Let me begin by noting this caveat: we use a variety of both paid and free monitoring tools at March. There's tremendous value in mining and visualizing various sources of information to get a holistic picture for your client. But it's also important to assess how and when these tools are truly valuable. You want to ensure your clients don't spend a small fortune monitoring for monitoring's sake or worse become embroiled in listening without actually acting on the information mined to the benefit of their communications and business goals.
For instance, at March Insight we've found that many of the monitoring tools are tilted toward frequently discussed companies, such as Netflix, Google, or household consumer brands. However, they've become poor value for the money when you apply them to midsize technology companies that aren't media darlings. We're talking about middleware companies, midsize b-to-b companies, and the wide range of companies whose businesses aren't conducive to constant chatter.
While these companies see less chatter than, say, Apple, they still gain tremendous value from sharing, listening, and engaging with their core audiences. However, this also means the same monitoring approach that works for Coca-Cola won't work with them – and anybody who tries to tell them otherwise is probably taking them for a ride. Instead, for these companies, who are the quiet majority, the need to go narrow and deep is much more beneficial than super wide and shallow.
Before our clients jump into expensive contracts with monitoring agencies, we take a thorough assessment of what they're trying to accomplish. And what we find is, for many of these midsize companies, the data mining should be the easy (cheaper) part. These clients need to gain more insight from less information, which means they need even more context to differentiate very subtle variations in tone, momentum, and resonance in their corner of the online world. Their slice of the online pie is so specialized that this can't be automated. It must be done with intelligent ears and thinking minds.
For many companies it's this small, albeit close-knit community that has the power to move their needle. And for these organizations, investing in flashy (and very expensive) monitoring tools will only disappoint them. There isn't an overwhelming set of data they need aggregated for them; they need to quiet all the noise and sink into the world that wants to hear from them.
Monitoring tools, no doubt, have value. But before you get swept up in the hype, take a step back and ask yourself what you're trying to accomplish with it and whether that money would be better put elsewhere?
Martin Jones is the cofounder of Boston-based tech PR agency March Communications and its newly launched analytics division March Insight (@marchinsight).