Social media listening: why it doesn't pay to DIY

  • Social media
  • December 13, 2012
  • Jennifer Duval-Smith
Social media listening: why it doesn't pay to DIY

DIY is in our Kiwi DNA and for many it’s a matter of geekish self respect to reinvent the wheel. Certainly there is enough cost pressure on most of us to ensure that we don’t incur unnecessary expense for our organisations.

Even in quite large New Zealand companies with a high volume of consumer conversation online, the person responsible for social media is frequently to be found cobbling together a range of free tools, such as the lovely Hootsuite, plus any number of alerts and analytics dashboards. 

Usually they’re holding it all together with considerable skill and Kiwi ingenuity, which can take you a long way for sure. However, what I also hear is that they’re working pretty hard to stay on top. They’re conscious of a need for more consistency and structure, as greater demands are made on them to interpret and respond to consumer generated content. 

Most would like to have the following functionalities, and haven’t found these to exist in the suite of free tools available (and if you’ve found one which does, please do let me know pronto):

  • Real time reporting – crucial in a crisis
  • All in one dashboard to cover owned platforms and open web
  • Comprehensiveness across the web
  • Consistency over time
  • Convenient ‘management friendly’ reporting
  • Engagement console
  • Tracking/audit trail
  • The ability to customise to the New Zealand social environment

Which tool? In larger companies the decision is often driven by global alignment, but those who have the opportunity to choose will find a dynamic and competitive landscape, with new competitors emerging regularly.

In New Zealand Radian6 is probably the most recognised brand at C-suite level, with the referral advantage of being used by many major corporates and its backing by owners Salesforce. In our social media monitoring for clients at Social@Ogilvy, we use a range of tools, with Radian6 as our principal paid tool.  Nielsen’s social media monitoring and research tool Buzzmetrics is certainly making the most of established relationships with most major brands and research creds, but lacks engagement console functionality. Sentia (formerly Media Monitors) made a big push with Brandtology last year. No doubt you’ve got your favourite, for others, see here.

Labour or licensing?

No surprise, in New Zealand the number one objection is always price. And this is usually substantial, especially for anaemic Kiwi budgets. For example, Radian6 will cost you around a grand per month plus additional user charges, and it’s certainly not the most expensive.  

Generally it comes down to a question of labour vs. licencing, meaning: what is important to the company and where does the company want to spend its money? A purely manual approach to social media listening can be far more expensive, and I would argue, less consistent and reliable.

Additionally, many businesses, especially those with head offices in Australia or the US are becoming aware of the need for a clear ‘audit trail’ in their online communication as companies are increasingly being made responsible for content published on their online platforms. This increasing burden of reporting is difficult without access to a comprehensive tool.

What you’re still going to have to do yourself (sorry)

Sadly, social media listening software is not a silver bullet. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, which you’ll need to measure against your own company’s objectives. 

Here are some things it won’t do for you:

Set up – It’s not very difficult, but as with any new software, ensuring you’re getting all the conversations you want, or rather excluding those you don’t want, takes an investment of time and a little training. If your brand name is generic, you’re liable to start out with quite a few false positives. Once you’ve got your profiles in place it requires calibration and maintenance to ensure you’re not missing new developments around your products or brands.

Nobody can give you everything — Some are more comprehensive than others, but no solution will help you listen to private Facebook profiles. In New Zealand, the TradeMe API is not accessible either. This won’t worry you if you’re a B2B cloud vendor, but if you’re in the consumer space, or have a public affairs issue or dodgy product, you’ll have to trawl the forums manually like any good consumer rights journo.

Automated sentiment – yeah right! — Sentiment is where the C-suite tend to lean forward and get interested because they want to know whether the public likes them or not. Most paid tools have a sentiment function built in, but our experience is that it is less than 60 percent accurate. Just imagine a computer trying to interpret a Tui billboard and you’ll understand why we choose never to rely on automated sentiment and mark it manually for accuracy instead.  Sentiment marking is improving all the time, but it’s not there yet, and it certainly doesn’t allow for Kiwi humour, or just plain sarcasm.

'Ya still gotta do the work —A tool such as Radian6 will pull the data together and allow you to monitor, slice and dice it, and present it with ease with ease. But until you bring your superior understanding of the business to bear on that data, or pay someone else to do so, it remains just data. The real challenge, and the fun of it really, is to generate intelligence and insights that will help make better business decisions, meeting more of your customers needs where, when, and how they want them met.

Your choice

There are lots of free tools around that might give you insight into one or more social platforms. But to get a good consistent, timely and comprehensive overview with manageable reporting you’re generally looking at a paid tool backed up by manual monitoring. Additionally, as increased compliance and reporting becomes non-optional for many businesses, we may find we don’t have a choice. To keep abreast of social media developments affecting your brand you’re going to have to pay one way or another. The real question is where do you want to spend your money. 

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