Social ConnectionsWith a plethora of new social media platforms vying for our attention and the unabated growth in popularity of the established platforms, it's not surprising that the last few years have seen a surge of online brand monitoring tools. Businesses big and small are embracing social media like never before and a whole new sector is now emerging to help them manage, monitor and interpret the vast amounts of information associated with modern social media campaigns. Google's move towards finally denying organic keyword data altogether in Analytics, has only intensified this race for meaningful metrics.

Monitoring performance is a key pillar in any digital marketing campaign and can no longer just come down to recording rankings in the SERPs month in month out. Nowadays brand presence is measured across platforms, forums, comments and websites. Co-citation and co-occurrence, re-tweets, re-pins, Facebook shares and Google +1's all play a big part in shaping this picture, and the need to identify negative and positive commentary is more pressing than it's ever been.

So what is a brand monitoring tool and what do they do? Well typically most tools perform more than one task. This infographic on Social Media Today breaks social media monitoring tools down into five categories (social listening, social conversation, social marketing, social analytics and social influencer) whereas this article from Trust Radius puts them into seven categories.

However you categorise them, the fundamental difference exists between tools designed to monitor social activity and tools designed to manage or promote social activity and then there are tools which are designed to do both.

Given the huge variety of tools on the market we thought we thought we'd conduct a little monitoring of our own by looking at these tool's brand presence on the traditional battleground of public recognition; the SERPs.

The Data

For our study we used two search phrases in Google and recorded all mentions of any social monitoring / management tools from the first 30 websites in the SERPs for each phrase. For relevancy we also filtered the search results to display only those from the last year.

The search phrases used were:

  • Top social media management tools
  • Best brand monitoring tool

The study was first conducted in April and then again in August to compare results and look at any trends that might have emerged.

Across the entire study we recorded 1,113 mentions of 223 individual tools. Some of the sites were pretty broad in their definition of a social media management or brand monitoring tool, but for the sake of this study we tried not to split hairs when it came to the definition of a social media management tool or a brand monitoring tool.

We didn't use any price comparison websites, only authored articles or manually compiled lists. Naturally we also discounted the company websites or blogs of the monitoring tool developers themselves, as well as any webpages that were overtly self-promotional or commercial in nature.

Many well known blog / magazine sites such as Tech Republic, Tech Radar, Digital Trends, Digital Sherpa and Social Media Today made an appearance in our search results, as well as many more lesser known sites.

Naturally, there were instances of the same website appearing more than once during the same month's study, but every webpage we looked at in that particular month was completely unique.

Of the individual web pages studied, 19 appeared in both April and August's data, meaning a total of 101 unique web pages were surveyed in the study across both months.

April's Results

The number of individual tools mentioned in April was 177. Perhaps not surprisingly, in first place was Hootsuite with 40 mentions, a commanding fifteen mentions ahead of the rest of the pack. It was a close run thing for second place with Sprout Social pipping Social Mention at the posts with 25 and 24 mentions respectively. Joint fourth with 22 mentions a piece were Buffer and TweetDeck.

There's another gap in the pack at this point with Google Alerts showing that it's still a serious contender in the brand monitoring game in joint sixth place with Mention, both with 14 mentions. Social Oomph comes in at seventh with 11 mentions and Crowdbooster, Topsy and Social Bro all taking joint eighth place with 10 mentions.

If we separate out the brand monitoring tools with 10 or more mentions then we can see Hootsuite commands a convincing 20% of the vote with Sprout Social and Social Mention taking 12% each. Overall these top 11 tools only account for 40% of the vote, with the remaining 60% of all tools getting 9 or fewer mentions.

25% of all tools mentioned were only mentioned once, with that figure rising to 35% for tools mentioned twice or less.

There was an average of 10.1 individual tools listed on each webpage we surveyed with a total of 504 individual mentions.

April's Monitoring Tools Data

August's Results

August saw even more tools mentioned with 222 tools getting a say. In first place again was Hootsuite dropping marginally to 39 mentions. The race for second, third, fourth and fifth featured the same protagonists as in April, only with TweetDeck triumphing in August with 27 mentions (up 5), followed by Buffer with 26 (up 4), Sprout Social on 24 (down 1) and Social Mention on 23 (down 1).

Google Alerts and Mention swap places in August on 12 and 13 respectively. The notable risers on the block in August are Postling (up 5),Spredfast (up 7), Twazzup (up 7) andFollowerwonk (up 6), with the big droppers being Tweet Beep (down 5), Market Me Suite (down 2) and Bottlenose (down 2).

If we separate out the brand monitoring tools with 10 or more mentions again then we see that we are left with 12 sites, again with 40% of the total vote. Hootsuite's command of the vote has dropped from 20% in August to 17%. Of the remaining 60% of all tools with 9 or fewer mentions, 20% of tools were mentioned just once (no change from April) and 36% of tools were mentioned twice or less (up just a percentage point on April). This shows that the spread of site mentions is pretty much the same in the bottom third of the data.

In August there was an average of 9.3 tools listed on each webpage we surveyed, down from 10.1 in April. There were 629 mentions.

August's Brand monitoring tools SERP data

Top thirty risers and fallers

All tools by mention

Conclusions

Undoubtedly the starkest result to come out of the study was the sheer number of different brand monitoring tools available. Across just 101 unique webpages surveyed we found an eye-watering 289 individual tools mentioned. Although it's likely that the functionality of these tools probably ranges hugely, from social media management and brand monitoring to web based analytics and reputational management tools, it's still fair to say that all of them fall under the broad umbrella of brand monitoring or social media management tools. In other words, there's a lot of choice out there.

The continuing visibility of Google Alerts in these lists is an interesting finding, especially given recent problems with the service. This is probably down to most list compilers already being very familiar with the tool and often using it as a benchmark or a starting point for their lists.

The predominance of Twitter based tools is marked throughout the dataset as well, with the micro-blogging platform getting a disproportionate number of tools dedicated to Twitter monitoring and management.

Comparing August to April we don't see any seismic shifts but there are definitely a few tools getting a lot more mentions than they were 4 months ago, notably Buffer, Spredfast, Followerwonk and Twazzup (two of these being Twitter focused).

Further Resources

There are some great resources out there for choosing the best monitoring tool for your brand or company and it's always worth looking to see which of these tools offer free trials so you can test out several out at once. This guide from G2 Crowd is based on user reviews, market share, vendor size and social impact and is an interactive report, allowing you to compare products and read recent reviews.

This group interview from Blogging Wizard asked 46 social media marketers to name their favourite tools and is well worth a read. Finally for a really in-depth guide on four of the top tools (Hootsuite, Buffer, Sprout Social and Social Bro) have a read of this article from Word Stream.