Monitoring Social Media during a crisis: What tools are available?

Social Media Monitoring Wordle

Image by Eric Schwartzman via Flickr

Post by: Kim Stephens

Monitoring social media has become a big business. In the corporate world, companies have come to realize that in order to protect their brand they need to monitor what people are saying about them in real time. The emergency management community is beginning to understand the importance of monitoring social media as well. Over a year ago Jeannette Sutton wrote a prophetic piece in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management entitled: Social Media Monitoring and the Democratic National Convention.” In the piece she outlined 3 key reasons why monitoring social media is important for emergency managers:

1. Monitor Communication Effectiveness: “If all disasters are local, local perceptions about the effectiveness of a response, the ability of an organization to meet needs, and the emergence of new problems will become the major thrust of news coverage. New strategies will need to be developed to monitor breaking news that is driven by local citizens using a variety of communication systems. Attention must be given to social media communications at all phases of disaster to assess the effectiveness of risk communication, public protective action taking, and ongoing community recovery.”

2.In future disaster events those who sit in the media monitoring seat will become a key source of information for both public relations and operations in disaster.

3. By monitoring social media, emergency response organizations should be able to respond more quickly to misinformation. Current processes are “slow and cumbersome.

Monitoring tools are available for purchase through numerous vendors: Radian6, Sysomos, PIER, Jive, Telligent, Awareness, LiveWorld and many others; but for local communities with limited budgets there are alternatives that are completely free. Most of the free tools do not provide analytics, but they do provide the user with an opportunity to see numerous newsfeeds, twitter searches and blog posts all on one page called a dashboard. Four dashboards that might be of use:

1. Netvibes: Describes themselves as “Dashboard everything”. This is a customizable homepage that you can tailor by subject. It works by adding your choice of widgets to your page; for example,  a newsfeed from a national news service, your twitter account, your facebook account, your email account, RSS Feeds from your local newspaper if they are online (just add the URL). Search engines are also available through the page so you don’t have to leave the site in order to search for additional content. They boast a choice of 180,000 widgets. The system does not have an “alerts” feature such as Google alerts, but by live-streaming content by topic, you might not miss the feature. You can also update your social media accounts directly from the page.

2. Addictomatic: This service allows you to type in a key word, I tried Haiti, and see all of the results from the various live sites on the web. Information is available from news organizations, blog posts, video services such as YouTube and Vimeo, etc., as well as images from Flickr and other pictures sharing sites. Addictomatic doesn’t have near as many widgets to choose from as Netvibes and isn’t really as customizable–I couldn’t find a way to add my own twitter feed, facebook account or even RSS feeds. However, it can give you a quick look at a specific topic from many sources. Not being able to add password protected sites might also be a plus from some organizations worried about security.

3. iGoogle–Of course google is going to be part of this game. This dashboard is similar to Netvibes, but has just a few less features. They call “widgets” gadgets for some reason. Their description: “iGoogle lets you create a personalized homepage that contains a Google search box at the top, and your choice of any number of gadgets below. Gadgets come in lots of different forms and provide access to activities and information from all across the web, without ever having to leave your iGoogle page. Here are some things you can do with gadgets:

  • View your latest Gmail messages
  • Read headlines from Google News and other top news sources
  • Check out weather forecasts, stock quotes, and movie showtimes
  • Store bookmarks for quick access to your favorite sites from any computer
  • Design your own gadget.”

Some have complained that it is labor intensive to set up.  I just found iGoogle more limiting that Netvibes and less visually pleasing.

4. HootSuite: Called a social networking “client”, HootSuite allows users to manage their major social networking sites and track statistics. Being able to update facebook and twitter on one page is a plus, and this is available “on the go” for smart phone users. As far as monitoring is concerned, you can track “mentions” and key words. The free version only allows for 5 social networks and 2 RSS feeds, but for $6.00/month users can upgrade to unlimited networks and unlimited RSS and stats. Some people swear by the service, but I’m not a fan of the user interface.

None of these sites are the complete answer, but since they are free its worth a try to see if any of them work your organization. There are others I didn’t mention, see some of the stories below for more info.

See also “How to Build Your Own Social Media Monitoring On a Shoestring.”

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3 responses to “Monitoring Social Media during a crisis: What tools are available?

  1. It is also helpful to monitor social media not only by topic, but by location. Many Tweets, for instance, are easily located because of geo-tagging. Other media can be geo-enabled to provide location by interpreting values within the text. News feeds, as another example, usually start with a place name and others may include addresses that can be parsed. Using a GIS interface allows you to monitor this type of data more effectively than other means by geovalidating and displaying that data in relation to other information.

    For examples of code to do this, check out ArcGIS.com at http://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=90a0c98594424d42a3db656a832803db for an add-in to their free ArcGIS Explorer viewer. And if you will pardon the blantant commercial, my company (www.bcs-gis.com) also offers a commercial Situational Awareness application that listens to several feeds including Twitter and RSS among other data inputs through a web browser or native Android device.

  2. Thanks so much for the info.! That’s one complaint I would have with the other tools–no way to visualize information.

  3. I learned tonight that tourist development directors in the Panhandle of Florida were doing a social media blitz to counter the main stream media perception of our beaches. Every time CNN or one of the networks would talk about the oil or talk to someone in Florida, the split screen would show sludge (oil) which we did not have. The picture were from Louisiana. Very misleading and detrimental to our tourist industry. I think social media might have played a small part in easing that pain a little.

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