
GA also offers social media intelligence insights, offering analysis of the influence that a business has across the spectrum of social media channels. In order to use GA to monitor social networks including Facebook and Twitter, you will need to integrate the Google platform with each network button. Social Engagement reports allow users to see how content is shared through social interactions such as Likes or Followers.
Xaffo was just released by Calcey Technologies in May, 2012 and seeks to “provide a new breed of social media analytics and social media intelligence” by appealing to both SMBs and Enterprise level clients. According to the press release, “Xaffo provides the industry’s first social media analytics tool for any organization – from small to medium-sized business (SMB) on up to large enterprises – to have an ability to track and act upon the popularity of their website and web pages in leading social media networks. In addition, Xaffo allows monitoring of keywords, trends, conversations, even sentiment analysis, and more across leading social media networks.”
The Xaffo application is built on tipfy, a Python Web framework, and is hosted on the Google App Engine. It uses OpenID so subscribers can log in using their Google, Yahoo or other mail accounts.
Xaffo costs are scaled based on four different 4 categories – Professional, Business, Corporate, and Enterprise, ranging in costs from $99.99/month and incrementing up to $299.99 for the Corporate level – with Enterprise level costs higher based on the number of monthly websites requested.
A 30 day free trial of Xaffo is available; however credit card billing information is required to start the trial.
Raven is a powerful real-time social media management platform that draws data from 20-plus sources including Twitter, Facebook, Stumble Upon, YouTube, Flickr, Picasa, WordPress and Disqus, as well as newspapers. The ‘Social Monitor’ tool allows users to search on brand, competitor, or industry terms, with returns that are tagged with automated sentiment on every mention. For example, a user can search on any keyword and determine which Twitter or Facebook influencers are discussing that specific keyword.
Raven’s real-time ‘Social Stream’ tool aggregates Facebook, Twitter and other social media conversations into one simple, yet comprehensive, view. The user can Post and schedule messages directly from the Social Stream tool and push to more than one account. Reply, retweet and favorite messages in real-time, or assign tasks for follow-up. With one click you can store influencer contact information.
Raven’s ‘Pro’ plan is the most popular package at $99/month, followed by the ‘Agency’ package for $249/month.
Raven Tools are free for 30 days without any credit card billing information required.
Sprout Social has received numerous accolades in the industry for its robust and visually appealing social media management dashboard. Functionalities such as contact management, competitive insight, lead generation, reporting, analytics and more are wrapped together in a package that’s intuitive and easy to use.
Some of the features offered by Sprout are: ability to make specific keyword, profile, and geo location searches to identify the most popular Tweets and track the most influential social referrals to their website; a full complement of collaboration tools for messaging, scheduling, and posting to team members; and generation of detailed, customized reports that describe follower demographics and trends.
As one reviewer has said, “Sprout Social is the perfect social monitoring tool for small-to-medium sized franchises, local businesses with a handful of locations and smaller companies on a limited budget. . . . I highly recommend Sprout Social for business owners as opposed to agencies due to its simple interface and workflow features. This is the D.I.Y. answer for businesses that lack a specialized social media marketing employee and cannot afford to outsource their social to agency services.”
Depending on services and tools required, Sprout’s offers several pricing plans ranging from $9 to $59/months, as well as a Premium package for $849/month.
Sprout provides a 30 day trial without requiring any credit card billing information.
In closing, there are numerous reasons why social media marketing is essential for any successful business campaign – obtaining customer insights, developing an effective marketing strategy, tracking brand strength and competition, increasing sales . . . just to name few. The ability to see how Company X’s brand compares to Company Y’s in terms of overall social media “buzz” can have a major impact in developing and implementing marketing and PR strategies. All market signs indicate that the SM analytics industry is currently experiencing a significant phase of growth and expansion, exponentially equivalent to the growing demand for social media analytics tools and ways to slice and dice digital content.
Just a few years ago, the available social media strategies were limited and often relied either on hiring a social media expert or purchasing a large-scale and expensive enterprise analytics solution, both of which were out of the reach of most SMBs. Today, however, things have drastically changed! Affordable and highly robust solutions for an effective social media intelligence campaign are easily within the reach of all SMBs. As we’ve explored above, Google Analytics, Xaffo, Raven, Sprout Social are just a few of the exciting and innovative solutions now available in this exciting and expansive new market. As never before, small business owner can now sift, analyze, and interpret social media data to obtain the most effective solutions for growing their brands, products, and services in the 21st century.
Update:We recently verified that the Xaffo 30-day free trial does not require credit card billing information, based on the company’s website: “All our packages have a one month free trial. We do not require your billing information at the time of sign up. We only collect your billing information if you wish to continue after the free trial” (http://www.xaffo.com/support/