This post originally appeared on the oneforty blog. It’s being reposted here as part of my blogging portfolio.

Often times, people are hesistant to invest in a social media monitoring tool of any kind. This is understandable: When you are unsure of the value of social media, it’s hard to justify throwing money at it. This is why measurement is important. But therein lies a catch 22: paid monitoring tools offer better metrics.

In his recent blog post, Jeremiah Owyang recommends that organizations invest in social business tools and talent based on market research and scale investment by their experience with social media. On page seven of his report he offers a quiz that’ll help you bench mark your social business maturity and then see where you should be investing.

There are plenty of free and cheap ways to monitor mentions of your brand in social media.  You can set up search terms in Tweetdeck, Seesmic or Hootsuite for your brand, competitors and industry keywords and track Twitter conversations that are relevant to your company. You can use this monitoring for lead generation by responding to those conversations. Try Twilerts for an email digest of these search terms, or Tweet Alarm to get notifications so you don’t have to constantly be watching Twitter for these mentions. To track news of these search terms, set up Google Alerts and subscribe to an RSS or email digest of your searches through Social Mention. For local searches, use Twitter’s Advanced search. Want to hack together a free monitoring dashboard of your own? Add an RSS feed of your Twitter searches to iGoogle.

Ultimately, though, these really are only temporary solutions. Eventually you are going to want to crank up the volume on your monitoring and get a solution that offers deeper analytics, more integrations and more versatility.  Here are some indicators that you have reached that point:

1. You aren’t just doing Twitter anymore.

Maybe you aren’t just managing a Twitter account, but you are also managing a Facebook page for your business. Or, you also have a blog or are tracking keywords for SEO. Upgrading to a tool like Raven Tools can consolidate your efforts all in one place. This can save you time and help you close the loop between all of your online marketing efforts. Integrate the keywords you are trying to rank for into your Tweets and blog post headlines, compare your mentions on Facebook to your mentions on Twitter. Raven Tools offers three pricing plans, $19/month, $99/month and $249/month.

2. You want to keep track of the interactions you have with Twitter followers.

If you are doing all of this work to monitor keywords on Twitter and engage with prospects, all of that lead generation is going to waste if you aren’t keeping record of the conversations you are having. A CRM tool has contact management features to help you take notes and add tasks to your Twitter contacts. BlueCamroo has a Social Network Scout feature included at all pricing levels that searches for leads on Twitter according to the search terms that you set up. It them loads them into a prospect form for you to follow up with. BlueCamroo also has some pretty sophisticated email marketing features ingrained to help keep your web leads engaged in your pipeline. That’s a lot more than a little old Twitter client to offer for just $24/month to $149/month. Other options to look at? Social CRM tool Nimble, which is in private beta. Also consider how your company’s Twitter account can help with your support tickets and sales pipeline – look for tools with Zendesk and Salesforce integration like CoTweet (Enterprise level), Hootsuite Pro and Radian 6.

3. There is more than one person running your company’s Twitter account.

You may get a lot of Twitter followers or start to get a lot of mentions. Running your company’s Twitter account could become a time-consuming thing, and it may not just be a task for one person any more. Tools like Hootsuite Pro or CoTweet‘s Enterprise version offer Tweet assigning features that ensure your community is attended to and that all questions are answered by the right person. Plus, the right monitoring dashboard will keep track of your conversations with each customers so you have a record of that relationship.

4. There is more than one Twitter account for your company.

Perhaps your CEO now has a Twitter account, or you have a Twitter account wholly-dedicated to PR.  Maybe you have a Twitter account for support questions. There comes a time when you need to select a social media dashboard that everyone can work off of. Create unity in your organization so that everyone is on the same page with what your social media policy is. Your technology should enable someone from the marketing team to assign a Tweet to the support team if it is a question that pertains to them, and vice versa. This is what the challenge of being a social media strategist and evangelizing social media in an organization to establish a social business means. Investing in the right tool and getting internal buy-in is a huge process.

5. You want to measure more than just Bit.ly clicks.

For free, you can get Facebook Insights. You can also sync your Bit.ly links with most clients and track how many people are clicking on your links. You can get some analytics for free. Tweetreach is free for up to 50 Tweets. As you know, that’s not a ton of Tweets. To get really good measurement of your efforts, you’re going to have to pay a little bit. Tweetreach is a great tool for measuring your Twitter account, and it offers several pricing plans from $84.00/month to $899.00/month. First, decide what you want to measure, and that will help you choose a tool that best delivers those metrics. Ubervu is one lower-cost ($49/month, $179/month, $399/month) social media monitoring tool that offers competitive and sentiment analysis. Argyle Social tracks conversions from your Twitter and Facebook campaigns so you can track real ROI from your social media efforts. Argyle Social offers three plans: $149/month, $199/month or $499/month.

What other things should a company consider when it is taking the leap into a paid social media monitoring tool? What were the first tools that your company invested in? I would love your thoughts in the comments.

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