How to choose the right social listening tool and provider
by Nate Stedman on July 24, 2023
The social media analytics and research industry is becoming increasingly crowded with various players, and this trend is expected to continue. The reason for this growth can be attributed to the fact that around seven-in-ten Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves, as reported by The Pew Research Center.
People across the globe utilize their social media accounts to engage in discussions and share their opinions, including their consumer experiences. As a result, social media platforms have become a rich source of information for marketers, researchers, and businesses, offering valuable consumer insights.
In response to this abundance of data, social media providers have made significant advancements in developing software tools that gather, clean, analyze, and visualize the wealth of consumer intelligence present in social conversations. Choosing a robust and dependable social listening tool has become crucial for gaining a true understanding of target audiences.
However, for both newcomers and experienced users, staying updated with the latest methods and tools can be overwhelming. To illustrate, G2Crowd's online review platform currently lists over 250 different software solutions in the consumer insights space that specialize in working with social media data. Considering all these options can be time-consuming and demanding.
Clearly there are many social listening use cases, and with so many players in the game, how do you choose one? To simplify the evaluation process and make it more efficient, we have compiled five key questions that you can ask providers as you assess their social listening platforms and tools.
5 questions you must ask a social listening provider before you buy
1. What use cases does the platform support?
When evaluating a platform, the first thing to consider is how it will support your day-to-day operations. What data needs do you have?
Sitting down to map out all of the areas you believe social listening can help is an important first step to selecting a tool. It will also help you make a compelling case for your finance and leadership teams.
For example, if your team is often asked for competitive intelligence, you will want to make sure the platform you choose has the ability to run multiple searches at once, and highlight differences quickly.
If you’re constantly looking to understand how consumers feel or respond to a product or service, you will want to look closely at the tool’s capabilities with robust sentiment and linguistic analysis. Some platforms analyze sentiment in terms of positive or negative, while others have text analytics that are so sophisticated that they can perceive emotions such as joy, anger, trust, and love.
Perhaps you need to stay on top of news and trends, in which case you’d need to understand how each platform you’re considering can highlight viral posts and news stories spreading on social media. Also, be sure to ask about their historical data capabilities for better trend analysis.
If your team works with big-picture strategy and planning, you might need a platform that excels at clustering conversations around keywords and topics so you can get the whole data landscape on your research subject before diving in for more granular data.
If you’re having trouble outlining potential use cases, check out our eBook, 10 Ways to Use Social Listening to get your wheels turning.
Start by identifying as many potential use-cases as possible and quantifying their importance based on the other data sources you have available to you internally.
Looking at how past projects could have been impacted with social listening capabilities can be eye opening, and it will certainly help you better understand the features and functionality that will have the biggest impact on your business goals.
Then, when meeting with potential providers, you can ask them to outline the most common use cases they support and see how things line up. It’s important for you to leave the conversation knowing whether the tool provides the data you are looking for accurately, reliably and quickly.
Further questions to ask:
- How do your clients who are similar to us use this system to support their business? (Ask for case studies that support the use cases the provider touts).
- Amongst your clients, what is the least common use case we’ve mentioned? Why?
- How do I develop reports and custom dashboards? Can you demonstrate how this is done in the tool during a live demo?
- Can I share reports and insights within the tool?
2. What data sources are included?
This is where evaluating multiple platforms can get a little tricky.
Every provider will claim superiority here, both with their dataset as well as the methodology they use to analyze content.
To get to the heart of your needs:
- Have your use cases outlined.
- Know which social media channels you want to dive into.
- List the type of data points that are most important to you.
This will help you quickly narrow down your list of potential solutions without spending too much time with tools that are a bad fit, or don’t have data on the social channels that matter to you.
At this point, it’s imperative to consider an important distinction in our industry between solutions that focus on social media monitoring for performance, and those that focus on social listening for consumer intelligence.
As with most industries, there is no single tool to provide the necessary data sources, access to technology, and services to address both.
If your team is more interested in tracking the performance of owned channels, you may want to look up platforms that are more in the media monitoring category. If you’re looking for consumer intelligence and to tap into the consumer voice, a social listening tool is the way to go.
When it comes to data and methodology, other considerations include how frequently data is refreshed, unique data sources and partnerships, and which, if any, third-party technologies are being used to provide insights.
If you work with trend analysis, knowing how far back the dataset goes is also important. Whether the historical datasets are available to you and included in the pricing is another vital question; we discuss this below.
Further questions to ask:
- What is your data sampling methodology? (Yes, every platform samples data. If they tell you they don’t they are either lying or have a prohibitive cost structure).
- Can we customize the analysis specific to our project needs? In what ways?
- Can we include custom data sets? If so, how do we include our custom data?
3. How does the platform’s pricing scale?
Pricing in this industry comes in all different shapes and sizes. The good news is that all platforms will have what we call an “anchor,” something based on usage that they use to scale the pricing package.
The most common anchor is the number of users (seats). Many platforms scale their pricing based on how many users will need access to the system.
In some cases, platforms charge, or charge extra, based on the number of active searches you have at any given time. In others, you will have to wrestle with a cap on the number of mentions provided for analysis.
A platform may have a historical dataset going back fifteen or sixteen years. Ask about costs related to accessing the historical data. You’ll also want to know if there’s a limit to the number of queries you can run in a given period.
It can be helpful to consider some general numbers in these areas before talking to providers. Mapping out how many projects you may need, and/or a total number of users that would need access, will get you prepped for discussion about pricing packages. When you get to conversations about pricing packages, we suggest that you ask how a provider’s pricing works first, before you share what your “anchor needs” are.
And finally, as you consider the various pricing packages across platforms, assess the value of each platform in terms of the research and analytical flexibility each tool offers. For example, you could ask yourself:
- Are there multiple features and functionalities that you would use?
- How many use cases can the platform serve for you?
- Does the platform allow you to refine your searches with ease?
- How long do you have to wait for the data?
- Do the data visualizations boost your reporting, pitches, and dashboards?
The more ways a platform can meet your data needs, the higher its value will be to your organization.
Further questions to ask:
- Do you offer any other products or services that we haven’t discussed?
- Are there any discounts for new clients?
- How would we add to or scale back our current package in the future?
4. Does the provider offer a pilot or free trial?
Many vendors in this space will control their demo environments to the point that all the data they display is fully curated and so the demo is optimized to impress the viewer.
This makes sense! It’s the equivalent of putting on your nicest outfit for a first date. However, before you tie the knot, it’s important to learn whether you can make things work on a daily basis. It’s the same with social listening platforms – you need to know whether the tool works for you, your timeline, and your specific use cases and needs.
For example, if you're relying on your social listening tool for new business pitches or quick insights, you’ll need to know that the platform delivers results instantaneously (some platforms can take anywhere from several minutes to an entire day to fully load and backfill requested data for searches).
Others require specific authentication or setup to even deliver data from certain channels at all. This can have a serious impact on the usability and your research and planning process.
Some platforms may not offer the kind of flexibility you require to search for the terms and topics that get to the conversations you want to lean into, or their analytics may not have the depth of granularity your team needs.
The most effective way to test these elements is with a custom real-time demo or better yet, a live trial of the platform you are considering.
In today’s SaaS environment, there is quite simply no excuse for a provider to refuse trial access to potential customers.
This is even more true if you’ve followed the previous steps in this post and have already provided vendors with an understanding of your needs, budget, and timeline. A trial or pilot period is something to be considered essential in your evaluation of these tools. You’ve seen the platform dressed to impress, but you need to find out if you’re still in love after a road-trip!
Further questions to ask:
- What tools do you have in place for quick insights?
- How long does a new search take to set up and load?
5. What kind of training and support do you provide?
Like most pricing structures, client success and support is an area where vendors offer different levels of support.
The onboarding process for each tool can be very different. Some providers offer one-on-one training and enablement, while others just offer training videos or expect users to have prior experience with social listening software.
It’s essential to consider your team and timeline: how quickly can they get up and running, and how soon before you need to see results? Align your support needs with the providers’ client success offerings based on that.
When it comes to support, vendors offer various packages – from full-service consulting, down to invoicing you for submitting a support request. Ask all the questions you need to clarify how client support works, and what happens if your needs change.
This can also be an area where you can ultimately save money: if your team is highly experienced and won’t need hands-on direction from product experts, you can opt for a lower-level of support.
Further questions to ask:
- Are there any incremental costs associated with your support and training?
- What self-serve training and enablement resources do you offer?
- What happens if we have a new user in 6 months and they need training?
Choosing a consumer intelligence tool is within your grasp!
Whether it’s about food, apparel, entertainment and adventure experiences, groceries, beverages, politics, or travel – social media users organically share their opinions online. While various social media analytics tools have been created to tap into this wealth of data, they’re not all equal in terms of functionality, speed, or ease of use.
Don’t be daunted by the number of tools out there, or the lingo each platform uses.
You know your data needs! Combined with these five questions, you’ll soon be able to choose the social listening and consumer intelligence tool that equips you to understand or even discover your audiences. Using the suggestions provided will ensure you get the platform you need at the value you deserve!
We’d love to hear about your project and give you a tour of our consumer intelligence platform, Infegy Atlas, to see if it fits your needs. Reach out today for a custom demo!
Additional contributor: Hephzibah Dutt, Copywriter