Media monitoring online: The art of monitoring social media

Do you know your blog from your Twitter? Social media have exploded on to the PR scene, but monitoring the chatter is challenging. Arun Sudhaman investigates

It would take a brave or foolish communicator to ign­ore the power of social media. Increasingly, reputation crises beg­in online – where chatter and vitriol combine to devastating effect.

Take the experience of pharma com­pany Motrin, which launched a well-intended ad last year aimed at mothers. It suggested in the ad that carrying babies in a sling was becoming ‘fashionable’ but that it could cause back pain. The company fell prey to a storm of negativity from offended mothers, which began on Twitter, before spreading to the mainstream press.

Listening and responding to these real-time conversations can be fiendishly difficult, particularly for clients used to moving rather more slowly. In recent years, a number of services have launched that claim to offer effective methods of monitoring online reputation.

‘We often find clients are surprised this medium can be measured so much more effectively now,’ explains media consultancy Elemental’s director Tim Gibbon. ‘Histor­ically, the cost of doing so was proh­ibitive and no more in-depth than human analysis.’

The technology has developed rapidly, but Gibbon warns that monitoring social media is an art rather than a science.

‘Monitoring has improved so much that activ­ity can be found and analysed seemingly easily. The art lies in using the science to benchmark, locate and monitor in order to analyse the data to return useful reports.’

Increasingly, tools are able to automate the entire service. However, claims should be taken with a pinch of salt, even if many now offer ‘sentiment analysis’ – a fancy term for finding out what people are saying.

‘Bottom line: when it comes to online listening, we are still waiting for a Google-esque transformation,’ says Edelman dir­ector of digital strategy Marshall Manson. ‘Though if we are honest, we doubt it will ever come.’

With this in mind, PRWeek ran the rule over a host of different online tools – by monitoring the reputations of three very different brands and analysing accordingly. Read on to find out how the brands, and the various social media tools, fared.


In order to replicate real-life conditions, PRWeek’s testing panel used a combination of paid-for and free social monitoring tools:

Paid for
Market Sentinel LiveBuzz
Dow Jones Insight
Precise Media

Google Blog Search
Twitter Search
Yahoo Pipes


A week in the life of... The Bank of England

Monitored by Marshall Manson

director of digital strategy, Edelman
23-30 March

The buzz ‘Inflation surprises and rises to 3.2 per cent.’ Sharply negative blogosphere response to the Bank of England (BoE) confirmation that inflation has risen.

Appeared on At least ten influential websites and blogs including UK Bubble and Cobden’s Comments.

What they said ‘Someone somewhere was spinning this deflation line to justify Treasury policies. Let us hope it was not the so-called independent Bank of England.’ Cobden’s Comments blog.

Key findings Negative blogosphere response, sparked by a belief that the BoE is causing inflation by introducing quantitative easing.

Advice ‘UK economics blog UK Bubble could provide an ideal opportunity for the BoE to engage with a blogger sceptical of the bank’s policies. We should put together an initial engagement email on BoE’s behalf, asking if the blogger is interested in a guest post from someone at BoE.’

The buzz ‘BoE chief: UK cannot afford budget giveaway.’ Mixed reaction to BoE governor Mervyn King’s comments that the upcoming Budget cannot include tax cuts or public spending hikes. Several bloggers see a rift between the BoE and Government, using King’s comments to attack Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Appeared on More than 20 influential blogs, including Seeking Alpha, A Tory Blog and Order Order.

What they said ‘You have to wonder if the establishment is  starting to consider whether something needs to be done about Brown.’ A Tory Blog.

Advice ‘We would recommend the BoE approach an influential blogger who has written positively about King, to clarify the joint position of the BoE and the Chancellor. John Smith, who is knowledgeable about the issues and would provide
an honest view point, would be ideal.’


A week in the life of... Cheryl Cole

Monitored by Kath Pooley

UK MD, Bite PR
23-30 March

The buzz ‘What is the difference between Cheryl Cole and Jade Goody?’ Online conversation about whether Cole is more racist than Goody explodes
into life.
Appeared on Yahoo Answers forum, before being picked up by Digital Spy.
What they said ‘Cheryl is being treated like Mother Teresa.’ Yahoo Answers.
Advice ‘We would strongly advise Cole’s management to release a soft news piece of a set-up photo opportunity to take the attention away from this. Engaging with this comment directly or through her agent will blow the piece out of proportion and potentially make it a far bigger story.’

The buzz ‘The raunchy rise of Girls Aloud.’ Plenty of chatter, thanks to new photos published from the latest Girls Aloud music video – Untouchable – termed their most daring yet. Some coverage of Cole’s decision to delay having a baby.
Appeared on YouTube and The Spoiler along with various fansites, albeit with low traffic and little influence.

What they said ‘Clip is inspired by S&M aliens hurtling towards Earth in meteorites.’

Advice ‘The release of the photos was exactly the right course of action after Tuesday’s coverage. To capitalise on traffic on YouTube, it would be advised to publish some unofficial content on the personality of Cheryl – showing her softer side such as her mentoring previous X-Factor contestants.’

The buzz ‘Cheryl Cole criticised for endorsing junk food.’ A Food Commission report names 25 celebs who have endorsed unhealthy products, sparking criticism of Cole fronting KitKat.

Appeared on More than 30 sites, including

What they said ‘The consumer group says it is difficult to believe these celebs ever actually consumed the products they endorse.’ CalorieLab.

Advice ‘Girls Aloud’s management were careless in allowing a confectionery company to partner the band, known for beauty and skinniness. We would advise Cole to engage with a number of healthy eating sites, discussing the importance of a healthy diet and addressing her own eating disorder when she was younger.’


A week in the life of... Sainsbury’s

Monitored by Daljit Bhurji

MD, Diffusion
24-31 March

The buzz ‘Sainsbury’s sales up 6.8 per cent.’ Majority of blogosphere commentary is very positive, in response to the retailer’s encouraging Q1 2009 results. Coverage also drove an increased focus on Sainsbury’s special offers.

Appeared on Several consumer forums and blogs, including Green Shoots, and

What they said ‘In my opinion they are improving all the time and seem to work to win as much of the market as possible.’

Advice ‘There is an opportunity for Sainsbury’s to promote news about special offers to popular blogs and forums read by key target groups such as young mothers and families looking to save money during the recession.’

The buzz ‘Sainsbury’s Online Shopping. Your short cut to hell.’ A personal blog takes Sainsbury’s to task for a mix-up during a home-delivery order. Meanwhile, a former Sainsbury’s employee reveals that she is considering appealing her dismissal for gross misconduct.

Appeared on STUFF Reloaded, The Consumer Forums.

What they said ‘I felt the urge to make sure this information was on the web along with a strong advisory note to use Ocado instead.’ STUFF Reloaded.

Advice ‘The Consumer Forums post warrants immediate flagging to Sainsbury’s HR department. As for STUFF Reloaded, it would be relatively simple to refer the case to Sainsbury’s customer services and organise some form of compensation. Such a gesture could result in a positive blog post but would at the very least reduce the chances of the customer repeating his story.’

The buzz ‘Another one bites the dust’. A Sainsbury’s employee blogs about one of his managers being sacked for stealing. Forum posting sees a customer complain about a loan from Sainsbury’s.

Appeared on MattDoesWords,

What they said ‘It seems that the store has a bit of a problem, no?’ MattDoesWords.

Advice ‘Sainsbury’s should develop a social media policy to ensure staff are aware of what is acceptable behaviour online.’


Product Review


Pros Impressed testers with breadth and accuracy of monitoring. Bhurji pointed to the ‘most comprehensive’ coverage of Twitter. Ease of use also widely applauded.

Cons Lack of automatic sentiment analysis, pointed out Pooley. Bhurji agreed,
and also quibbled about interface flaws.

Verdict A core, labour-
saving agency tool that is attractively priced. Cannot be relied upon yet to identify and extract trends and sentiment around a brand.


Pros The dark horse that ran Radian6 very close. ‘Nearly as good, and offered the best user experience,’ said Manson. Bhurji praised its sentiment analysis, allowing automatic mapping of words or phrases that appear in connection with the brand. Pooley added that access to analysts who review data was a ‘major asset’.

Cons Manson noted its ‘once-daily data updates undermine usefulness in circumstances that require swift attention’.

Verdict Strong mid-tier package, offers the ability to develop tailored brand monitoring based on client needs. Excellent sentiment analysis, and analyst access makes it ideal for in-house.

Precise Media

Pros Twice daily email alerts add direct element.

Cons Found a relatively low number of mentions for brand terms under review. ‘Does not really compare with the functionality provided by the other solutions tested,’ said Bhurji.

Verdict Useful add-on product, but data appears easily collectible from free tools.

Dow Jones Insight

Pros ‘In terms of ease of use, it deserves top honours,’ said Bhurji, who also praised the service’s ‘aesthetics’. Includes basic sentiment analysis.

Cons Not quite as comprehensive as some of its peers when it came to breadth and accuracy of monitoring.

Verdict A high-end tool that incorporates the offline Factiva package – best positioned as a bespoke brand solution that can be used by business functions beyond PR and marketing.

Free tools

The testing panel supplemented their tracking with a range of easily available free tools. Google Blog Search collected the broadest cross-section of results but sometimes drifted into spam territory. Twitter Search also transpired as the best place to identify emerging discussion points – although a strong filtering system is compromised by an inability to identify influencers. Yahoo Pipes offers the ability to ‘de-duplicate’ and filter results across multiple search platforms, while Board Reader and Board Tracker emerged as key forum trackers. New kid on the block Icerocket, meanwhile, made a strong impression for its blog search ability, as did BlogPulse.

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