How to Build a Free Social Media Monitoring Dashboard

By Tony Ahn
11 May 2011 from Social Media Examiner

Do you need a better way to manage the monitoring of your social media? Don’t want to spend a lot of money? How about a free alternative?

Keep reading to learn how…

Google Alerts has its uses, but it is simply not effective as a stand-alone tool for monitoring social media conversations on a day-to-day basis. Dozens of paid options exist, including Radian6, SAS and Lithium.

However, with an RSS reader and some Internet savvy, you can build a powerful social media listening post at no cost. This article will show you how.

Knowing where your company is mentioned online, who’s doing the mentioning and how others are responding is crucial to 1) understanding the “buzz” about you, 2) addressing complaints and negative mentions quickly, 3) knowing the impact (or lack thereof) of your marketing efforts, and 4) shaping social media marketing efforts to reach the right people (key influencers) on their preferred platform.

Start With a Feed

A “feed” is a summary of web content that is updated on a regular basis. It allows users to keep informed of a website’s latest changes. The predominant feed format is Really Simple Syndication (RSS) 2.0.

Feeds allow you to easily see new content. A summary or “headline” view lets you quickly scan recent content changes, and headlines are linked to their appropriate content. RSS readers are very useful because you no longer have to search for relevant information; you simply save your search queries in the reader and the relevant information will come to you.

Unless you have another blog aggregator that you prefer, I recommend you sign up for Google Reader.

dashboardThe first time you log in, the screen will look like this.

The remainder of this article will show you how to use an RSS reader to build a social media dashboard.

#1: Track News and Blogs

Go to Google News and enter a query into the search box. I recommend you use complex queries when possible, as they provide more focused results. If your query returns items that are relevant, scroll down and click the RSS button at the very bottom of the page. On most sites they appear as orange badges.

After clicking the button, copy the URL of the page that comes up. This is the RSS feed for your search query.

google newsYou just want the URL (indicated by the arrow). The rest of the page is not intended for humans to read, but for an RSS aggregator like Google Reader.

Go back to Google Reader and click the “Add a Subscription” button in the upper left corner.

add a sub

I’ve marked it in the screenshot above with an arrow.

Paste the URL into the form field that appears.

Now every time a new article that fits your search query goes live, it will be added to your Google Reader. Add as many query feeds as produce articles relevant to your brand or industry.

rss badgesHere’s a selection of RSS Feed badges, both traditional and creative, that you may find on blogs.

Go to Google Blog Search and run search queries, pasting the RSS feeds of queries with relevant results into Google Reader as above.

#2: Track Wikipedia

Wikipedia is where experts, industry leaders, researchers and other key influencers talk. You may have thought it was just an online encyclopedia, but it has a forum for every single article posted. Lively discussions are often ongoing behind the scenes, as each article has its own discussion page where Wikipedia editors debate and discuss.

You’ll want to know what people are saying about your page, your competitors and your industry.

Subscribe both to edits made to each article you select as well as its corresponding discussion page, in order to monitor what people are saying.

wikepediaView History shows you a log of all edits made, along with the time, editor and often a summary of the changes.

To do this, select the “History” tab above the article, then on the left sidebar click “Toolbox” and then “Atom” with the orange RSS badge next to it. Paste the URL into Google Reader.

If you want to subscribe to discussion on the article as well, click the “Discussion” tab above the article, then click “History” then “Atom” as described above. You may also want to subscribe to pages about your competition or about the industry itself.

dashboardAtom is a type of RSS feed and works exactly the same way. Find the button in the left sidebar.

#3: Track Tweets, Comments and Discussions

Twitter is one of the main places online that comments go viral. Companies like Dell and Southwest Airlines monitor Twitter in real time so that a negative tweet about a product or service can be addressed quickly by customer service.

It is also important to note that Google indexes tweets. If your company, product or brand is being tweeted about, you’ll want to know. Luckily, Twitter is equipped to send information to your social media dashboard.

Go to Twitter Search, run a search query, click the “Feed for this query” link next to the orange RSS button, and paste the URL in your aggregator.

twitter searchTwitter searches can be imported to your social media dashboard.

All tweets you monitor will be stored for you.

Are you regionally focused, or is your audience in a single country? Click the “Advanced Search” link to the right and set your parameters. You can even specify whether you want to see positive or negative tweets, or tweets that ask a question!

twitter advanced searchAdvanced search in Twitter is a powerful way to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Go to Samepoint. This is an engine searching millions of conversations taking place on blogs and social media sites. User-generated discussions (other than Twitter) are typically not indexed by major search engines, such as Google, as they do not reside on static pages.

SamePoint converts these discussions into web pages, or permalinks, and organizes them within a tag cloud. Enter your search query and subscribe to the feed, just like above.

samepointSamepoint search results actually show sentiment analysis with their “social tone” indicator.

Go to BoardTracker. This engine searches over 2.4 million live message boards and discussion groups. While Google searches message boards as well, BoardTracker serves up better results. Run your search query and grab the RSS feeds.

boardtrackerBoardTracker will draw back the curtain on Internet forums, showing you what people are saying about your product, service or brand.

#4: Optional Tracking

The above feeds are required for in-depth monitoring of your brand and/or industry. The following feeds are optional, depending on your particular circumstances.

If your industry has strong aftermarket sales, you may wish to monitor prices. eBay and Craigslist are the top aftermarket sales sites. The prices people are paying for your products there will help you determine aftermarket value.

Go to eBay. Enter a search query. Scroll to the bottom and click the orange RSS button, and paste the link in your aggregator.

Go to Craigslist. Enter a search term. Look for the RSS feed. You know what to do.

If you want to monitor your competition, or any webpage in particular, subscribe to an RSS feed at WatchThatPage. It will notify you any time a page is changed.

watch that pageWatchThatPage can extract new information from multiple web pages.

#5: What About Facebook and LinkedIn?

Facebook and LinkedIn are noticeably absent from this social media monitoring dashboard. Why? Because both platforms have privacy settings that preclude interacting with the general public.

Users must register, and then they can only interact with their friends/contacts (with the exception of Facebook Pages, which are indexable by the search engines, and LinkedIn Today, which is an aggregation of other news sources).

There’s not a search engine around that can search a closed network, at least not as of this writing.

social meda dashboardThis is a screen shot of the social media dashboard for my company, Sterling Rep Social Media.

As you can see, I can quickly scan the list for items of interest. While most of these are mentions of my blog posts, if someone mentioned my company (or me) online in a blog comment, forum, on Twitter or in the news, it would show up here.

The above plan will allow you to construct a powerful social media listening post, free of charge. It is searchable, saves all records indefinitely, and is updated upon refresh. Using it will give you a significant advantage over your competition if they’re still just using Google Alerts.

HOW TO: Connect Your Brand to the Right Online Influencers

By Macala Wright Lee, from Mashable

9 May 2011

Macala Wright Lee is the publisher of FashionablyMarketing.Me. Wright Lee is a retail consultant who specializes in marketing consulting for fashion, luxury and beauty brands. You can follower her on Twitter at @FashMarketing.

Simply put, there is no one single way to measure online influence. And in the past, measuring influence has been based on popularity or celebrity. In a recent post, Brian Solis, principal of The Altimeter Group, wrote, “If we look beyond the word ‘influence,’ we see that the ability to measure effect is complicated and elusive. I believe, however, that we’re closer to measuring social capital, at least in a digital sense, than we are [to] measuring outcomes.” This means that online influence isn’t about popularity, it’s about expertise.

Targeting the Right Influencers

It’s important for retailers and brands to focus on targeting small groups of online influencers who are experts in the niches they cover. First and foremost, “don’t think of online influencers as media contacts,” says Derek Skaletsky, vice president of business development for Traackr. “Online influencers don’t care about news. They care about experiences — especially unique experiences that help them differentiate themselves to their audience.”

The need to focus on relevant influencers rather than the most popular “social media celebrities” can be explained in three ways, says Pierre-Loic Assayag, president of Traackr.

  • Relevant influencers create signals. The “big fish” create noise. For decades, advertising has trained marketers that noise equals success, which isn’t true. Getting the attention of influencers who have built authority with a target audience and have earned trust in communities relevant to specific businesses is what yields the best return.
  • Targeting relevant influencers drastically increases the “engagement hit rate.” Instead of reaching out very generically with yet another media coverage request, you’ll be talking to someone genuinely interested in your issues, industry and products.
  • “Big fish” are actually influenced by targeted voices. They are much more likely to cover your story and get interested in your product after you gain “street cred” with relevant influencers.

In order to engage relevant influencers successfully, brands must:

  • 1. Target relevant influencers based on expertise and desired outcome.
  • 2. Talk to them inside their story, not the brand’s story.
  • 3. Engage them early and build a relationship that outlasts the brand’s campaign.
  • 4. Be honest and don’t just talk to people who already like your brand.
  • 5. Give up control of the message and trust your influencers to tell the brand story through their words.

Why Brands Should Target Small Groups of Influencers

As a brand, why should you target small groups of influencers within niches, instead of solely going after the big fish or the biggest online celebrities? Because when you do your homework, targeting the right seven people can reach 350 million.

David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules Of Marketing & PR, shared the story of Cindy Gordon, vice president of new media and marketing at Universal Orlando Resort.

Gordon was tasked with creating a global marketing campaign for the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal Studios and Warner Brothers could have spent millions of dollars, but instead, Gordon found the seven most influential bloggers and fan sites for Harry Potter and connected with them. Gordon set up a private screening for them with the people who were developing the new park. Those initial seven were responsible for sparking the conversation among hundreds of thousands through their fan sites and blogs. Gordon estimates that 350 million people around the world heard the news that Universal Orlando was creating the theme park, and it all started with those seven bloggers.

“Before you engage online influencers, you have to figure out who they are and track their conversations. Understand what these influencers like and don’t like about your products and services, your marketing, your brand and even how they compare you to the competition,” says Michelle de Haaff, CMO of Attensity. “Once you know who they are personally, you can engage in relevant ways. Reach out and thank them for their support, and create continual dialogues with them. Don’t make engagement a one-time thing.”

Tools of the Trade

While there are many free and paid social media monitoring solutions available to help retailers identify, qualify and quantify social influencers, I’ve found that the most effective ones for brands and agencies to use are:

1. Traackr

Traackr is one of the most impressive tools I’ve discovered to measure online influence. It’s designed for brands or retailers to identify and engage the top influencers most relevant to their brand, product, or campaign. Traackr doesn’t focus on URLs — it focuses on people. The algorithms analyze an individual person’s reach (ability to generate views), resonance (ability to spark conversation) and relevance (ability to cover a certain topic/market).

Tens, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people participate in an online conversation, while millions just listen. Less than 2% of these participants have over 90% of the impact in that conversation (posts read, link backs, retweets, reactions, etc.), according to Traackr’s data. The 2% within the conversation are never the same across conversations.

Traackr starts at $499 per month and expands to several thousand dollars for large accounts.

2. Attensity

While Traackr focuses on individual people, Attensity focuses on URLs and where activity surrounding a brand, product or campaign is happening. Attensity offers a complete suite of influencer reports within their social media monitoring and analytics application that covers more than 75 million social/online sources.

Its reports include a listing of key influencers, their reach and impact scores, demographic details about the site(s) they post on, as well as any information available about the individual. Attensity has integrated Quantcast and Klout into their reports as well. This is one of the simplest, most comprehensive reporting softwares to use.

Attensity’s comprehensive suite starts at $5,000 per month.

3. Facebook

By simply monitoring their Facebook communities, brands can also identify influencers. SmartPak Equine, an equestrian supplies retailer, has done exactly this. It has leveraged its Facebook community to identify what equestrian professionals are influenced by.

From the 12 athletes that they pinpointed as brand evangelists, three riders are equestrian industry experts and heavily active on social networks. These are the brand ambassadors who have provided the best ROI for SmartPak Equine.

The ambassadorships, in conjunction with community contests and Facebook engagement strategies, have allowed SmartPak to develop highly targeted social marketing campaigns that have resulted in a 600% year-over-year sales increase. Facebook has also become the number seven referrer of traffic for the site and is becoming more cost effective than print advertising.

While Facebook is currently free, brands invest an average of $2,500 for fan page development per application, says Tim Homuth, the head of Redfoot Social, a social commerce company specializing in Facebook application and audience development.

In the next few years, how do you think brands and retailers will track return on influencer outreach? Will they want a one-stop place to get all the data or continue to rely on a variety of resources? Let us know your predictions in the comments

Infographic: Twitter Statistics, Facts & Figures

Compiled by from Digital Buzz

12 May 2010

This is the latest social infographic out from website-monitoring and this time it’s on twitter, with the statistics rounded up during the month of April this year. Some of the latest stats show a 55% female skew and primarily 18-34 age distribution at about 45% of all tweeps!

Some of the more interesting stats show that 41% of people haven’t tweeted since signing up, while 75% of tweets come from 3rd party applications or mobiles. 10pm – 11pm is the most popular time to tweet and there are 640 tweets per second.

2010 Twitter Statistics Facts Figures Large

Facebook Now Pays Users 10 Cents To Watch Certain Ads

By Todd Wasermann, from Mashable

6 May 2011

Facebook introduced a program Thursday that offers consumers a financial incentive to watch ads on the site.

Facebook will now reward users who watch certain ads with Facebook Credits, which can be redeemed to purchase goods on Facebook Deals, the company’s new Groupon-like daily deals service. The incentive, however, is not huge. Initially, the average ad will yield one credit, which is equivalent to 10 cents.

The ads will mostly be in games. CrowdStar, Digital Chocolate and Zynga are among the participating game publishers. Facebook is working with Sharethrough, SocialVibe, Epic Media and SupersonicAds to serve ads on the program as well as TrialPay, which will provide analytics.

Dan Greenberg, CEO of Sharethrough, says Facebook’s move represents “a step away from interruptive advertising.” Greenberg, whose clients include Microsoft and Nestle, says his network won’t deliver traditional advertising but rather branded entertainment, which consumers will want to watch and share with friends.

Incentivizing consumers to watch ads is one solution for Facebook’s low banner click-through rates. The move comes after Facebook expanded its Credits program last week to let consumers use the Credits to buy real-world goods advertised in Deals. Previously, the credits, which were awarded for consumers who signed up for various programs (like magazine subscriptions) or bought outright could only buy virtual goods.

Infographic: Facebook vs Twitter Demographics

By Digital Surgeons from Digital Buzz

21 December 2010

What a year it’s been in the land of social, and in particular, Facebook & Twitter. I won’t bore you with the 1000 statistics every one of you already knows about the growth of Facebook and Twitter this year, but I will show you this nice little infographic from Digital Surgeons, showcasing the breakdown of the 2010 social demographics on Facebook and Twitter, ready for a huge 2011.

At first glance there isn’t a lot in this, but I think it’s interesting t note that 67% of people on Twitter follow a brand (that they will purchase) in comparison to only 51% on Facebook, yet on Facebook 40% of all people follow a brand in comparison to Twitter’s 25%.