If there’s one thing marketing professionals understand, it’s how to squeeze outsized results from even the tightest budgets. Experience has taught us that a perfectly timed campaign can often outperform the big spenders, and that a savvy team with a great idea can hold their own against an entire ad agency. Knowing when to cut corners is part of the marketing professional’s job description, but just because you can do something on the cheap doesn’t mean that it’s always the right move. When it comes to using free social media monitoring tools, many smart marketers make some really dumb decisions.
It’s easy to see the appeal of free social monitoring tools. On the surface, they appear to provide many of the same basic features as higher-end solutions. For instance, TweetDeck is a free tool that allows users to create a customized Twitter interface, making it a breeze to track hashtags, search terms, and even influencers. Along the same lines, Google Alerts allows user to track mentions of their brand by using Google’s own storehouse of search data. Name a social media platform, and there’s probably a free (or at least freemium) tool that marketers can use to glean a certain amount of data from it.
But that’s not the whole story. There’s a real problem with relying on free social media monitoring tools for your marketing insights. While a free solution might work well enough for an individual user or very small brand, these services just can’t deliver serious, reliable results for larger organizations. In fact, most of these free tools actually present deeply skewed and misleading results over the long term. If your brand is using those results to inform your budgeting decisions, they can actually cost you money when compared to a paid solution.
To understand why, it helps to consider why paid social monitoring solutions charge fees in the first place. It’s not just about making a profit, it’s also about covering their costs. Paid social media monitoring tools aren’t pulling from the same APIs as their no-cost counterparts. In order to access a much wider and deeper pool of user data, they have to pay fees. Not only does this provide them with more accurate information than the public API, but it also provides access to a wealth of data that isn’t available to those free tools.
As paying customers, they also get better access to the people who run those social media platforms. These relationships make it possible to develop truly advanced tools, to double-check that results are being reported accurately, and to gain a better understanding of what the API data actually means. While free social media monitoring tool providers can make informed guesses about the data they receive from a public API, professional-grade social monitoring tool providers can actually talk directly to engineers and developers at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other networks. There’s simply no comparison.
The other important thing to consider is the cost of your time. While free tools do provide access to basic social media data, if you want to do anything more advanced with this data you’re on your own. Want to see year-over-year comparisons with your ad buys across multiple social channels? Break out the spreadsheet and a fresh pot of coffee, because you’re going to be crunching those numbers yourself. With a paid solution, that same data might just be a few clicks away.
This is why free social media monitoring tools a bad bargain in the long run. If you’re using these tools to gain real insights about your customers, you’re not getting the full picture. These tools are extremely limited, and really only suitable for individual users or startups on the most threadbare of shoestring budgets. In terms of missed opportunities alone, these free solutions are almost always a bad investment.