Managing online brand reputation is one of the challenges faced by modern PR companies. Many rely on software provided by companies like VOCUS, Cymfony , Nielsen, and others to generate reports for their customers. For boutique-sized companies and for freelance PRs the vendors enumerated above fail to provide an affordable solution.
I’ve spent some time testing various tools, not only because I want to make a conscious effort to cut costs, but also because I am sure that the web already offers powerful brand monitoring tools at a fraction of the cost. Not long ago I described two services: WebNotes and Diigo.
With some refinement, WebNotes could become a great report-generating tool: the interface, in its actual form, is simple (to the point of dullness) and elegant, but it lacks structure (sorting the URLs based on site Google PageRank, Alexa rankings, compete scores, popularity, etc).
While both WebNotes and Diigo can be easily used to collect data, they are both still time-consuming: their tools are only useful for manual surfing of the Web, and although Diigo does provide content recommendations based on tags (and personal preferences) this is still not enough to make these services suitable as brand monitoring tools.
The easiest way to monitor brand reputation without spending a dime is probably Google Analytics. However, Google Analytics has the drawback that it does not offer real-time reports and it doesn’t index every site that refers to a certain page, although it displays some of these as “traffic sources.”
Another drawback is that, as a PR company, you might not always get access at your customers’ Google Analytics account, so if you don’t, how do you report? Clients will not always “take your word for it” – you have to have proof that your work did generate the viral response they expected.
Google Comprehensive Alerts
Setting up Google Comprehensive alerts “as-it-happens” is a possible choice. If you choose this option, make sure you save the links – why not using WebNotes, which, if you see my previous review, allows you to group web pages in “files” and eventually, you can generate a PDF comprising all the links.
Another option could be StartPR – which has a free option for tracking one topic by scouring different sources like Twitter, Google Blog Search, Technorati, IceRocket, BlogPulse, Techmeme, etc. But StartPR, despite the “paid” versions already present on the site, is still a beta and hasn’t been updating their blog since February. It is not particularly useful to generate reports either: no visual graphics, no demographic statistics, no maps overlay – basically only a collection of links.
Not free, but ridiculously affordable (only 1USD/month) is BrandsEye. The cheapest plan can be used to monitor any brand name: it updates every 12 hours, and allows the monitoring of maximum 5 terms. Unfortunately it uses only Google Allerts to gather data – again, it might be missing some sites which are not indexed by Google in real time. On the other hand, the advantage of using BrandsEye is that it generates some graphical reports, and provides analysis of domains with high brand mentions.
And the Winner is SM2 by Techrigy
The most useful tool I found so far is SM2 by Techrigy. A free account allows to monitor up to 5 Search Words/Phrases, and store up to 1000 results. This tool is far more in-depth than BrandsEye: it offers graphic reports for all kinds of data, from daily searches to content tone and emotion. This is the best tool to use to generate reports for companies with relatively low buzz (since it only stores 1000 search results). For clients with broad coverage, you have to update. However, the paid SM2 plans start at $600/month – which is seriously overreaching if you compare the service with more competitive ones like VOCUS for example. A summary calculation makes SM2 almost twice more expensive than VOCUS per year. But for basic needs the free SM2 solution is the best thing in the industry.