The Importance of Social Media Audits

In addition to constant listening and alerting to their market, brands should conduct an initial, then annual social media audit to be successful in their endeavors.

Just as brands conduct audits of inventory, employees, and budgets on an often annual basis, they should also survey the landscape to find out what customers, influencers, partners and employees are participating on the social web. Audits are key for identifying priorities, benchmarking previous efforts, and planning for future efforts; the same applies for social media. I’ve been reviewing social media strategy documents from a variety of large brands, and I’ve noticed the following three common traits:

Understand the Three Types of Social Media Audits

  1. Initial Kickoff Audit. Brands should audit their social sphere as part of their initial planning process. Brands should work with a partner to find out the conversation index, top competitors, top discussed phrases, and customer experiences with products and services.
  2. Conduct Annual Audits: Social media teams should work with management and marketing managers to understand how and why the social web responded to activities in the market. Benchmark top advocates and detractors, and determine which topics or products are most talked about. Most importantly, benchmark your own social efforts, measuring the change and analyze what caused them, you’ll need this data as your budgets are questioned. Finally, use this knowledge to set quantitative and qualitative goals of where you want to be next year.
  3. Conduct Ongoing Monitoring: This really isn’t an audit but is key as listening doesn’t just happen in spurts. Brands should be constantly monitoring their brand using alerts and reports. Ongoing monitoring is helpful in responding to the real time web (crises can breakout even on a weekend) but may miss out in seeing the bigger picture and macro changes.

Key Takeaways
I was involved (I come from practice within corporate) in the brand monitoring when I was running the social program at Hitachi Data Systems, I leaned on Converseon and Factiva, now owned by Dow Jones as well as setup Google Alerts and tracked Technorati links. Here’s a few things you’ll need to take into account:

  • Don’t conduct your audit in a vacuum. Identify the keywords and phrases to measure by involving a variety of stakeholders. Be sure to distribute the findings to stakeholders as well as conduct a findings meeting to discuss next steps
  • Find a brand monitoring vendor as a long term partner. Find a listening platform that understands your business, and gets the social web beyond just mainstream media. Forrester has conducted research Wave on this topic to find the right listening platform vendors to meet your needs.
  • Appropriately Staff and Fund. Don’t expect this partner to understand the nuances of your markets’ discussion, assign a few part time resources internally to champion this audit internally and don’t forget to budget. I’ve seen many annual pricing proposals at the 100k range varying on services and number of keywords used.

Love to hear your tips, best practices, and pitfalls to avoid in the comments when it comes to developing an active listening strategy.

54 Replies to “The Importance of Social Media Audits”

  1. Hear Hear Jeremiah.

    One big thing we advise clients is to make sure that your listening strategy & technologies include real-time alerts.

    Instant notifications – and the right processes in place to act accordingly – can help avoid / better manage Domino’s Pizza / Habitat / etc type social disasters.

  2. Jeremiah,

    In my experience with working with brands to establish their listening programs, one of the key things they learn over time is how to adjust their thinking from a topic-focused monitoring mentality to a business intelligence strategy that answers specific business challenges or issues. This is something that often comes up in their audit, but also can occur on a dynamic basis as a program moves forward.

    Mike Spataro
    Visible Technologies

  3. Consumers are talking actively talking about brands every single day. Marketers have two choices: (a) cover your ears and pretend it’s not happening, or (b) listen, analyze, and chart your plan on how to establish a dialogue with your customers.

    So many brands are so eager to dive into the far edge of the pool with gradiose plans in social marketing without taking a step back to gauge the temperature. Who is talking about your brand? How many of them are there and how influential are they? Where are they hanging out? What are they saying? What are their motivations? How is that changing over time? What is your competition doing? How do we identify the white space that gives us the optimal opportunity to participate?

    These are questions that get answered with an audit. And the beauty is the ability to continually check back frequently — whether daily, monthly, quarterly — to see the impact of your marketing efforts on your online brand health. Where else do you get such instant acccess to a national focus group talking in their natural habitat?

    Kudos, Jeremiah!

  4. Hey Jeremiah,

    “Appropriately Staff and Fund”this is critical. Audits usually run smoother when you have someone who is on top of the analysis and keeping the “books” in order.

    I have found many of the tools for monitoring to be quite time consuming and for them to be effective brands need dedicated resources. Hopefully more than one.


  5. Jeremiah,

    A typical example would be a company that insists on tracking their brand name, competitors by name and or consumer complaints or service, but after spending time analyzing consumer conversations they come to understand that structuring topics tied to specific customer experiences – frustrations, angry, quality, speed, etc., – can yield much better data and insights. The same can be said for many other types of brand analysis, whether it it at the brand, product or campaign levels. Hope this helps.


  6. I agree with Mike that moving beyond tracking brand name mentions is an important part of deriving some value out of a brand audit. Developing lines of inquiry based on pre-established hypotheses inevitably yields a more robust set of results that leads to strategies that can be acted upon. Technology can aid in this process, but in the end nothing can surpass human intuition and intellect to develop and (in)validate such theories!


  7. Jeremiah – I couldn’t agree more. Excellent post.

    The quicker companies can start seeing social media as another (integral) part of their business strategy, and giving it equal weight, the better. What really excites me about this space is that the fundamental shift in mentality that will occur within a business once they start to listen to their customers and then engage with them. They will start to focus on customer service and loyalty – something which has been lost in many businesses for years.

  8. Adding to Mike’s advice above, the key is to listen to people’s conversations about your category, not your brand. Most online conversation is not about brands. Most online conversation is about what people care most about – cars, gaming, beauty, cooking, finance, etc.

    Brands are of course important, but brand mentions range from a high of 30% of relevant conversation (gaming, cars) to a low of < 5% (food/cooking). If all you are looking for is brand mentions, you are missing the forest for the trees.

    Figure out what people are passionate about by listening to their whole conversation – not the brand conversation – and then do something to connect your brand to that passion.

    (Like Mike Spataro above – we (MotiveQuest LLC) do this sort of thing.)

    Tom O’Brien
    MotiveQuest LLC

  9. While listening to conversation is an important aspect of a social media audit, it really only boils down to a small percentage of the business needs. With that said, one could state that any business need is led by active listening across all channels.

    As a disclaimer, I do social media / competitive audits that start based on open source materials and evolve into applying private industry data into the comparison.

    1- From a conversation standpoint, you first have to detail the keywords that are relevant to the creation and branches of the conversation. This requires a mindset similar to search engine optimization or sales funneling development, each word defines another branch that may or may not be relevant.

    2- From a internal asset point, are company employees and connected professionals leveraged appropriately to create both an intake process and a promotional channel? Every employee is connected to dozens of other employees, each connected to to dozens of external personalities (family members, industry peers, journalists, etc) that can be broken into silos and utilized.

    3- Does the company understand the impact of the social media space? Are there cycles in its business model that can be retrofitted to take advantage of new communication methods or channel presence? (an example would be a project team using Twitter groups to trouble shoot problems or using systems like getsatisfaction to streamline intake.)

    4- Are silos within the company leveraging budgets that now interact in the social media space? Do they understand the conversational overlap? (Examples include poor customer service channels creating search engine results through bad client handling, creating an obstacle for human resources to recruit new candidates, challenging the public relations team to overcome several issues, and now placing the product development group at risk for missing a deadline because HR couldn’t get the right employee.)

    5- In any size organization, sifting through the current employee base and identifying the early adopter from a personal level. On a mathematical level this is usually a fraction of the available base, but will locate the individuals in the team who “get it” – It is often easier to instruct an employee on best business practices than it is to teach them a mindset of “open sharing, cultural acceptance, and giving”

    ~Barry Hurd

  10. Jeremiah – thanks for a great post.

    Just to add another point – A comprehensive Social Media Audit should involve all stakeholders internally, i.e. sales, marketing, customer services, product development, competitive intelligence, market research, so that a holistic strategy and action plan can be concluded as the result of the audit. Based on our experiences in working w/ brands, if each function conducts its silo audit w/o coordinating (because of different focus), the brand would experience difficulty to engage customers or perspective w/ clear & coordinated voice. The bottom line is to involve all functions that social media touches to have a meaningful social media audit that can transform forwarding strategies.


  11. Thanks for the audit suggestion, Jeremiah. Like it for several reason, but first and foremost it forces companies to set goals and measure requirements around use of social media instead of opting to — and this happens way too often — “do social media” to check it off the list with now idea of what “doing” social media means or why we’re doing it.

    Linda, you make a great point about getting all stakeholders involved in the audit. If they aren’t, you may have a small group invested in a social media strategy that requires the resources, budgets and engagement of others who aren’t on the same page because they report to a different boss (silo leader).

    One piece I’d like to see added to the idea is a “fire drill” component to increase understanding. In other words, how are we suggesting you use social media to do your job differently and what does that really look, feel like. Too often we pay lip service to changing the way we do our jobs, and don’t actually make those changes. While a social media audit should help avoid those situations, some people are visual learners and need to see to believe.

    Justin Goldsborough
    @JGoldsborough on Twitter

  12. Which brings us to apps, are there any dedicated socal media audit apps out there? Not simply listening platforms or monitoring/search tools, but auditing tools that have the aggregated power of these, plus triggers that can be set and activated when certain metrics are met (such as when a brand reaches a certain ‘conversation level’). Being able to harness and interpret this sort of data would enable meaningful feedback (perhaps to the executive) and this would be a big step towards influencing key decision makers and Jeremiah’s third key takeaway – appropriately staff and fund.

  13. Great post.

    The downside of the current “real-time web” obsession is that it’s hard to see the patterns when the dots are flying at you like they were shot from a hyperactive tennis ball cannon.

    Brands can and should take a step back from that to understand the key themes of the conversation and how they’re evolving over time. A new generation of tools focused on that (including Cambridge-based Crimson Hexagon) seems to be emerging now. These tools will co-exist with the first generation “keyword counters,” just like The Economist co-exists with The New York Times.

  14. I often find when brands want to audit themselves that the topics they come up with are in “marketing speak.” That’s not to say they shouldn’t look for those topics, but consider how your audience would be talking about your brand. For example: insurance companies may call it a “wellness center,” but I call it a hospital.

    A real-world example of this comes from Levi’s. We were working with Matchboxology to monitor the Levi’s Ones to Watch campaign overseas. Through continuous monitoring, Levi’s discovered that people were shortening the campaign name to LOTW to save space. So, Levi’s switched up some of their marketing to include the acronym (and help their audience identify with the brand).

    Great stuff, Jeremiah!

    Whitney Mathews
    Social Media Manager, Spiral16

  15. Mike Spatro, and Patrick got it, you’re talking about conversations at the lifestyle level that are natural discussions. Had an interesting conversation that most brands choose keywords around their products that customers may not be using in natural conversation.

    Jeremy Marks there’s quite a few brand monitoring companies that can in fact do the audit too. I’d go to them first

    Michael, getting out of the social hailstorm to see the bigger picture is exactly why an audit is so key

    Really quality comments here everyone, thanks.

    Be interested if any brand monitoring company wanted to do a brand audit for the web strategy blog as a demo.

  16. Jeremiah – Thank you for mentioning your past work with us. This is a great post that should help people structure their goals with audits. It’s interesting to see how much the monitoring/measurement space has evolved, both in terms of technology and methodology, since the early days when Technorati was a major player.

    The types of audits you identified are consistent with what we’re doing with our clients – but I wanted to add a few additional thoughts to this discussion:

    1. Overlaying different types of data –conversations, search, analytics, voice of customer research, etc.– provide better insights and a deeper understanding of social media’s interplay with the overall business efforts

    2. Audits for large companies are different than those for medium/small ones – due to the sheer volume of discussion, multiple points of entry, and the vast number of markets/conversations to cover – which makes creating a unified company vision all the more challenging

    3. The better a company is internally structured for social media, the more likely key insights from audits will be implemented in a comprehensive, coherent way across various business units, helping to provide the needed vision on company’s stand in this space

    4. These audits should be complemented with research on company’s social media readiness level (maybe there’s a better word for it) – a way of assessing where the company is now compared with the starting point in terms of knowledge, best practices, governance, integrating social media in the overall business process, lessons learned etc.

  17. Constantin, wow, it’s been a few years, we should setup a briefing so I can learn more about what you’re doing. You’ve come up perhaps a few times with clients in the last few months.

    You’re right about large brands, they want several audits for each of their product sets or event regions –it can get complicated.

  18. Hi Jeremiah,

    A lot of good points have been made above. (It’s always encouraging to see social media monitoring vendors among the first to respond.) Mike Spataro (Visible Technologies) and Tom O™Brien (MotiveQuest) make good recommendations, urging companies to listen to conversations about their industry or category in addition to those about their corporate name or products. That said, if resources are limited (and they always are) and/or if your company is conducting a social media audit for the first time, taking a look at conversations around your specific brand or products is a good first step and can help marketers figure out how to expand future listening programs.

    We generally recommend companies start by mapping the conversations around their brand. Figure out who™s talking about you and why. Who™s talking about you means not only which specific sites are writing about you, but also which types of sites or stakeholders are writing about you. For a pharmaceutical company, for example, sites discussing specific products might include those targeted at or written by patients, investors, doctors, researchers, jobseekers, etc. These conversations may overlap, but often times we find dramatic differences in how different types of sites and communities feel about a brand or product. Identifying how these conversations differ (by sentiment, topics discussed, sources cited, etc.) can help marketers better understand and outreach to a diverse set of target audiences (both in and outside of social media).

    Once you understand where your brand™s being talked about, you can start exploring where your brand is not being talked about in a more targeted way.

    Lastly, as several people have already noted, social media shouldn™t be analyzed in a vacuum. Integrating mainstream media, web analytics, and search data will provide a more complete picture of your brand’s online profile.

    Perrin Doniger
    Context Analytics

  19. This post is so timely! As social content manager for my agency one of my key job responsibilities is social monitoring and we just moved from a monthly dashboard style to an annual/bi-annual audit with continual monitoring/alert system style.

    When this process is driven from the client side out – I think you nailed it. But when you’re trying to convince your clients about the importance of social monitoring/audits I think you missed a key element:

    The key with social monitoring is that you have to make it actionable.

    If you sell a client on a monthly report, and you deliver a monthly report- that’s all it is. Even if you put the best recommendations and ideas into it, it goes into someone’s inbox, is read, appreciated, and then saved – out of sight and out of mind. You have to sell the client on the actions they need to take with your information or else the value wears off quickly.

  20. Great conversation all around, but a couple important points have been overlooked.

    First, I appreciate Jeremiah’s honest accounting from a budget perspective. I’ve seen a lot of misunderstanding around the cost of the toolset for a monitoring tool (quite reasonable), and the amount of human analysis is needed to really gather an insightful, actionable summary of the conversations (quite reasonable, given the impact of the information, but sometimes a surprise).

    But, no one has mentioned the capacity for these audits to offer huge cost savings for brands. An annual budget for monitoring and auditing services costs the equivalent of just a few focus groups, and the data is much richer. The insights are also more powerful, because it’s an ethnographic observation of a native environment, vs. a focus group, which is an artificial environment.

    Second, we at White Horse have seen our monitoring give us instant insight into campaign traction – if people are talking about your messaging, you will know about it right away. You don’t have to wait for post-campaign brand lift surveys to know if you’re headed down the right path. The testing process gets compressed, leaving more time in a campaign for optimization and refinement.

    Third, while it’s important to understand the breadth of the conversation, not all category – and certainly not all brand – references are good fodder for insight. Identifying the particular venues that carry the most influence for your targets is still a critical piece of the puzzle. No monitoring solution offers this capacity right now – all the more reason to keep this work with those who understand the strategic priorities and direction of the brand.

  21. Great post. It starts a conversation that is sometimes overlooked–the importance of listening and learning about your audience before taking action. It is vital to understand what if any communities of interest exist, the nature and sentiment of conversations, the accepted language, the trusted sources and so much more.

    I never understand why brands or individuals jump right into a community without having studied them. It often leads to “guess and check” methods of communication, which can ultimately lead to a negative outlook towards to brand/individual. Audits, monitoring and other in-depth information gather methods have to be utilized to be truly successful.

  22. Hi Jeremiah,

    Firstly congrats on sparking such an interesting conversation with social media conversationalists 🙂

    Thanks for taking the time to talk to us at Brandtology recently and I would like to think that our conversation helped you shape some of your thoughts in your interesting blog post.

    Doing an audit prior to strategy development and execution is a good practice, just like in conventional brand management. I think it™s even more important in the social media landscape. As it is relatively new to a number of companies and brand owners, really more frequent radar scanning is necessary for charting up the course of action in the social media space. The above views are supported by many customer enquiries and works, in different International and Asian markets with a multitude of local languages.

    I would like to share some purposes that clients have generally come to us to do an audit on and discover some insights about. The roles of these stakeholders (whether in Marketing, Sales, PR, Product Management, C-level, etc) each have their own “actionable insights” that they want to take away from an audit. They generally don’t want to spend time and resources on how to set up the keywords, etc and then maintain and train such a system and so would rather engage a service such as ours.

    Some different purposes for a social media brand audit we’ve seen are:
    ¢ Cross border regional audit on the same issues but in different markets/countries (thus yielding different results and insights)
    ¢ Highly accurate sentiment analysis on certain events/issues with huge number of posts (macro and micro sentiment view on issues)
    ¢ General perception of brand and change of buzz over weeks/months
    ¢ Competition mapping (where they stand and where they’re heading vis-à-vis their competitors)
    ¢ Horizon scanning (they want to know potential upcoming trends and threats)
    ¢ Pre, during and post campaign audit for both online and offline outreach and marketing (ROI/KPI measurement)

    I hope this contributes a bit more to this already excellent conversation thread.


    Kelly Choo

  23. When talking about specific goals of an audit, i would highlight the need to bring the marketing function front and center. In the end, customer acquisition is the more important thing our client’s care about. So while monitoring and listening are indeed critical, we want to focus our monitoring and listening on the “infrastructure of the offer” and how we strategize, message, integrate, and track our offers across the marketing function. One of the biggest problems with social media strategists is the lack of focus on customer acquisition. We all know the backlash has already started, and will become more apparent in early 2010 when CEOS start looking for accountability and it is not there. As our friend Drucker has said – the purpose of the business is to create a customer, and sadly this mantra is more and more missing from the social media framework for marketing.

  24. Hi Jeremiah – this is a great post, thanks. With the tremendous popularity of Social Media its monitoring and auditing is becoming immensely important.

    There have been some great comments posted earlier, another thought (didn’t see this posted already) should be for employers to create Social media monitoring and auditing champions, not just internally, but in the communities as well – and draft a reward policy to recognize such individuals. This possibly would fall under your #3 (Conduct Ongoing Monitoring) category, but the impact of having such Champions spread all over will be much more effective when clubbed with monitoring tools & technology is what I feel.

    Thanks again for sparking off such a relevant and important discussion.


    Sid Mishra

  25. Hi Jeremiah – this is a great post, Thanks. With increasing popularity of Social media, its monitoring and auditing is becoming immensely important.

    There are some great comments posted already, just another thought – I think Brands/Employers should create Monitoring and Auditing champions, not just internally within their companies, but also in social communities – and draft a reward policy for such individuals and recognize them in social forums. This possibly would fall under #3 (Conduct Ongoing Monitoring) option you have suggested, but I feel this will be a very effective means of round the clock monitoring, when clubbed with available monitoring tools and technology.

    Thanks again for sparking such an interesting, relevant and important discussion.


    Sid Mishra

  26. I thought this piece by Nielsen Nielsen Listen Up made some interesting points about the value of online listening when used in conjunction with traditional consumer research. In particular, the article points out how online listening can help gauge passion, provide context and help companies learn what questions they should be asking in more controlled consumer research forums. They also make the valuable point that online listening often needs to be supplemented to gauge the depth of sentiment, with their often being a silent majority not actively expressing their opinions online.

  27. Consumers are talking actively talking about brands every single day. Marketers have two choices: (a) cover your ears and pretend it's not happening, or (b) listen, analyze, and chart your plan on how to establish a dialogue with your customers.

    So many brands are so eager to dive into the far edge of the pool with gradiose plans in social marketing without taking a step back to gauge the temperature. Who is talking about your brand? How many of them are there and how influential are they? Where are they hanging out? What are they saying? What are their motivations? How is that changing over time? What is your competition doing? How do we identify the white space that gives us the optimal opportunity to participate?

    These are questions that get answered with an audit. And the beauty is the ability to continually check back frequently — whether daily, monthly, quarterly — to see the impact of your marketing efforts on your online brand health. Where else do you get such instant acccess to a national focus group talking in their natural habitat?

    Kudos, Jeremiah!

  28. Its amazing the ignorance companies have when it comes to social media. When they're not head deep in it they just don't know whats going on.

    I've been an advocate for social media for years.

  29. Its amazing the ignorance companies have when it comes to social media. When they're not head deep in it they just don't know whats going on.

    I've been an advocate for social media for years.

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