There are a gazillion tools available that provide media monitoring and many businesses use one to stay abreast of mentions. For example, a recent survey found 66% of PR pros say they use media monitoring tools.
Unfortunately, many of these are very expensive, hard to use, require lots of time to tweak and fine-tune searches. Then at the end of it all, these produce lackluster results.
Couple that with the fact that many of the incumbent media monitoring providers haven’t brought any substantive new innovation to market in several years, and it may be worthwhile to look at other tools. I recently took a look at Brand24 and was pleasantly surprised.
Brand24 has been sponsoring the last several episodes of the Marketing Companion podcast and as part of that sponsorship, they have offered listeners a three-month free trial. I signed up after hearing the promotion on a show and was genuinely impressed with the simple process and the unconditional access to the product.
Setting Up Brand24 Searches
Once in the system, I set up five different searches including three for clients, and two for me – my name and the name of my company. The setup was Google-like, meaning you add a keyword and you start getting results immediately.
Brand24 also provides two additional fields to that allow you to easily fine-tune searches. One field is a required keyword which if you use it, means that keyword must also appear with the original keyword to return a search result.
This is useful for monitoring common names. For example, if you were monitoring results for a CEO named John Smith, you’d want to add some variation of the company’s name as a required keyword. If you didn’t you’ve likely be overwhelmed with results for “John Smith” searches that are not relevant to your John Smith.
The second field is for excluded keywords – those phases which would prevent a result from returning. I used this field to eliminate job postings associated with a brand name. Initially, my searches were inundated with job listings and simply adding “jobs” to the exclusion field eliminated most of these.
Of course, some people might want to see the job listings. There’s value in monitoring hiring trends among competitor, so you can use these to fields to narrow or broaden your searches as you deem fitting.
No Boolean search references were necessary, no was training required, no waiting 24 hours for the system to identify search result – Brand24 just worked and it started working right away.
Day-to-Day Monitoring with Brand24
Typically, I would login once a day to review the results. The system provides measures for the routine items you’d expect: mentions, impressions, likes, comments, and sentiment.
I’ve never been much for monitoring sentiment analysis on any system because, despite the hype over artificial intelligence, the algorithms for natural language processing (NLP) just aren’t there yet. Modern communication is challenging and it’s hard to account for humor, sarcasm, puns, and other cues that may come with context rather than text. I haven’t seen a monitoring system that does this well yet and many monitoring systems OEM this technology, so some of these are using the same engine anyway under a white label.
Putting those things aside, what I liked the most about the Brand24 is that it identified and surfaced content, mentions and posts I’d have missed otherwise. I’ve found Google Alerts haven’t worked effectively in years, and Brand24 seemed to capture more mentions and did it faster than the other comparable systems I’ve used.
Each search result comes with an estimate of reach, influence, and most importantly an ability to get to the original post in one click. Reach is merely an estimate of monthly visitors to the site, influence is a score from 1-10 that Brand24 has developed on its own and getting out to the original post gives you an option to see and engage in context.
If you find you are getting search results that aren’t relevant, even with the exclusion keywords, Brand24 provides a number of ways to delete and block erroneous sources. For example, you can check boxes and delete or block results in bulk, or you can do it line by line.
This is really important if you are going to use this system every day. No matter what system you use, if you get mentions at scale, you will have erroneous and trashy mentions from content scrapers you’ll want to delete.
You can also manually add sources too, if you find, on the rare occasion one has been missed. In the three months or so I’ve been testing this product, that has only happened once or twice.
You can check the dashboard routinely as I prefer to do, or you can have these sent to you as email alerts. If you want to add a client or team members to these email distributions, that’s simple too. Brand24 also has “storm alerts” which are emails triggered when a certain threshold of activity around a keyword.
You can adjust the threshold to a custom level you desire. I wound up turning these all off because I didn’t need the distraction of another email or alarm bell going off. I strive to structure my workday and check tools and alerts periodically throughout the day so as to be responsive when the situation warrants.
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Bits and Bytes Testing Brand24
Overall, I found Brand24 was pretty good at monitoring information from most digital sources. It categorizes results into social media, forums, news, blogs and web results, though there was a lot of overlap. Given the distinction in the modern media landscape is blurry anyway, this tends to matter less than finding the mention in the first place.
In my opinion, Brand24’s single largest strength was in identifying posts I might have otherwise missed – and in finding them first. In one example, I noted Brand24 identified a reference to a client in the ABA Journal, three days before I saw it pop in other monitoring systems I currently use.
In other examples, I saw web and social posts from employees of a client I hadn’t seen before. Nothing was out of the ordinary, but it’s good to know I have visibility into these activities and can keep tabs on things for clients.
This is important to me because good PR people are supposed to be on top of things. I want to see, read and have a chance to comprehend relevant information before my clients do so I can provide well considered counsel. In an age of abundant information, you’ve got to have an effective way to search, sort and prioritize news and Brand24 helps to that end.
Here are some other aspects that stood out for me as I reviewed the product:
1) Sources of content Brand24 monitors
On social media, the tool pulls from three of the four largest platforms: Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. It also monitors Reddit content but classifies the site, perhaps fittingly, as a forum. LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram were noticeably absent.
Facebook monitoring is limited to those posts that where the user’s settings are open to public consumption. You’ll find this is true on any media monitoring platform and has been that way for a long time, despite the current data controversy encircling Facebook.
The monitoring of Google+ was useful because there is still some activity there. Keeping tabs on Google+ will matter so long as people can publish to the site and those results can be indexed in search.
With Twitter, it seemed to miss a lot of the day-to-day mentions, which I suspect is because Brand24 probably doesn’t have the Twitter firehose hooked up. The Twitter firehose is very expensive and that cost would be passed on to customers.
I imagine there are similar financial and technical hurdles to pulling in content from social media sites. For example, I have previously worked with two different companies sourcing LinkedIn data and the company has both high and shifting standards for API access.
2) Brand24 is fairly easy to use.
Brand24 is very easy to use. I believe a novice can log in, and if they have some practice searching in Google, they can set up searches pretty easily. There are more tabs and settings for experts looking to customize searches or filter for nuance.
One thing professionals at any skill level cannot afford in these modern times is spend hours fiddling around with searches to get them right. This is a classic problem with incumbent vendors – a business drops five or six figures (or more) on a monitoring product thinking they will save time, but when it’s turned on they realize they need an FTE to manage it.
3) The tool has lots of little bonus qualities baked in
The system has lots of little features you may or may not even notice until you need them. For example, a little “eye” appears over results you’ve already reviewed that helps speed you along a review, there are several ways to personalize your dashboard view to your liking, and you can search and sort through existing results. There’s also an integration to Slack, which is a great way to share what you’re doing and provide transparency, without clogging up the inbox.
4) Ready access to Brand24 support
Brand24 seems to have solid customer support. I checked some of the public reviews to make sure this experience was reflective. I liked the fact I could leave a question or comment in the system as I was working on it late on a Sunday night, and I’d get an answer in the same place the next morning.
This gets to be an inside baseball type comment, but I’m fairly confident Brand24 is using Drift. Drift has a manifesto for running SaaS product trials like this one; if you work in the tech space, it’s worth a read.
Brand24 Pricing and Plans
I didn’t look Brand24 pricing until about halfway through the review. I was thinking the product was pretty solid and started to wonder what it cost. As it turns out pricing packages range from between $50 to $400 per month, which is very reasonable comparatively speaking.
So, for $600 a year a small agency or small businesss can get in with a quality premium monitoring service at the low end. At the high end, for $4,800 a year a larger agency, or large corporate commmunications team, can support almost 100 users. You can’t even get a starter package with some of the larger media monitoring vendors at that price point.
The PR industry desperately needs innovation and I’m eager for some alternative choices to recommend. Brand24 looks very promising and if you haven’t tested it out, you should and do it now before your renewal contract comes due. Find more from Brand24 on their blog, case studies, or testimonials on G2 | Crowd.
Disclosure: Brand24 provided free access to their product in accordance with the offer to any listener of the Marketing Companion podcast. No money traded hands and the company had no editorial influence on this review. I’ve had no prior affiliation with any of the company’s representatives in any capacity whatsoever. I will be very keen to watch the progression of Brand24.
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