Social Media Monitoring Tools Comparison Case Study

To help illustrate the difference a powerful Boolean search query can make when it comes to social monitoring, let’s take a look at the brand name P.C. Richard & Son, a chain of appliance and electronics retail stores. We will see how we can monitor this brand name in three different types of tools. The tools were chosen based on the style of interfaces they provide for search queries.

1. Brandwatch: An enterprise level browser-based social media monitoring tool with a paid-subscription pricing model based on how many mentions are found per month. It features unlimited user logins, customizable dashboards, filters, alerts, location data, sentiment analysis, charting and reporting. Their queries allow for complex Boolean search criteria with many powerful operators to help limit results to specifically what is wanted.

2. Fresh Web Explorer: A simple, browser based social media monitoring tool that accepts rudimentary Boolean search criteria. It is part of the set of tools.

3. Mention: A social monitoring tool meant for professional or individual use that has a user interface to enter keywords for queries. It also creates alerts for real-time mentions and includes reporting functionality and other features. We used the free trial version for these examples. More expensive plans include unlimited alerts, more mentions allowed per month, unlimited history, access to statistics and data export and support for multiple users. Mention can be used as a browser-based tool, running native on the desktop, or as a mobile application.

Variations And Permutations
Of The Brand Name

The first step to consider when doing brand name monitoring is to evaluate the variations in the brand name that can be found on the internet. Some people may be confused at times whether or not the Richard or Son parts of the brand name are plural. There’s also variation in how the P.C.part is abbreviated, and if the word and is spelled out or if an ampersand symbol (&) is used.

Diagram depicting the many combinations of the various ways the parts of the brand name P.C. Richard & Son could be spelled or misspelled.

All of these permutations result in 40 different ways to express the brand name!


Method 1: Massive Query
Using the OR Operator

One way to approach this is to create a massive OR query. If the tool provides a field to type the query, it would look something like this:


Method 1 Using Brandwatch- 149 Results

This may seem somewhat primitive and error prone, but in tools which accept the query as a text string, like Brandwatch, this works (note: the use of the raw: operator in Brandwatch assures the periods and ampersands are included in the search, however it makes the query case sensitive).

Screen shot of the social media monitoring tool, Brandwatch, showing the result of a very large Boolean search query with every permutation of the P.C. Richard & Son brand name using the Boolean operator, OR.

If we want to expand the query to work with upper or lower case, the number of combinations goes way up to over 300! Brandwatch has a limitation of 4096 characters for a query and massive OR query for every combination of the name in upper and lower case is over 8000 characters! Surely there has to be a better way to express all combinations without being case sensitive. We’ll address this issue in the Method 2 section.

Method 1 Using Fresh Web Explorer – Character Limits

The free social media monitoring tool Fresh Web Explorer in Beta from Moz gave us this result:

Screen shot of the social monitoring tool, Fresh Web Explorer, showing how a very long Boolean search string returns the error

With the limitation of 255 characters, this method will not work for any query which is long and complicated.

Method 1 Using Mention – Too Many Keywords

On tools which have separate boxes to enter the keywords, it might not even be able to handle all these keywords. Entering all 40 phrases one at a time into the OR fields of Mention can be a tedious process. After entering all of the variations to search on and clicking on the button to create the query, the tool tells us there are limits to the number of keywords you can have in a query.

Screen shot of the social media monitoring tool Mention, showing the query interface filled with 5 variations of the P.C. Ricahrd & Son brand name..

And at the bottom of the list of 40 phrases…

Screen shot of the social media monitoring tool Mention, showing the bottom of the query interface with an error message

Clearly this approach will not work in Mention!

For this tool to work, you’d have to create multiple queries to do sets of variations. That’s a lot to manage, considering each query would require you to set up alerts, analysis, and reports for each one.

Here’s one query for variations of the singular P.C. Richard plus & Son. Because the tool doesn’t allow for any further variations within the AND fields or no way to specify the order you want the search criteria to be applied, like (a OR b) AND (c OR d), you would have to do 8 different queries to get all 40 variations in the results. Here’s just two of the 8 variations with the & Son suffix versus and Son.

Screenshot of Mention social media monitoring tool, showing query user interface with another one of eight queries to represent variations in the P.C. Richard & Son brand name. Screenshot of Mention social media monitoring tool, showing query user interface with 1 of 8 queries representing variations in the P.C. Richard and Son brand name.

Managing all 8 queries to account for all of the variations takes time to create, and then management and monitoring of those queries will take even longer, having to monitor, analyze and create reports for 8 separate queries instead of one comprehensive query for the brand name.

Method 2: Complex Boolean Query

A more efficient way to construct a query without requiring every permutation would be to use complex Boolean search operators, along with parenthesis parsing, special characters, quotes, etc.

Method 2 Using Brandwatch – Trial and Error Tweaking

Using Brandwatch, this complicated Boolean search query can be constructed of the following parts (note: not case sensitive unless the raw:operator is used):

Set A: Variations on the PC part:

raw:(“P.C.” OR “P. C.” OR PC OR “P C” OR “p.c.” OR “p . c.” OR pc OR “p c”)

Be cause the raw: operator is case sensitive, we would have to specify all combinations of P.C. in both upper and lower cases, assuming no one is using combinations of case. However, Brandwatch treats spaces and special characters equally, so we can find all cases with spaces or special characters using simply: (“p c” OR pc). This will resolve having to specify upper or lower case combinations because keywords without the raw: operator are not case sensitive.

Set B: Variations on the Richard part: (Richard OR Richards)

Set C: Additional variations when the PC and Richard parts are put together: (PCRichard OR PCRichards)

Set D: Variations on the and part: (and OR &)

Set E: Variations on the Son part: (son OR sons)

To build our query, we want to put together the following parts, represented by letters to simplify:


Since all of these components make up one brand name, it makes sense to use a proximity operator instead of the AND operator. The Brandwatch tool allows NEAR/x operators that specify that two keywords should be in close proximity, based on the number you use for x. Also, including the letter f after the number, as in xf, indicates that the second word must follow the first, in that order.

Why would we want to use NEAR instead of just AND?

Well just imagine a blog written by Richard Smith talking about the PC computer he purchased for his Son. All the keywords are on that page, but have nothing to do with our brand name. In this case, proximity counts!

The parentheses specify that we want to figure out the variations of the 1st part of the name before we find the variations of the 2nd part of the name.

When you put it all together, the query should have a format following
this structure:

((( A NEAR/1f B) OR C) NEAR/1f D) NEAR/1f E

It’s important to keep track of your parenthesis! They are color coded to help match them up (sorry if you printed this on a B&W printer!). The parenthesis specifies the order – we resolve the PC part next to the Richard part, or accept it when they’re put together into one word. Then we take those results and make sure there’s some sort of and or & character following it. Finally we take those results and make sure there’s a son or sons after that. We only want to search for pages which have those 40 variations of the brand name in it.

When we plug in the actual keywords, our Brandwatch Boolean query string looked like this:

((((“p c” OR pc)
NEAR/1f (Richard OR Richards))
OR (PCRichard OR PCRichards))
NEAR/1f (and OR raw:&))
NEAR/1f (Son OR Sons)

In Brandwatch, the raw: operator lets you take symbols literally, so we used it for the ampersand.

We thought everything was just awesome, but tried to create the new query and got this error:

It turns out Brandwatch cannot differentiate between the keyword and and the Boolean operator AND, despite the difference in case. Even putting and in quotes or trying to specify it literally with raw:and gave us the same results. Brandwatch support did not have a resolution to this issue at the time of this paper, but they are now aware that it can be a problem.

However, because Brandwatch provides a rich set of operators available for the Boolean search string, the wildcard functionality can be used as a workaround. With the assumption that there wouldn’t be any search results for things spelled similarly to the word and with a different character than n, the search expression a?d will match any word that has 3 characters starting with a and ending in d with anything in between. This is a good example of how a rich set of query operators allows for flexibility to work around any potential issues. So our query now looked like this:

((((“p c” OR pc)
NEAR/1f (Richard OR Richards))
OR (PCRichard OR PCRichards))
NEAR/1f (a?d OR raw:&))
NEAR/1f (Son OR Sons)

Screen shot from Brandwatch social media monitoring tool, showing syntax restriction when the raw: operator cannot be used with NEAR operator.

We discovered a syntax restriction where Brandwatch doesn’t allow the raw:operator to be used alongside the NEAR operator. Because it is more important that the variations of & Son really need to be immediately after the first part, we will make the assumption that the Son or Sons will be within 1 word of the first part and just not include the and or & keyword in the Boolean search criteria. This example demonstrates that the syntax of tools can be picky and it may take longer than expected to formulate the appropriate Boolean search strings.

Finally, our test query works and finds 169 mentions over the last 8 days. In the example below, we can see multiple variations of the brand name in the results.

(((“p c” OR pc)
NEAR/1f (Richard OR Richards))
OR (PCRichard OR PCRichards))
NEAR/1f (Son OR Sons)

Screenshot from the Brandwatch social media monitoring tool showing successful Boolean search results for our P.C. Richard and Son brand name query.

Note that there is a difference between this result and when we tried creating a query that was using the OR operator on every permutation of the name (method 1), that returned 147 mentions in our test query. What’s the difference? The first example used theraw:operator and was case sensitive, so brand names in lower case would not be in the results. This is proof that slight variations in brand name, including upper or lower case, can make a big difference in results. So why would you want to have to come up with figuring out all the combinations by hand and worry about missing any? Using Boolean logic expressions to include all variations in your criteria is far more efficient if done correctly.

Method 2 Using Fresh Web Explorer – Parentheses Problem

Fresh Web Explorer’s interface is a text field, so we should be able to put in a query with various combinations of AND and OR. However, their list of search operators does not include any proximity operator like NEAR, there are no wildcard characters, and there is no support of parenthesis. Let’s test with just the first part of our query anyway for the first part of the brand name.

((“P.C.” OR “P. C.” OR PC OR “P C”)
AND (Richard OR Richards))

Screen shot from Fresh Web Explorer social monitoring tool, showing error when parentheses are used in a Boolean search query.

Fresh Web Explorer does not support parenthesis! That limits the use of this tool to only very specific types of simple queries. We reported this and the developers said they would add it to their feature request road map. But for now, this tool will not work for our query.

Method 2 Using Mention- User Interface Limitation

Because Mention doesn’t allow you to type in a string for the search criteria, that tool is not adequate for our brand name variations.

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