Listening For a Crisis

One of the best ways to mitigate a crisis is to see one coming and be proactive. Savvy crisis managers monitor online conversations and are ready to respond if needed. When it comes to setting up a listening dashboard online, there are a variety of tools available that fit any budget from free to enterprise level. Your crisis communications plan should include the people, resources, and time necessary to monitor the digital space.

Listening tools can be simple or elaborate . They can be free or expensive. If you’re a beginner or a small business or organization, I recommend starting with a free “suite” of tools and evaluate what people, time, and resources you can dedicate to listening before buying an application.

Below are recommendations for tools in three price categories.  There are tools for listening in the “open space” and crowdsourcing tools that work in the already-established communities that reside on your social channels and website. Consider both. Use open space tools if you only have budget and time for one set.

Open Space No Budget: Hootsuite, Google Alerts, Social Mention, and others

If you’re a beginner, start with free real-time applications for a month or so.

I’ve found that Hootsuite is the most comprehensive (and reliable) free tool for monitoring basic social media applications. Hootsuite also has a good mobile app. The service is “in the cloud” meaning it isn’t housed on your device, so you can basically login to your account anywhere, at any time, and from any device.

With the free version of HootSuite, you have the ability to monitor accounts from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Ping, WordPress, MySpace, and mixi. You are allowed one admin to control those accounts, and you can monitor (and post to) a maximum of five social media accounts.

Also, Hootsuite offers a free “click summary” of links you have tweeted. The report gives you basic information about number of clicks by day and ranks your retweets and clicks during the reporting period. If you’ve never looked at any of your social media data before, this is a good way to get started. You can set up searches to monitor your brand, a hashtag, or any set of words, similar to Google Alerts.

In addition to monitoring, you can also post to each account using Hootsuite. It also includes a scheduling feature so you can write several posts at one time and schedule them throughout the day or week.

Google Alerts are easy to set up and cover online mentions on the web, but the search giant is not as strong for social platforms. Google does not monitor Twitter or Facebook posts, so you will be missing social platforms if this is your only tool. You can set-up keyword searches to monitor, and also control how often you get notifications:  as it happens, once per day, or once per week.  If you are monitoring for crisis, we suggest you use “as it happens.”

Social Mention offers real-time searches in the social media space around specific search terms, but doesn’t monitor the web like Google Alerts.

Open Space Low Budget:  Sprout Social , Hootsuite Pro

When we say small budget, we mean less than $50 month. Hootsuite Pro is only $5.99 per month and offers unlimited profiles (in the platforms Hootsuite supports—see above), an additional admin, integration with Google Analytics, unlimited RSS feeds, Facebook Insights integration, an archive option, and access to more data reports. Additional admins can be added for $15 each per month.  The downside is the lack of ability to search the internet in general. You’d need to supplement with an internet search of some kind.

Sprout Social is an inexpensive, but very comprehensive social monitoring and posting dashboard.   They have two smaller plans—the Pro at $9.00 per month and the Small Biz at $39.00 per month. There is quite a jump in services between the two plans so you will want to look at their pricing plans to see what works for you.  Sprout Social offers anenterprise-level program as well.

For CKSyme.org, I use the “Pro” version of Sprout Social. In addition to the Sprout Social analytics dashboard, I also have several Google Alerts and Twitter searches that are run through the Sprout Social dashboard.  This single-administrator system works well for my business.

Tripwire also published a comprehensive list of monitoring tools in July 2011. Some are free, some are pay-per. You’ll have to read through the list to find out which is which.  As you do, you’ll notice that many of these tools are platform-specific to Facebook or Twitter or the web. Look for one that can give you at least all of the major social platforms, if not all.

If you’re already listening to people who are in your social media space , you might consider a crowdsourcing tool that helps you connect as well as listen. Two good ones are GetSatisfaction (which integrates with Salesforce) and  UserVoice.  Both have pricing plans that start low and go to enterprise level.

Trouble can start in your own backyard. Smart companies are using social media to listen to their customers as well as monitoring the “open space” on the internet.

Open Space Big Budget: Radian6, Scout Labs (Lithium), Meltwater Buzz, Argyle Social, Wildfire, Expion, and many more)

If you are interested in enterprise-level monitoring systems for businesses or organizations, Jeremiah Owyang released a report in January, 2012 detailing the best SMMS tools out there.  This detailed slide presentation includes many helpful insights gleaned from his research on social media monitoring.

Crowdsourcing Tools:

If you have communities built on several social platforms already , you might consider a crowdsourcing tool that helps you connect as well as listen. Two good ones areGetSatisfaction (which integrates with Salesforce) and  UserVoice.  Both have pricing plans that start low and go to enterprise level.

Trouble can start in your own backyard. Smart companies are using social media to listen to their customers as well as monitoring the “open space” on the internet.

Note: This piece first appeared as a guest post on a blog hosted by Bernstein Crisis Management.  Excerpted from the coming e-book, Listen, Engage, Respond: Crisis Communications in Real-Time. Watch http://www.cksyme.org for the release in May.  
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Chris Syme