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Social Listening Tools: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The social intelligence industry has matured in terms of process and technology. Analysts have come to rely on social listening tools to help gather, process and analyse online data in a licensed and compliant way. But despite the hundreds of options of social listening tools on the market, there isn’t a clear leader that offers the analyst one ideal tool that spans all industries and markets.

The aim of this blog post is to explore the nuances of social listening tools to help you understand what really matters before you decide on which social listening platform is the best for your business needs – not based on how they market themselves, but on how they can be used to solve specific data, language or analysis driven strategic business problems to deliver truly actionable insight.

This blog is a tailored transcript from one of our latest webinars, recorded and led by Jackie Cuyvers, CEO at Convosphere. If you want to catch up on the full webinar, you can visit Social Listening Tools: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly complete recording on our YouTube channel. 


Social Listening as a process – not an outcome

We are a social first social listening agency and so we are particularly nerdy and well versed in understanding the nuances of the different social listening platforms. First of all, social listening is the process of using online conversation to answer business questions with actionable insight. The important thing to understand about social listening is that it’s a process, not an outcome. 

The outcome, however, is social intelligence. Social intelligence is actionable. It is the application of using social listening insights to make data driven decisions. It’s an understanding and an application of how to do business differently, given the insights that have been generated. 

But, how do we get there? It’s really important to understand that social listening, the process and ultimately the outcome is a collaboration between tools that help us to gather the right data and humans who generate the insight and do the analysis to make the right recommendations.

Social tools ultimately help to facilitate the process, we then turn the insights generated into actionable insights and recommendations.


Social listening tools need human intervention 

It is important to understand that different tools and software offer different functionality. Some tools are more useful in different contexts than others. Social listening tools also allow us to gather the data in a licensed and compliant way, this means that we’re not scraping data from websites and violating the terms and conditions of different social media platforms or forums.

Social listening tools really serve as a great way to gather the data together, to be analysed and start taking some of those first steps in helping us to carry out the analysis. As much as those tools are needed, the actual development of insights is a very human process. It’s not just a platform doing the work.

Despite what you may have heard from different sales teams, from different social listening platforms, social listening tools are big business and they will happily sell you a license for 12 to 24 months. From our experience, a lot of people come away with the understanding that social listening platforms are an amazing end to end solution. What people don’t consider is that they take human intervention and won’t just churn out an answer on their own. 


Insight generation from social data 

Insight generation from social data or almost any kind of data remains a very human activity. For example, in the last 24 months, we’ve seen an unprecedented move towards mergers and acquisitions in the different social listening platforms. We saw Brandwatch and Crimson Hexagon come together, Meltwater and Sysomos Ipsos Sense and DCO. These recent industry changes have really reduced the number of enterprise social media listening tools that are available. This consolidation shows that there’s some enormous advantages in some of these tools coming together because they have different features or benefits that can work together and provide better solutions to their clients. This also shows that in some cases, there are quite a lot of tools out there and not all of them are highly differentiated.

In parallel, we’ve seen that clients’ frustration has grown. Social listening tools have often failed to deliver on the promises of game-changing insights. Clients soon realise that insight generation from social data of any kind remains as a very human activity. Furthermore, it is not just us in the industry who have noticed this, the ones who are doing the analysis and delivering the insights have also recognised the trend. This is actually being called out in the industry reports such as the Forrester Wave.

When using the social listening tools, they present their sales pitch to you, they’re comparing on volume, they’re comparing on years of historical data. They’re trying to give you the kind of metrics which can compare to competitors so that you can make a decision. 

The value you get from agencies is non comparable to using the tool yourself. Agencies actually license quite a few tools because they don’t all have the same access, functionality or analysis. This is especially important when working across languages and markets.


Choosing a social listening tool

While you may feel like a kid in a candy store with all the options available to you, you shouldn’t be using their sales sheets to make your final decision, because not all are equal for your specific needs. What you really need to do is make your own list of priorities. What metrics matter to your business? What do you want? What do you need? Make it personal to your business requirements.

At Convosphere, we’ve put together a few tips and metrics that differentiate some of the tools and platforms that might be helpful when considering your list of what’s important to you as a business or as a team.

Firstly consider how the tool handles boolean queries and how many operators there are. Not all of the platforms are equal. Some, like Brandwatch, have an additional 14 plus boolean operators that are specific to Brandwatch.

We’ve seen a lot of differences in Asian languages, in particular Thai, Japanese, Korean. So if those languages are used frequently by your business or research teams, it’s really important when you’re testing out the different tools that you’re considering that they can handle your queries and all of the languages equally well.


Social listening test markets

Not all the platforms collect the same volume of data or depth of data from the different channels. For example, local tools, rather than enterprise global tools, might be a better option if you’re specifically interested in more complex or difficult to reach regions.

Lastly, you should consider different industries. Industries are important because you may be an automotive manufacturer, you may be a fashion or beauty brand, and not all of these same platforms have the same historical data sets in these different industries.

Some social listening tools have been working for years with beauty and fashion clients. So they have been pulling in all of the fashion brand details and have a rich historical data set in that industry. Furthermore, if historical data is important to you and if industry depth and competitors or competitive intelligence is important to you, it’s important that you try out some sample queries and probe the depth of their industry data. 

To learn more about social listening tools and the value of skilled analysts, listen to the full webinar here Social Listening Tools The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, or get in touch with one of our friendly analysts today.