How to Choose the Right Social Listening Tool

Lance Concannon Lance Concannon, Marketing Director, Europe

If you’re thinking of investing in a social media listening tool but don’t know where to start, we’ve written an impartial buyers guide to help you understand the most important factors that you should consider before making a decision. You can download the full guide here, but this short blog post will summarize the main points.

Understand Your Needs

Before you start making a shortlist of potential vendors, you should first take some time to map out exactly how your organisation will use a social listening tool. What different teams or individuals will need access to the tool, and how will they use it?

Social listening can be useful to various departments for different reasons, including PR and Marketing, Customer Service, Security and Compliance, Customer Research, and others. So the first step has to be understanding who’s going to use the tool, and how they’re going to use it.

Pricing Models

Vendors offer various pricing models often based on how heavily customers use the tool. This can mean that you get a limited number of search queries, or a limited volume of search results, and have to pay for more.

Another major price consideration is the number of users, and this can work in different ways. You might have a limited number of users who can use the tool at the same time, or you might be charged for every different user regardless of whether they’re logged in at the same time.

This is why it’s worth understanding how you’ll use the tool before you make a decision – if you need to perform lots of different searches, or you’re likely to generate a high volume of results, make sure you pick a tool that can accommodate that.

User Management

If you’re going to have a lot of people using the tool for different activity, it’s important to understand how it can handle all these users with separate roles. Can role-specific dashboards be created, so that people only have access to the features and data they need to do their jobs? Are there workflow features and different access levels, to make it easier for teams to work together?

The way in which a tool handles large numbers of users and enables collaboration is just as important as its core social listening features.

Data Sources and Quality

Not all social listening platforms are created equal, and the quality of data they have access to can vary. It’s important to check that vendors are able to give you full access to data from all of the social channels that are important to you – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, discussion forums, blogs, and mainstream news sources too.

Also consider whether you need historical data. Some social listening platforms only start collecting data based on your keyword searches once you activate those searches, while others (like Sysomos/Meltwater Social Search) provide access to historical social data, so you can research and analyse past discussions as well as current ones.


Visualization tools enable users to quickly make sense of the huge amounts of data that can be generated by social listening. What are the big themes and trends, who are the influential voices, how are different topics related, what are the underlying issues? Good visualizations should help you find answers easily, and drill down into the data to explore in more detail.

Things like wordclouds and trendlines will be fairly common, while other visualization tools might be specific to the different vendors. Also, the way they are implemented could vary, so it’s a good idea to test drive them and really get a feel for how they work.

It’s not always about which tool has the shiniest, prettiest visualizations, how they function under day to day use is just as important as how they look when you copy them into presentations.

Reporting, Dashboards, and Alerts

One of the most important jobs of a social listening tool is to communicate insights effectively to users, and this is achieved through reports (which can be automatically generated on a predefined schedule), dashboards (which provide an up-to-the minute overview of your data whenever you want to check it), and alerts (which can inform you when an event, such as a sudden spike in brand mentions occurs).

You’ll need to understand how any potential tool handles these features, and whether they’re likely to match up to your requirements.

Exports and APIs

Sometimes you want to get social listening data out of the vendor’s application and into your own analytics tools. This can be as simple as exporting it into Excel so you can analyse the data in more detail, or connecting it to your CRM or BI platform so you can integrate it with other business data.

Even if you’re not expecting to do any of these things immediately, it’s good to know you have the option in future, so it’s a good idea to understand what options are available.

These are just a few of the things you’ll need to think about when selecting a social listening tool vendor, download our buyers guide to get a more detailed overview.

Leave a Reply