Do Social Media Monitoring Services Leave Brands Blind?
Do Social Media Monitoring Services Leave Brands Blind?
Do Social Media Monitoring Services Leave Brands Blind?

Valuevine released a study today that indicates keyword based social media monitoring platforms may leave as much as 82 percent of the online content about a brand out of the data it reports back to brands. The information was collected by analyzing what CEO Neil Crist told me was “following best practices” for keyword-based social media monitoring solutions like Radian6, Sysomos and the like, and comparing it to the data his tool collects from location- and local-focused check-in, ratings and review sites.

Valuevine focuses its analytics product, Valuevine Connect, on source-based searches. So instead of plugging keywords in and indexing sites to find mentions of your brand, it instead identifies the location-specific pages on sites like Yelp, CitySearch, Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook Places and more, and reports user information gleaned from those pages.

Essentially, Valuevine focuses on your known quantity of online conversations. Keyword search engine platforms like Radian6 (and frankly most social media monitoring platforms) just search for those keywords, regardless of source.

Valuevine StudyWhile Valuevine’s data is shocking — one brand they tested in a keyword search only revealed 18 percent of the data Valuevine derived from source-based searching — brands using keyword-based tools need to be upset … perhaps.

First, let’s level-set expectations.

“Some of these sites, specifically Yelp, have legal issues with crawling them,” Nilesh Bansal, Chief Technical Officer and Co-Founder of Sysomos told me. “Their copyright explicitly prohibits such crawing. Also, there are technical limitation with some platforms that choose not to provide APIs.”

What this means is that social media monitoring platforms can’t legally index content on many of these sites.

Crist explained how Valuevine does it by saying this:

“There are two levels of data granularity that we can bring to into the view for our clients. The baseline is that we use a search engine indexing partner that works with many sources in accordance with standard search engine policies. In turn, we follow standard search engine display behavior. For instance, we we only show snippets and ultimately drive activity back to the source pages. In that scenario those services win with the eyeballs of merchants. For some partners, we have deeper access and partnerships.”

Regardless of whether or not Valuevine is collecting information in ways other services aren’t, the simple fact remains that for brands, this is likely the first time they’ve been alerted to the fact that the security blanket they thought social media monitoring services were providing is mighty small.

Think about it. If I check-in on Facebook Places and say, “I really love this restaurant,” it likely doesn’t trigger any keyword searches the brand has in place in its monitoring software. For that matter, volumes of information could be shared by consumers about a company without alerting any of the keyword scans.

For Valuevine’s scan of Starbucks, what that meant was that 68 percent of online conversations — mostly tied to brick-and-mortar locations where the consumer is at the point-of-sale — are potentially not being seen. This information is perhaps more critical to the brand than that being found by keyword searches because it’s 100 percent relevant to specific stores and brands. You could essentially develop an entire quality assurance effort around this data.

“We do source-based listening,” Radian6 CEO Marcel Lebrun assured me. “If I want every post on regardless of what they say, I can get that in addition to the keyword searches with Radian6. In fact, most listening platforms do both.”

Sysomos confirmed for me they offer the same functionality. They label it “Domain Filtering,” but it operates the same way.

But can these systems do location page filtering — focusing on just a single location’s UrbanSpoon page, for instance — rather than a domain-wide search? No one really wanted to jump at the opportunity to say yay or nay because of the terms of service issues with respective sites. My guess is that they can do it, but don’t want to get into trouble.

So that brings us back to Valuevine’s data. Crist said they applied best practices to do a keyword search but wasn’t specific on which keyword engine they used. If it was internal, then comparing it to a robust and several-year-old platform like Radian6 would be unfair. He did indicate that of the clients and agency partners Valuevine worked with on the analysis, none of them seemed to either be aware their keyword-based solutions could do source-based monitoring, or they didn’t know how to use it.

The bottom line is that the huge gaps Valuevine’s data shows are probably mostly driven by the fact the social media monitoring platforms don’t index ratings and review sites. If they did, the gap would likely close. But where does this leave brands?

Beating up their social media monitoring platforms to do what Valuevine does or using both.

To his credit, I asked Crist if he thought brands should question their use of keyword-based tools.

No way!” he responded. “They absolutely need it. It’s fundamental for all brands. But for the subset of brands that have a brick and mortar location, keyword-based solutions are just one set of solutions you need. You also need to monitor the location-specific information keyword tools don’t see.”

That I agree with. And I’ve always been impressed with Valuevine’s offering, even before they became an analytics solution rather than a franchise management tool. It aggregates location-specific information into a nice, franchise-wide data set, but then allows you to drill down by location to get store-specific insights and metrics.

Another point to consider, as Vladimir Oane of uberVu deftly pointed out, is that working with location-based data is not the same as looking at topic-based streams. So adding it to keyword search data is apples-to-oranges.

“The data is structured differently, displayed differently and you interact with it a different way,” he told me. “Not to mention you need different metrics because old ones don’t apply.”

Sounds reasonable. You don’t count check-ins, mayorships and four-out-of-five star ratings when pulling information into your reporting from Twitter or some random blog. But that’s limiting your concern to the analytics. The real-time review of what people are saying on your very own brand pages being left out of monitoring services just smells wrong, doesn’t it?

The Valuevine research is, of course, accompanied by a nifty marketing play. They’re offering up a free calculator for companies who want to see how much of their local data is being missed by keyword tools. All you have to do to use it is plug in the keywords you’re searching for with your monitoring service (which may not be easy for most people), identify your business or brand and within a few hours, maybe even a day since the tool will be over-used for a few days, you’ll get a scorecard back.

But be warned: The data simply can’t be considered chapter and verse. Haphazzardly plugging in keywords to an online calculator isn’t efficient and we don’t know how Valuevine’s keyword searches compare to real keyword-based monitoring solutions. Plus, how Valuevine collects its data is — at a minimum — now going to come under scrutiny from the sites it pulls from.

For more on the Valuevine research, check out their full report on the Valuevine website.

But tell me what you think about the possibility that brands are now realizing their monitoring solutions were missing so much? Will this affect the way you look at your monitoring solution provider? Should it? Aren’t ratings and review site and location-based information sites perhaps more important than other data collected from random sites around the web?

I’m very interested to know your thoughts on this potential blind spot for brands. And what other solutions exist to ensure we’re getting what we expect from social media monitoring. The comments are yours.

About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at
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  • I always wonder about the accuracy of some social media monitoring services. Like how accurate and reliable are they? And which are the best of the bunch? I guess, unless we have achieve a unified system for all search engine sites, it would always be a tricky thing to measure.

  • In all honesty, Social Media Monitors don’t actually provide the most important insights at all: how to actually create value and increase revenue from listening to what people say. That’s why monitoring is just a small piece of the puzzle. 

    Brands are slowly starting to realize that what they really need is the right combination of industry expertise, top notch software, and the right strategy to put it all together to actually show how social mentions impact their business processes. 

    The key to all this is social media business intelligence; the deep analytics that discovers the underlying motivations and trends behind why people say what they say online. By integrating these analytics with key business performance indicators, companies can actually understand their customers motivations and use this information to generate revenue and increase profits. 

    Good post. Its re assuring to know someone is doing their best to double-check the monitors’ data relevance claims.
    – Sergei


  • Lori Siegel

    Jason – excellent post covering topics we struggle with often when digging into the online employer brand reputation audits we provide for our client partners. While we work with some monitoring/listening partners – and are continuously looking at new tools and points of view – we’ve found that the best reporting often comes from a combination of keyword/location based services and platforms and the all important and distinguishing manual/human touch that we bring to each ‘listening audit’ we perform.

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  • Companies have recently begun getting on the bandwagon regarding the utilization of social media activities.  However, companies often fail to implement the right type
    of monitoring program to measure true campaign success.   This leads to their failure…

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  • Hi Jason,
    Great job keeping up on all this stuff and driving the conversation.  The reality is that a company’s web presence is changing.  Everything used to be focused on your “www” domain, but now a company’s online presence is distributed.  For a while everyone was saying that Google was becoming the new home page, and now people say Facebook is the new homepage, but the reality is that your brand presence is in many places, distributed throughout several communities & social networks.  As such, it is important to be listening and engaging on both a) known locations where you have a presence or active community and b) anywhere that customers are talking about you in the broader social web.  These known locations might be company managed, such as a Facebook page, or created without the company’s involvement such as a review site page.

    I do think it is important, however, not to characterize listening platforms as only “keyword-based” because that is just one mechanism to find relevant conversations.  We have many customers listening topically, plus also listening to specific outposts, sources and managed accounts independent of keywords.  This applies even more broadly than specific Facebook pages or review sites, to even include things like specific forums or blogs where it makes sense to monitor *every* conversation, not just on-topic conversations.  For instance, if you were the brand manager for the Nissan GTR, you would want to track all brand mentions across the web, but you also need to hear everything, regardless of topic, happening on forums like,, for example, as well as both the official (company created) and unofficial (fan created) Facebook pages.

    This is already a best practice, but you and Neil are correct in pointing out that there are certainly many companies using listening platforms that many not be aware of this functionality.  Some are aware, but already have an approach for directly monitoring and engaging with these sites.

    I’m sure Neil and company have built some valuable functionality unique to the needs of brick & mortar brands with local stores, and there are certainly unique challenges and opportunities in this segment.


    • Always appreciate your perspective Marcel. Thanks for chiming in.

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  • Thank you Jason for putting this together. It is great to have peers (and leaders) in the SMM space weighing in on this. 

    In response to some of the questions and comments:

    1) Last year, we talked to nearly 1000 brick & mortar brands and found this “blind spot” almost universally across those brands. Our goal with this study was to turn those anecdotes into a quantifiable conversation point in the industry and raise awareness of this issue. I think we have done that.

    2) Traditional review sites are actually a tiny fraction of the total stream of location-based content. Far more interesting to us are the implicit reviews and referrals through local-social channels like Facebook Places, Gowalla, and Foursquare. One of our brands with 300 locations has nearly 2000 location-based pages being monitored, has a total of 430 reviews and over 90,000 check-ins for the same period, of which 20% have content attached to them. That is interesting to our customers.
    3) I agree with Vladimir of uberVu that location-based and keyword-based monitoring are both important, but also distinct. The location context married with all of these trends provides a treasure trove of insight across marketing, brand, operations, and customer service. The way to view and work with this information is very different.

    4) We are fundamentally focused on the location context for brick & mortar consumer brands that are multi-location. There will come a time when a single mom & pop coffee shop may see an offering that makes sense for them, but not at this time.

    I am happy to discuss in more depth with anyone that wants to weigh in. My direct email is neilc(@) or give me a call at 1-866-333-7328.

    • Thanks for being so accessible and for helping us all see some of the gaps in the data, Neil. Appreciate your work.

  • I definitely agree that it’s essential that brick and mortar stores monitor what’s being said about them on sites like Yelp. It’s just as (if not more) important as monitoring for mentions on Twitter. Think about it: most tweets are gone in seconds..but the feedback that’s posted on these review sites is easily accessible/viewable for many months, if not years. Obviously each situation is different, but the bottom line is that it’s important to monitor keywords and feedback on review sites.

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  • Hi Jason,

    Thanks for sparking this discussion in your community – there’s some really important nuance.

    I do want to clarify a bit though – the study quantifies *local* consumer feedback being missed by keyword based monitoring services – there is still plenty of important consumer content that brands need to monitor that isn’t talking about specific locations.  It isn’t a question of either keyword-based or location-based m
    onitoring – for businesses with physical locations, we believe both are necessary.

    Brands still need to know when people are talking about the brand and their products online, but as you ask, isn’t the in-store consumer feedback pretty important for a retail business too?

    Also, as Mark and Sheldon describe, location based monitoring isn’t for every brand.  That’s why we offer a complementary brand evaluation, showing what sort of data their actual brick and mortar customers are saying in-store.  Anyone can request the brand evaluation at – no obligation, no cost.

    As always, great to hear your thoughts and perspective, and learn what the SME community thinks.

    – Pete Mannix, CTO, Valuevine

  • You raise an excellent point, Jason. We emphasize this with our clients as well (we provide SM monitoring for the wine industry). In our tool (Cruvee) we call this context matching–where context is derived based on several factors including the site/domain, user, location, keyword, app being used, and so on. 

    But there are even more blind spots that keyword and location/domain monitoring solutions are missing. This is where a niche monitoring solution like Cruvee excels. Through our partnerships and integrations with wine-specific networks, we deliver context matches to our clients that they otherwise would not see. Mobile apps are the best example. There are over 450 wine-related iPhone apps. Other than via cross posts to broad social networks like Twitter and FB, activity in these apps is generally invisible to monitoring tools.

    Granted not every business vertical needs location and vertical-specific monitoring but for our industry, it’s essential.

    CTO at VinTank

  • Re:

    “But can these systems do location page filtering — focusing on just a
    single location’s UrbanSpoon page, for instance — rather than a
    domain-wide search?”

    If you’re managing a single brick-and-mortar location, why do you need a monitoring service to follow what’s being said about you on UrbanSpoon, or Yelp? Shouldn’t you be checking those pages regularly, directly?

    • That’s a valid question, Mark, but the answer isn’t as easy. What if you’re the brand manager for Five Guys (burger chain). Your store managers don’t have time and you don’t want them distracted from focusing on running the store, so you need to keep an eye on dozens or even hundreds of location pages. That location-based information is still very important to the brand. Someone needs to watch it and filter it down to the store manager if the insights are useful.

      For one location, no it’s not hard. But not every business is a one shop stop.

      • True. But if you had hundreds of locations, wouldn’t you then have to set up hundreds of location page filters (assuming it were possible)?

        That doesn’t seem practical, which I suppose supports the general concept of what Valuevine is attempting to provide.

  • Re:

    “But can these systems do location page filtering — focusing on just a
    single location’s UrbanSpoon page, for instance — rather than a
    domain-wide search?”

    If you’re managing a single brick-and-mortar location, why do you need a monitoring service to follow what’s being said about you on UrbanSpoon, or Yelp? Shouldn’t you be checking those pages regularly, directly?

  • Hey Jason,
    It’s an interesting question you raise here, and I suppose the real answer is that it depends on what kind of company we are talking about. Like you pointed out, a location based service like this makes sense to look at if you’re an actual brick-and-mortar-store company. If I was, I’d be very interested in knowing when people check-in or leave reviews. 
    However, there are a lot of companies that don’t have actual stores. They may be service providers. They may only be an offices. They may just be a company that makes things that then get supplied to brick-and-mortar stores. For example, Coke is (probably) the largest drink company in the world. They don’t have any actual stores (aside from possibly in Atlanta), but they do supply millions of stores and restaurants world-wide. Tracking check-ins and reviews of each of these places may be a bit excessive and overkill for them, but they’re probably more interested in knowing when people are specifically talking about them online.
    It really comes down to what kind of business you are and finding a tool that works best for what your goals are.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    • Totally agree, Sheldon. It does depend. And I think Neil would agree as well, which is why he was so adamant that keyword-based searching is still critical. But for the location-based and brick and mortars, that consumer data is valid and valuable. If tools like yours aren’t able to index them (for technical or legal reasons) but Valuevine can, well then the customer need to know that and be able to make that choice … which I think is addition, not switching.

      • I completely agree.
        I was just saying that’s kind of an unfair statement to say every brand is missing a lot of data, when in fact it’s really just a subset of certain brands.
        Like I said, every company will have different goals and it’s important for that company to find a tool that helps to match their goals. I tell that to everyone rather than just trying to just push my service.


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