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Social Media Analytics Software

As social media continues to gain popularity as an advertising channel, some companies are advertising software aimed at mapping and make analyzing online social communities. I’ve been considering some of the pros and cons of tools designed for online social networks.

Analysis packages like Radian6 and BuzzLogic consist of dashboards (not unlike Google Analytics) that present and perform further analysis of data that their crawler programs harvest from sources like blogs, image sites, and video sites. A big selling point is the ability to monitor both the response to your posts, and other activity relevant to a given topic, continually. The ultimate objective is to help companies zero in on what social network to join, who the major influencers are, and what they are talking about. At least one puts an emphasis on segregating key influencers on a given topic from key influencers overall. This is of course important, given the evolving nature of networks. The topics of interest, influencers, and participants are constantly changing, and analysis needs to account for this.

Pricing of these tools is often on a monthly basis. This is where the hard questions come up for an SEM company, like, do I have enough clients using social media to warrant the spend? Do I feel confident investing the time in learning a new tool, which may or may not give me output I agree is useful? Should I hack together my own tool instead?

The biggest consideration should be the proportion of your client contracts revolving around social media. The contracts would need to be fairly large-scale to make the investment worth it. If you don’t clients that fit this description, then its probably not the best choice (at least not yet!)

If you do, it comes down to your confidence in your own knowledge of social media networks. If you have a real need for analysis but don’t have ideas on how to measure things yourself, then a package is for you.

But based on the conversations between SEMs online, there are lots of us who have some ideas of our own about how to measure social media. So assuming your company falls in the group of those that would rather design their own tool, here’s a rough scope of the process of creating an analysis tool that can output enough metrics and analysis to fill, say, a monthly report on social media performance for big clients:

Phase 1: Obtaining data
Ideally, a single time investment in resources (time) to create a suite of crawlers that can withstand spam and abnormal sites. You’d want a crawler for all the big social networking sites, and you’d need to be able to work around the steps in place on some social networking sites to prevent crawlers. How hard is this? Depends on who you talk to. But don’t expect it to be easy.

Phase 2. Making sense of data.
Requirements: Depend on desired goal. To identify patterns in a network over time like key influencers (as the products on the market do), a couple algorithms should do the trick, as long as they’re used correctly (check out research in physics and information science departments on what they use to analyze evolving networks).
Keep in mind that there are tools that are designed for network analysis already, but without the data aggregation component, and without some of the social-media-targeted splash of tools mentioned above in terms of visualization. Pajek, Netlogo, and Guess are a few to check out.
Keep in mind, even tools like Radian6 and BuzzLogic require some manual analysis, such as in separating positive and negative feedback. From a text processing standpoint, this is a difficult problem, and assuming some manual analysis process every time is probably the safest bet.

Phase 3. Maintaining Analytics
Once a detailed enough output report was achieved from last steps, this should be easy. But what equals enough of course depends on the status quo for social media analytics. Will it be skyrocketing? I’m guessing more flashy tools are on the way, but as far as the number of companies doing really intricate analysis (versus lots of aggregation, and a bit of analysis), I don’t know that that will really come into popularity. Think about the measurement of other marketing channels. The popularity of Google Analytics, for example. What tends to be most popular are a few key metrics, with only the minority really crunching numbers via complicated algorithms and statistical models.

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