How do you measure ROI on something as intangiable as social media?
Every company has a social media presence, but how does a company measure how well its social media efforts are working? There are now dozens of tools that will handle monitoring, posting, and analysis functions. We tested eight of them: Expion, Gremln, SimplyMeasured, SproutSocial, Sysomos Heartbeat, Ubervu, Viralheat, and Visible Technologies' Intelligence. Here are the results.
1. Expion: Our winner
Expion came in first in our testing because it excels in three areas: monitoring, posting, and analysis. The posting portion of the product is quite strong, and its interface looks a lot like the Wordpress blogging software. You develop a content "library" and schedule when and where your messages will appear.
2. Expion: Useful graphics
When it comes to analysis and reports, Expion has solid features, including the ability to filter your messages by a wide variety of metrics. Its dashboards feature useful graphics and its word clouds can be used to further define which phrases will elicit the most response from your audience. Pricing starts at $1,500 per month in the US. For our sample configuration, Expion cost $2,700 per month for an unlimited number of users at multiple locations
3. Gremln: Easy to set up
For a lower-end product, Gremln has some advantages. Its user interface is somewhat reminiscent of Hootsuite, it is easy to set up and get started, and the two sets of menus are easy to navigate. On the posting side, it goes deeper than some products that cost a lot more.
4. Gremln: Good value for the low price
On the engagement side, each message can be assigned to another team member for followup or can be emailed for further action. On the analysis side, Gremln's filters and reporting capabilities are limited. Gremln is the second least expensive product that we tested. Chances are you'll end up at the $99 per month plan if you are going to be seriously using this service. For that price, it is a solid value and a good way to start out with social media monitoring.
5. SimplyMeasured: It’s the reports
SimplyMeasured is a reporting powerhouse, but doesn't go much beyond that in terms of engagement or posting new content. The product has two major sections: reports and data collections. As you would expect from a tool heavy into analysis, SimplyMeasured has more than 35 canned reports available from its dashboard. Each report generally takes a minute or so to generate.
6. SimplyMeasured: Can be pricey
SimplyMeasured is also quite pricey. It has different pricing tiers that are based on the number of social media networks examined, the size of audience, and volume of conversations. Pricing begins at $500 per month for unlimited users, but some of their top-end customers can easily spend six figures annually. Our sample configuration would cost $30,000 annually. For a reporting-only tool, we didn't think this had high enough value.
7. SproutSocial: Capable features
SproutSocial was a frustrating product. Its dashboard is pretty to look at, but weak: there is a very incomplete view of your network, it takes a long time to display the demographics behind our Tweets and Facebook posts, and it can't display your personal LinkedIn page. But once you get behind the scenes and into the product, it has some very capable features.
8. SproutSocial: Excellent analytics
Because Sprout can connect with Google Analytics, it can produce a rather unique comparison showing what is happening on both Web and social media sites. It sorts messages that drove traffic to your website by number of followers, which is a nice way to look at what is driving your web views. Sprout integrates with UserVoice and ZenDesk helpdesk ticketing systems as part of their workflow. Sprout also has iPhone and Android mobile apps.
9. Sysomos Heartbeat: Boolean searches
Sysomos has two products, Heartbeat and Media Analysis Platform. We mostly examined Heartbeat, which is comparable to the other products in this review set. At the core of the product are its queries and tag management. The searches can have very complex Boolean criteria in them, and then further refined with particular tags. These can then be used to filter the data into very actionable collections, and groups of users are supported.
10. Sysomos: Excellent filtering and alerts
The publishing module is limited to just posting messages on Facebook and Twitter. And while you can schedule posts, it seems more bare-bones than its competitors. But it can monitor a wide array of networks. It has very sophisticated workflow and assignment features, so you can connect to various CRM systems to track reply followup as well as send out emails. The monitoring portion of the product has some of the best filtering activities of any product we've seen. There is also a very flexible real-time alerting mechanism.
11. Ubervu: Familiar dashboard
Ubervu's dashboard looks like the Microsoft Windows 8 tile display, and common actions such as scheduling posts or adding users or viewing reports are represented with a tile. It can be used with groups and can connect to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as well as general Web searches. To post content, you just click on the pencil icon on the top left menu bar. Ubervu has what it calls a "smart schedule," which figures out the best time to post your content.
12. Ubervu: Powerful reports
Ubervu's reports are quite powerful and easily customizable. They are constructed from scratch using a series of graphical choices. Reports can be emailed to you on a regular basis. One weakness is in its engagement activities. While you can assign a particular message to a team member for followup and you can add tags, that is about it. Missing are the wide spectrum of additional engagement activities found in its competitors.
13. Viralheat: Heavy on posting
Viralheat is a publishing platform first and foremost. They can monitor a wide variety of networks and post to four of them: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. There is a Chrome plug-in (called Flint) to make the posting process even easier. We also looked at a beta version of the UI that is now live, which cleans up its interface and adds a few features.
14. ViralHeat: Light on analysis
ViralHeat is light on analysis and monitoring. You can generate various preset reports that are tucked into different parts of the product, but they have a lot of limitations. For example, you can only specify three different date ranges: today, last week, or the last 30 days. It can schedule messages to be posted to multiple networks, but it isn't as easy to use as Gremln or SproutSocial. Its biggest drawback is that it isn't quite ready for enterprises and multiple-person accounts. Each person needs their own account.
Visible can monitor a wide collection of networks, including Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and overall websites. Indeed, monitoring and analysis are its strong suits. The weakest part of the product is posting. It is very spare, with no advanced scheduling feature, and just to Facebook and Twitter accounts. You would be better off using Gremln or Ubervu for better control over message posting.
16. Visible Technologies Intelligence: It has extensive monitoring features
Clearly, this is a product for global brand management. But you can also get precision filtering down to the state and city level, if need be. On the engagement side, you can set up very complex "bulk actions" that can create workflows to notify someone if a negative Tweet hasn't been acted on, for example. This is the largest collection of engagement activities of any of the reviewed products, and could be one reason why the product is so pricey
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