Social media monitoring solutions track sites, protect your brand

Social media's popularity has left some companies vulnerable to bad word of mouth or leaks of confidential information. But social network monitoring tools are available to help.

Social networking has become a common way for companies and customers to interact. The Nielsen Co. found that 34% of Americans have used social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to rant or rave about a product, company or brand.

"In 2010, the number of comments individuals posted about companies on social networking sites was larger than the number of email messages they sent," said Ken Landoline, principal analyst for the unified communications and contact center at market research firm Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va.

This movement has altered perceptions about corporate data, because it’s no longer housed behind a company firewall. Customer service representatives often interact on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes the interactions quickly escalate. A marketing department employee could leave for lunch without a care in the world and return to find the company being lambasted by thousands of Facebook users.

Employees are also using sites like LinkedIn to raise their own profiles, as well as those of their companies’. In some cases, employees may intentionally or inadvertently leak confidential information. Compliance officers need to make sure that such interactions do not put their firms at risk.

To protect their brands, it has become imperative for compliance officers to be aware of what‘s being said about them on these sites and respond appropriately. They have been searching for social network monitoring tools to keep track of these conversations, and vendors have responded.

The new social network monitoring tools track social media updates, forum posts and blogs, and also pinpoint conversations related to specific brands, products or executives. The social media monitoring solutions -- with prices ranging from free to hundreds of thousands of dollars -- perform tasks ranging from simply collecting the information to funneling it to corporate contact centers. Faced with a bewildering array of choices, companies must determine which types of social media monitoring solutions best meet their needs.

As a starting point, corporations often monitor a few essential elements: use of their names, mentions of their products and conversations about key executives. At the low end of the market, solutions (that are often free) use keyword searches to collect these different mentions and then present them to the company for evaluation and possible action. Addictomatic searches websites for the latest news, blog posts, videos or images centered on a company, for example. Facebook Lexicon collects words and phrases about a business posted on Facebook profiles, group walls and event walls. Socialseek consolidates all the latest social networking news, videos, photos and tweets. Twazzup is a real-time news platform that filters out relevant news from Twitter exchanges.

Most compliance officers want to do more than simply aggregate the information, because social media conversations often include a lot of inane chatter. For instance, if McDonald's monitored social media sites, much of its mentions would be similar to "I'm going to McDonald's" or "I'm meeting Joe at McDonald's." Companies need to separate such idle chitchat from more actionable blurbs, such as "I have the recipe for the Big Mac" or "There was a hair in my McDonald's french fries, and I plan to sue."  Ideally, the social network monitoring tool would delete the chatter and present the company with the actionable conversations.

Sophisticated social media monitoring solutions use analytics to make such distinctions. Collective Intellect Inc. offers Web-based, automated, real-time text mining and analytics software, so companies identify emerging consumer thoughts about their brands. Dow Jones Insight collects print, online and even video conversations, synthesizes the information and presents companies with reports that help them track what’s said online. Trackur LLC scans Web pages -- including news, blogs, video, images and forums -- and then tags social media content as positive, neutral and negative.

The tools are also becoming more granular: Some even provide information about who made the comments. Consequently, compliance officers can monitor what employees may be stating about the company.

Once the business has a good idea about who said what, it must determine how to respond.

"Many companies are just starting to put new processes in place that outline how they will interact with social media content," noted Andy Beal, CEO at Trackur. The process includes developing policies so employees understand the potential risks that come with use of these new communications channels. 

In most cases, the work is in early stages of development, and few companies have all of the needed elements in place. However, the realization that such social network monitoring tools are needed is becoming more common.

"If you think about it, social media is just one more corporate communications option," Landoline said. "Consequently, companies need to put tools and processes in place so they can appropriately monitor and respond to these exchanges."

Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who has been covering technology issues for two decades. He’s based in Sudbury, Mass., and can be reached at paulkorzen@aol.com. Let us know what you think about the story; email Ben Cole, Associate Editor.

This was first published in August 2011

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