Businesses of any size can no longer afford to ignore social media. Over 70% of consumers shop online, but even more, they post about it on social media and research purchases online. Further, only 4% of dissatisfied customers complain directly to the company, while 42% complain online.

Social media monitoring software not only keeps tabs on your own accounts, but scours the internet for mentions of your business or keywords that interest you. It can analyze trends, sentiment (whether the post is complimentary or negative) and demographics. There are many social media monitoring services, some of which are part of a larger CRM or marketing program, others focused on specific social media venues.

We examined 20 of the best social monitoring services and narrowed them down to 10 by selecting those that do more than compile your accounts into one platform, offer analysis beyond what you can find with Google Analytics, and have the widest ranges of features. Some are better suited for large businesses with advertising budgets. Others have plans that work for more modest businesses. Check out our recommendations and look at our articles on social media marketing and monitoring for more information.

Best for Small Business

It stands to reason that a neighborhood restaurant is not going to need all the social media tools used by an international corporation that creates and distributes microwave meals. Small businesses may prefer a social monitoring program that covers the primary social media venues like Facebook, tracks accounts and makes it easy to respond, and seeks out interesting tidbits to post. The best social media monitoring programs for small businesses also include sentiment analysis so you can keep tabs on your online reputation.

SocialClout

Not every business needs to monitor millions of news sites for mentions. Small businesses can get the information they need from standard social media. SocialClout is social media monitoring software geared toward small businesses that monitors social networks, blogs and forums. It has social analytics software, which includes sentiment analysis and demographics and out-of-the-box reports. In addition, it lets you integrate up to five social media venues for quick responses to posts. While it bills itself as suitable for enterprise-level businesses, its competitive pricing makes it a good choice for SMBs.

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Best for Enterprise

Larger businesses have greater needs and more departments that can benefit from social media monitoring. Social media isn’t just about customer service; it can provide key insights for marketing and even new product development. Most social media programs for the enterprise level can integrate with other programs, but the best come from companies that have other business tools such as CRM software so that, rather than patching together a crazy quilt of programs, you can have a full business solution as well as a one-stop service should you have questions or problems.

Oracle

Oracle is a large company with social media monitoring and engagement packages priced for businesses looking for a way to get their fingers on the pulse of the internet. Its social relationship management program, Oracle Social Cloud, provides comprehensive social listening and analysis, plus a full range of back-office and social engagement features. Combined with a full suite of support options that include professional forums, this service is pricier than most social media monitoring software but well suited for enterprise-level businesses.

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Best for International Business

When your customers span the globe, it’s not enough to be able to analyze news that’s printed only in English. You need social media monitoring software that not only works in multiple languages but understands them as well, including slang.

Sysomos

If your company has a global reach, then Sysomos social media monitoring software can help you keep an eye on how people view your company, who the key influences are, what they’re saying and how well your campaigns are faring. It monitors 186 languages in 189 countries, looking at popular social media like Facebook and Twitter, plus blogs and traditional media. Its easy-to-use and comprehensive package includes sentiment analysis and reporting, making it an excellent choice for social listening and analysis.

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Best for Integrations

Perhaps you are already comfortable with your CRM software, or perhaps an enterprise-level solution is simply beyond your budget. Most social media monitoring tools offer ways to integrate their information across your business, whether with APIs to link two programs or with email sharing of alerts and specific activity.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite Insights is highly versatile social media monitoring software. Along with Hootsuite, it provides analysis to inform your posting and social media management. The Hootsuite platform itself integrates with over 100 different programs and applications, including 11 customer relationship management apps and over 30 marketing programs of different kinds. It analyzes over 100 million data sources in over 50 languages, conducts demographic and sentiment analysis, and offers a full range of reports and alert options for your social listening.

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Best for Market Research

Social media monitoring has gone beyond mere customer service, and indeed, there are simpler and cheaper programs to track posts and comments. Social monitoring programs contribute to product development, technological trends, reputation management and more. The best services offer assistance in selecting keywords, historical data for trends and key performance indicator analysis, as well as monitoring of thousands of data streams that go beyond popular social media and news sites.

DataSift

DataSift focuses on social media monitoring and analysis. This company doesn't just ask questions and seek answers; it considers what questions to ask first. As such, it supplies other social media monitoring software services with the data they can also pass directly to you. Because it focuses on monitoring, it lacks social media engagement tools, but it is nonetheless an excellent choice for businesses needing in-depth social analytics of their companies, products, online presence or potential markets.

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What to Look For

When considering which is the best social media monitoring program for your business, you should balance your needs with your budget. If all you want is to track social venues where you have accounts, there are simpler and cheaper options, like AgoraPulse. If you need heavy-duty market research, you will want software that considers millions of sources, like Sysomos. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few, consider the following.

Monitoring: Many social monitoring services brag about viewing millions of messages a day, but ask for specifics. Make sure the software is looking where your readers live. For example, monitoring the Huffington Post won’t help you if you manufacture medical testing equipment. Some of the social media monitoring programs we examined are limited to social media you frequent. This may be enough for smaller companies that are mostly interested in customer response.

You should also make sure you understand how you are billed. Some companies charge by keyword, others by valid hits. Therefore, with a company that casts a wide net, you could end up paying for results that aren’t helpful, especially if your keywords are popular. For example, if your keyword is “blood testing equipment,” you could end up paying for hits for articles about DUIs and diabetes. Some companies, like DataSift, help you determine the best keywords for your research needs.

Filtering out the noise. Even with valid keywords, you can end up with invalid results. Social media is rife with people posting for their own promotion and bots posting to boost ranks. Your social analysis program should offer filters to remove the spam, self-promotion and junk posts.

Sentiment analysis. This highly useful tool examines a post ahead of time to see if it’s positive, negative or neutral. Sentiment analysis examines the wording of the post itself, beyond mere keywords, to determine if the phrases are complimentary toward your brand. This is not always an easy thing, especially when you consider slang and the brevity of social media posts.

There are several automated language analysis processes, with accuracy results varying from 70% to 86%. Independent human evaluation averages around 80% accuracy. The best social analysis software uses more than one method. Some companies have their own proprietary systems. If you have international concerns, be sure to ask how sentiment analysis takes different languages and cultures into account.

Demographics. Who is talking is as important as what is said. Most of these services can look at sources (Twitter bios, for example) to discern a poster’s age, gender and even interests. Some allow your marketing folks to access the bios themselves, which can help you woo influencers.

Historical data. This is important for trend analysis and for seeing how campaigns work against a norm. Ask how long the social media monitoring service keeps the data it collects on your behalf, but also ask if it stores search results in general. A few do this for several years, enabling you to mine data from before you purchased the software. This can help you establish benchmarks right off the bat.

Lead identification. The best social media monitoring programs search for terms that indicate an interest or need and alert the appropriate department so that you can respond quickly with a comment or offer.

Integrations. The programs we considered all work very well independently. Most offer user levels, email alerts and forwarding to other departments, and downloadable reports in multiple formats. However, the best social media monitoring programs also offer integrations with social marketing, advertising and customer relationship management programs. If you already have specific tools you use, check to see if they integrate with the software. Some of the social media monitoring programs, such as the ones from Salesforce and Oracle, are just one of many business tools their company offers. You may discover a package deal with that company is cheaper and easier than integrating several separate programs.

How to Use Social Media Monitoring

Social media monitoring goes way beyond identifying tweets you should respond to. Even the most modest of businesses can collect data on a level previously available only to corporations with large research and development budgets. With the social analysis and reporting tools usually provided by the programs, you can use that data in many ways.

Interact with customers. Online communities are becoming the go-to for communication, even with companies. When customers have a good or bad experience, they share it with everyone, not just with the company or close friends. Some customers use social media as a shortcut to a higher level of management. Social media monitoring and social relationship management allow you as a company to tap in quickly to the compliments and complaints so that you can react quickly. This kind of engagement, even when addressing complaints, goes a long way toward improving your brand's reputation.

Track trends. By keeping an eye on what’s happening in your industry, you can stay ahead of innovations and move proactively.

  • Product identification: If you own a restaurant, knowing the next trendy grain can help you adjust your menu.

  • Scheduling promotions: Housekeeping services might follow real estate trends and promote move-in and move-out cleaning sales during peak months.

  • Competition: If your competitor is having reputation problems, it could be a good time for an incentive campaign.

  • Advertising placement: Say you sell motorcycle gear. You may find your customers also have snowmobiles, so running an ad for your products on one of the most popular snowmobile sites in the early spring might pay off.

Identify key influencers. Influencers are people who have a lot of followers in your target audience. If you sell handcrafted leather furniture, an influencer might be an interior design blogger or a poster on the Pinterest Man Cave Board who has a following of 15,000 and growing. Once you identify influencers, you can ask them for reviews, offer free samples, or simply follow them to start a relationship with them and their followers.

Evaluate sentiment. Knowing if people are posting about you in a positive, negative or neutral light lets you see where you stand reputation-wise. Most sentiment analysis tools let you drill down to specific mentions, so you can see if you need to improve your product or your customer service response time.

Research products. By using keywords specific to your industry, you can keep abreast of the latest innovations and what they mean to your business.

Keep up with your competitors. Most social monitoring software lets you track your competitors as well as yourself. You can track, record and analyze their information as easily as your own.

Research markets. It used to be that you had to conduct polls and fact-finding missions to discover what customers wanted. Now, people are openly discussing it in public arenas. Social media monitoring taps into those conversations to get you frank and unsolicited information.

Generate leads. Programs with this ability identify phrases that indicate readiness to purchase. (“Not another flat tire!” “Need ideas for a housewarming gift.” “Craving Chinese food … again.”)

Studies show that over two-thirds of consumer buying decisions are influenced by social media. For that reason alone, businesses of any size cannot afford to ignore it. Social media monitoring tools can do more than track what people are saying about you on Facebook. The best social monitoring programs looks at news, blogs and even forums. They can search for keywords of interest to you, analyze the sentiment toward your company, and identify leads and key influencers to help you grow your business. While not every business needs an all-inclusive, enterprise-level program, there are some reasonably priced programs that can mine the internet for the information you need to take your business to the next level.

Contributing Writer: Karina Fabian