Social media monitoring guide for PR professionals

Social media monitoring is one of the fundamental building blocks of starting to integrate social media and social networks into your public relations strategy. If you aren’t listening and understanding then you can’t start to enter the conversation in a meaningful way that will start to help you achieve real organisational and business objectives.

The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has today published a best practice guide for social media monitoring and listening. The guide was researched and written by members of the CIPR’s Social Media Advisory Board (#CIPRSM) which I’ve been an active member of since it was founded. You can download the Guide to Social Media Monitoring from the CIPR’s website. It is one of a number of free and member only CIPR best practice guides and toolkits that are available on different aspects of public relations. It is also available on the CIPR’s SlideShare account and I’ve embedded it at the end of this article.

The Guide to Social Media Monitoring looks at what social media monitoring is and what it isn’t. It also examines why PR professionals should monitor social media and looks at the various types of monitoring tools and the different pricing models available – ranging from free to very expensive. Finally it also has brief descriptions of some commercial monitoring tools including Brandwatch, Meltwater Buzz, Radian 6 and Sysomos Heartbeat. It also lists some free tools, but unfortunately doesn’t go into any detail on them.

One system that it doesn’t mention is Gorkana Radar, which is one I’ve been using recently for a crisis communications project on behalf of a financial services industry client. In my chapter on digital public affairs in Share This: The Social Media Handbook for PR Professionals I also explain how social media monitoring is a vital part of modern public affairs and lobbying.

A big benefit that most public relations teams will get from social media monitoring is helping to identify and then mitigate risks at an early stage. The best time to do crisis communications management is before it starts when it is still just a potential issue. UK government departments like the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs use social media monitoring effectively for horizon scanning and to help it understand issues.

One problem that I often see in companies and organisations is that they are using monitoring effectively to measure and evaluate marketing communications campaigns or even to pick up customer service issues, but they aren’t using it for corporate communications or public affairs.

When I’m running courses in the UK or overseas it never ceases to disappoint me the number of in-house PR teams that aren’t even doing basic social media monitoring, despite spending sometimes large sums on monitoring traditional broadcast and print media.

There are several reasons, not just because they don’t see it as important. One is cost – both in terms of subscribing to a system, but also in the time that it takes to actually use it and get benefit from it. Another is confusion as the social media monitoring market is very confusing with very poor transparency about pricing. Usually so sales ‘advisors’ can ‘negotiate’ you a special deal – which could be interpreted as code for seeing how much they can get away with charging you.

One of the most frequent questions I get from both clients and people I’m doing PR training for is ‘What is the best social media monitoring system to use?’

It’s a question that doesn’t really have an answer as of the 100s on the market they nearly all have strengths and weaknesses.  My answer is that looking at the technology isn’t the way to do it as the industry is still in its infancy and none of them are particularly good. All systems will miss a significant proportion of mentions, return them at different speeds and return results you don’t actually want. Neither is it consistent how they will fail as sometimes one will catch more and other times another will.

Therefore a better approach is to ‘play’ with them. Whatever the technological flaws you will get more benefit out of a system you enjoy using than one you find to be an absolute chore. That’s because the most important element of monitoring is still the human one of setting it up properly, looking at the results and interpreting what they mean. A system that you’re enthusiastic about using will therefore prove more useful than one that fills you with dread at the thought of logging in.

If you’ve got any questions on social media monitoring or would like to talk to me about setting it up for you or having a training course then please get in touch by Twitter @stuartbruce or the contact form on my consultancy website.

The CIPR Social Media Board team was led by Simon Collister and there is a full list of contributors in the guide.