a comparison of social media monitoring tools: the search for the holy grail

Once upon a time at a digital marketing agency far, far away, an ambitious Dragon ventured on a seemingly never-ending quest to find the Holy Grail of all social media monitoring tools. Despite the obstacles ahead, the Dragon soldiered on in search of the one social media tool to rule them all. The Dragon was me and the journey—albeit long—did not extend further than my own desk. After many months of sales calls and demonstrations with eleven different companies, I have pooled my data and identified the good, the bad and the so-so of social media monitoring.

My Social Media Monitoring & Reporting Dream Features

social media monitoring tools review and comparison

Over the course of my research, I came across a total of 34 desired features that DragonSearch‘s dream tool would offer. While this list included the obvious—such as white labeled reporting, archiving and campaign tracking—I stumbled upon some really neat features that really set some tools apart. Sprout Social, for example, has a free mobile app that allows users to respond on all synced social networks and even monitor FourSquare check-ins. For any local business, this is a big selling point. Meltwater Buzz sets itself apart with a built-in link shortener and custom Facebook tab builder, making campaign creation and tracking seamless.

Some social media monitoring tools even include their own influencer score, such as Sysomos, Meltwater Buzz and Sprout Social. Visibile Technologies, on the other hand, incorporated the ever-popular measure of social influence: Klout. Among my (still growing) list of desired features is Google Analytics integration, audience segmentation for mentions and a comprehensive spam filter.

The Not-So-Good Social Media Tools (a.k.a. The Tools to Avoid)

I’m not one to harp on negative attributes; however, there are some tools that were mostly unimpressive. Cision, for example, began pricing at $4,000/month in order to meet the needs of a boutique agency like DragonSearch. While social media monitoring tools are inevitably pricey, I definitely had sticker shock from Cision’s quote. I never received a demo of either Lithium or SM2, so both tools were quickly ruled out. While I hate persistent salespeople as much as the next person, I appreciate a good follow-up and the occasional poke to circumvent my hectic schedule.

Although Spiral16’s social media reporting tool came with unique data visualizations, the inability to respond to mentions makes this service only helpful to agencies interested in raw data and research. However, my least favorite tool trophy goes to BrandsEye. After performing an initial search, BrandsEye requires users to manually weed through hundreds of search queries to train their relevancy prediction algorithm. This method certainly does not increase productivity.

The Middle-of-the-Road Social Media Monitoring Tools

These tools aren’t bad by a long shot, but they don’t quite deliver everything that an agency would need. However, my standards are pretty high at this point following hours of tool research. First, let’s take a look at MAP and Heartbeat from Sysomos. Having had an introduction to Sysomos at Blog World East 2011, I am quite familiar with the features of each tool. MAP is great for monitoring mentions for numerous clients and performing competitive research while Heartbeat works better as a workflow tool on a client-by-client basis. While I am quite the advocate for Sysomos, they do not offer one tool that does absolute everything DragonSearch needs as an agency.

Sprout Social works wonderfully for managing customer communication; however, it lacks the deep analytic filters that are necessary for comprehensive social media reporting. SocialRadar was another tool that did not make the cut due to the inability to respond to mentions or assign users tasks within the software. In other words, these tools had their redeeming qualities but still didn’t hit Holy Grail status.

The Best Social Media Monitoring Tools (In My Honest Opinion)

I want to preface this last section by saying that I did not—nor do I plan to—test every single social media monitoring tool under the sun. There are simply too many tools out there to be tested that there is simply not enough time in the day. However, I did use good old fashioned social recommendations, brand recognition and blog research to compile a list of social monitoring tools worth testing. At the close of my lengthy research, I found three tools that embody the non-negotiable features that had been set out for DragonSearch: Visible Technologies, BrandWatch and Meltwater Buzz.

Visible Technologies was the first tool to win over my heart because it offered both unlimited search queries AND results. This type of offering is virtually unheard of in any type of social monitoring tool. Visible Technologies also includes all of the core features that make for a happy dragon. However, the $3,000/month price tag was a bit much for smaller agency. If you work for a national brand or large agency, I highly recommend Visible.

Meltwater Buzz also stood out as well because it monitors and even translates in 27 different languages—the most of any tool I have reviewed. Meltwater Buzz also has a variety of unique features that set it apart from many of the competitors—including topic and theme segmentation of mentions. However, Meltwater Buzz required a one-year up front financial commitment of $15,000. Once again, this type of pricing may be more feasible for larger agencies.

So what tool was lucky enough to find a home at DragonSearch? Known as Radian 6’s largest competitor in Europe, the newly-launched U.S. version of BrandWatch was the ultimate tool of choice. BrandWatch’s core features met our agency needs and the price point was just right. With unlimited users and search queries, BrandWatch can adapt to a variety of client loads. In addition, a 30-day contract makes the decision to buy not seem so scary. But then again, I am a self-professed commitment phobe.

What social media monitoring tools have you tested? Are there any that you would highly recommend or might suggest agencies avoid?

Identifying the key features of a social media monitoring tool is integral to the tool selection process. As I have discovered, the feature set for these tools is numerous to say the least. As a reference, we have compiled a spreadsheet of the most common and desired features found in different digital marketing tools. From Klout integration and mozRank to white labeling and influencer identification, there are at least 30 key functions identified based one extensive research.

See the large (and readable) version of the tool comparison spreadsheet here.

Visible Technologies*
Brands Eye
Sysomos MAP
Sprout Social*
Meltwater Buzz
Multiple Users
White Labeling
Search results (limited v. unlimited)
History–how far back?
Exportable reporting?
Identifies influencers
Respond within tools
Assign tasks with notes
Social Network Integration (what sites?)
Blog and news integration
Author Demographics
Competitve reporting
Search Query Priority Ranking
Measure of Engagement/Reach
Measure of Buzz
“Discovery” tool for topics
Search terms allowed
Spam filter
Save Searches
Meausre Sentiment (+ or -)
Google Analytics Integration
Audience Demographics
Customizable Dashboard
MozRank integration
Mobile app/support
Individual Campaign Tracking
Mention Backup
Multiple Languages
Klout Integration
Email Alerts
API Integration
Contract Length
Link Tracking in Tool
Cost $$$$$
<td ‘class=xl70’>Facebook, Twitter

3 to start Unlimited Yes Yes Unlimited One agency
login, $100 per extra user
10 to start,
$29.99/month each additional
5 users yes
Yes-reports Yes-reports Yes-reports Yes-reports Yes-reports Yes Yes No Yes Yes-reports yes
Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
results, limited searches
Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited standard
3 months 6
days (included) to 1 year on heartbeat,
month to 5 years
to 5 years on Facebook and Twitter as well
except for Facebook (1 year)
CSV & PDF PDF Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Coming
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes No Yes-Hearbeat Yes No Yes No Yes Yes
Yes Yes No Yes-Heartbeat Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
of them (?)
Twitter, Foursquare, G+ (MAP only)
Twitter, Foursquare, G+ (MAP only)
Twitter, Google Plus, Foursquare
Twitter, RSS, Foursquare, etc.
Twitter, Foursquare, RSS, LinkedIn
major ones
major networks
Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare comments
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes No,
working on this
Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
No No Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes-pre-designated
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
No No No No<span
No No No No No:
No No No,
accessible on mobile site
accessible on mobile site
No Yes Yes Yes iPhone
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes-$50/month
per topic
Yes Yes Yes 20
Yes No 20
languages + translate
Influence Score
Influence Score
Influence Score
Yes No Yes No No-internal
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Only
for Foursquare
Yes Yes
Yes yes Yes Yes
1 year 1
days minimum
days per search topic
None 30
day contracts
unlimited everything
for 50 searches, $2,400/month for 100 searches
for unlimited searches, $999/month for 200 search phrases, $199 month for 10
for 5 queries and 10 tags with $500 setup. Professional- 10 queries, 25 tags,
25 users-$1,100/month
for 10k mentions & unlimited searches, $2,400/month for unlimited
mentions and 15 searches ($115 each additional query), $1,050/month for 20k
mentions & unlimited searches
for 5 searches & unlimited results,<span
for unlimited social profiles and searches and up to 10 users
for 5 queries with pricing up to $4,950/month for unlimited
year, $28,000/year


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