Everybody's Talking: Social Listening for Health Clubs

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Your health club’s built a social media presence. You post updates, class schedules, and offers. You run contests and pin photos of real people loving your facility. Your team scans the latest posts, every day. But are you hearing everything they’re saying? If a complaint went viral — or you had the chance to spot a trend first — would you know?

Social listening tools take social media engagement to the next level.

What are social listening tools?

Social listeners are software apps whose main purpose is to automatically and constantly search social media channels for mentions of specific subjects, and return information about sentiment and about comment frequency (overall and by specific individuals).

Let’s say you want to know what people think of your bodyweight workout classes. Using social listening software, you’d create a search and enter “bodyweight workout” or “bodyweight classes” into the subject line. You’d specify the social media channels you want to monitor — say, Yelp, Facebook, reddit and a few others. You’d select a time period of interest, such as the two weeks following your introduction of the classes.

Then you sit back and wait. Periodically, or perhaps just when you feel like checking in, the software collects comments on the subject, filtering out the noise, and analyzing whether customers are happy, angry, or neutral about it. The software also typically identifies who comments most frequently on a topic — useful if you’ve got just a few customers who are doing the bulk of the commenting.

The most advanced social listening software even singles out angry customers and automatically creates “trouble tickets” for them so you can address their issue proactively and privately.

Why use social listening software?

social listening blowupIf your fitness or wellness business is the little corner karate studio and your clientele consists of a tight circle of parents who send their kids to you after school, it doesn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars to see who’s talking about you. You can check in on social media periodically and just be an active participant in conversations. For many small businesses, the simple investment of time in active listening does wonders. Customers know you’re there. They’re likelier to bring you any issues — or praise — directly, and they’re less likely to mouth off about them and spread ill will.

However, I have in mind an example from personal experience that could quickly go viral, and in doing so, cause quite a bit of stink. One of the gyms I visit regularly in my neighborhood is part of a national chain of high-end fitness clubs. Recently, they quietly (and I might add, sneakily) added to my membership a charge for a subscription to their print magazine. I didn’t ask for that! And before that, they assigned my frequent customer points to a “couch potato to 5K” program they were promoting… which would be fine if I weren’t training for an Ironman event. As it was, their actions were presumptuous, sneaky, and vaguely insulting.

Now — imagine if I had actually been ANGRY, and taken those two complaints to every Facebook page associated with their brand, Twitter, general fitness boards on Reddit, blogged about it, and posted a copy of my bill on Pinterest and Instagram.

Then imagine if I were somebody a lot of people listen to.

“Nip it in the bud” or catch the wave — your choice

So let’s say you’re big enough — and your customer base is, too — that it’s worth the cost of social listening software to be able to listen systematically, act early, and stop the viral spread of ill will on the web; or better yet, catch an emerging trend in customer demand just as the movers and shakers in your clientele are starting to shake it up, and in doing so redefine your brand! What do you look for? Here are they key things to look for in social listeners:

  • Social channels used by your customers: It goes without saying that a tool that listens to the channels your customers are most active on is going to give you a better perspective on their needs. In general, the more channels, the better.
  • Time periods: Reaction to the introduction of your new products and services matters more immediately after introduction than it does several weeks out. Quarterly comparisons of social “mood” in regard to your brand are more valuable than simple cumulative statistics.
  • Sentiment analysis: Automatic recognition of whether a post is angry or praiseful. Some posts may be both, and software that can distinguish and decide the dominant emotion in such situations is preferable. For instance, the post “I hate it when my gym screws something up then tries to make me happy about being a member” is not a happy post, despite the presence of the phrase “happy about being a member.”
  • Movers and shakers analysis: Good social listening software will tell you who’s doing most of the talking, how connected they are (both number and strength of connections), how they feel, and who they’re influencing. This is important since numerous statistics have shown that influencers on social media affect an average of 30 other individuals’ opinions.
  • Ad-hoc / customizable social queries: This just means that the software allows you to set up your own search terms, define the breadth of channels, and otherwise customize your listening queries so that you can hear the important stuff and filter out the noise.
  • Ability to direct influencer feedback into content creation, marketing, and sales: Some of the more sophisticated social listening software packages have the ability to “import” social mentions from key influencers among customers into a process that includes people from sales, marketing, and customer service, allowing your brand to react and modify its offerings to suit its most loyal — or at least its most vocal — customers.

You may already have some social insight

If you are using Google Analytics to gain insight into the behavior of website visitors, chances are pretty good you already have a way to analyze social media activity that leads to website visits. While this is not the same as setting up a query to see who’s been typing “I hate YourGymBrand”, it does tell you whether Facebook or Twitter is a more active channel for your visitors, and what they were searching for on social when they stumbled across a link for your site. Google Analytics will also tell you the “stickiness” of site visits from different referral sources, which gives you an idea of whether it’s your mysterious and poetic tweets or your authoritative Facebook feeds that make people stick around and visit your website the longest.

If you’re using Facebook Insights, you already have an idea of Likes, reach, engagement, and who’s posting (at least demographically).

Popular social listening apps take this one step further, into conversation monitoring, and the best of them extract relevant threads even if they don’t contain a particular keyword, alert you when your reputation’s at risk, and help you take #LuvMyGym (or whatever your current best-performing hashtags are) viral.

One size doesn’t fit all

If your club is looking to move beyond just a post or two on Facebook or tweeting the deal of the month, it’s a good idea to first decide whether your focus is on social listening. Without a doubt, knowing what’s on the minds of your most vocal and influential customers is a necessity. However, where do you take it beyond that? Pushing into serious social marketing? Actively managing your brand’s reputation? Attempting to predict the next big fitness trend and ride it while it’s hot?

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the choices, and even if you choose strategically, it’s just as easy to get mismatched with a social listening company that’s too young, too small, too old, too ambitious, or not ambitious enough. It’s easy to get lost in the data as well.

The most important thing your fitness or wellness business can do with respect to social listening, and social media in general, is to invest the time in developing clear priorities for social as well as a concrete strategy for acting on them within reasonable time and budget constraints to address and accommodate customer concerns, wishes, and suggestions for a better club experience.

With a little luck, your clients will be tweeting about it.

Popular Social Listening Apps

The following apps are either popular or frequently mentioned in discussions of social listeners. Keep in mind that some tools listen to only one channel (such as Twitter), and many are part of a larger “Social CRM” (Social Customer Relationship Management) suite that includes trouble ticket management software, not included or evaluated here. In general, I’ve tried to keep this list focused just on social listening.

Wellness-Friendly / Wellness Focused Social Listening

Crimson Hexagon: A standout among social analytics vendors in that they got their start building solutions to mine unstructured data such as social media for reliable information about healthcare experiences. The company’s offering is a fairly standard combination of time series and volumetric analysis of social mentions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Weibo, blogs, and other channels, plus “interest affinity” analysis giving guidance on what influential posters may be talking about that’s related to the topics you’re monitoring.

Reputation.com: Reputation-focused social listening for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and blogs synchs accounts from all three social media services to allow both posting and monitoring. In this respect, Reputation.com resembles hootsuite or similar tools; however, the focus on reputation leads to some nice chemistry: a widget for sharing positive reviews from the original poster extends their post’s reach while shedding positive light on the company’s products or services mentioned in the review. The company also offers reputation scoring and consulting services designed to improve clients’ reputations. The company claims to be HIPAA-compliant in its privacy measures, which is a plus for the health and wellness industry.

Narrowly-Focused Apps (single channel / single function)

SocialMention: SocialMention is a free service with an interface similar to Google’s search screen. There’s one box on the screen. You type a phrase into it. But unlike Google, ALL you get is mentions on social media, not every website that contains the phrase. A sidebar on the left shows you sentiment (positive, negative, neutral), strength (ratio of dominant sentiment to its opposite), passion, reach (percentage of readers reachable by a post through readers’ social connections), and top posters. You can also filter by date and date range.

BackTweets: A free search tool for past Twitter posts that works similar to the Google search interface. That’s all it is, and it does a pretty good job. No analytics, no other social media channels, just a list of relevant tweets. But with a little elbow grease you can count and inspect them.

PinReach / Tailwind: Pinterest-only social media monitoring software that offers a free trial period, plus stripped down pin management and analytics for $10 / month. The “pro” version, which is $800 / month, includes brand monitoring, social ROI analysis, a 1-year data archive, and multiple logins.

Pinterest Web Analytics: Free from Pinterest. Get a basic idea of how your Pins are performing, including unique viewers, impressions, and reach. Pinterest also has a business version with considerably more capabilities, and an easy path for converting from a personal account to a business account.

Sprout Social: Monitor brand keywords and receive copies of posts that meet user-set filter criteria in your “social inbox,” primarily on Twitter and Instagram. Post volume analytics combined with results from Google Analytics. Analytics seem primarily focused on followers, not influencers, and for the most part don’t appear to measure up to the claims of other vendors in the area of social monitoring and analytics. Then again, their solution is priced from $59 / month for the basic version (after a free trial period) to $500 / month for 3 users, so they’re clearly shooting at the more value-priced end of the market. May be a match for cost-conscious wellness businesses, but in our opinion, a little elbow grease and some of the free tools mentioned above may be a better choice if you have more time than money to invest in social media monitoring.

Topsy: A free too for searching for past tweets, similar to BackTweets. Some very simple analytics will tell you if a topic of interest is trending on Twitter. Not particularly robust or up-to-date: I searched for a hashtag I knew had been multiple tweeted by numerous individuals and no results showed up.

Trackur: Twitter+RSS+Email-specific social media monitoring, including keyword and sentiment analysis, influencer tracking, and time-series analysis of trends. Pricing starts at $97 / month and goes up to $447 / month for advanced functionality such as Yelp or CitySearch monitoring. Reasonably priced product if you are mostly interested in monitoring and managing your Twitter presence and its affect on your brand; doesn’t provide much insight into other areas of social media influence.

Twitalyzer: Up-to-the-minute Klout-style analytics on your company’s twitter traffic. Less of a measure of influence of a poster and more of a measure of influence for a single post on subsequent engagement. Drill into the time series impact of tweets from your mobile device. What’s unusual about Twitalyzer is the wholesale adoption of the mobile platform: even the reporting has been moved to mobile. The reporting, seems disappointingly narrow and unimaginative for such a potentially powerful tool.

Klout: A free social influence scoring tool that can give you or the company you work for an idea of the strength and breadth of your social reach. Are you an influencer? Find out how your network is performing over time. Klout also automatically detects what topics you’re an “expert” in, shows your influence score over time, and the channels you’ve been the most active on. As with Hootsuite, you can use the tool to schedule content posts on multiple social media channels, and the product is essentially free for low-traffic use. The only downside is that Klout is really about tracking the social influence of an individual or company, not about determining how the posts of others are affecting your brand. However, you can follow others marked as “experts” (generally influencers as well) and track their influence, so it can be handy if you’re trying to listen to the most vocal people on a particular topic, such as why Swimmer Sam doesn’t like the bromine levels in your poorly-ventilated indoor pool facility.

Lightweight Social Listening

Hootsuite: A tool that allows you to schedule and post content on multiple social media channels at once, includes much of what you’d get in Facebook Insights, but also for Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. While the reports are not that sophisticated and mostly about simple time-based performance measures of posts (likes, views, and responses), it’s a start, and for a free social content management tool, provides decent basic insights.

uberVU via Hootsuite: Real time social analytics with graphics that rival Fisher-Price toddler toys in simplicity. Set notification alerts for trends in conversations and changes in volume, sentiment, or other characteristics, to “know when complaints are going viral.” Hootsuite already offers a free-for-low-volume version of its social media management solution, so uberVU is more like Hootsuite on steroids than a separate product. UberVU is a bit coy about their procing, but if it’s like Hootsuite’s overall approach, there are entry points for businesses of any size, and it’s hard to beat the simplicity factor.

Mention: Mobile-friendly trialware for social analytics. Tracks conversations about subjects of your choice and provides a dashboard / inbox for monitoring them on an ongoing basis. Identifies opinion influencers and the social media channels they predominantly use. Allows the option of forwarding a social media mention to others on your team through email, which stops short of assuming all mentions are trouble tickets.

Brand24: Various pricing levels from $49 / month to $349 / month. The $49 version gets you 1 logon account, 5 keywords to search for, and basic sentiment analysis. More advanced levels add social influencer scores, more keywords, more reporting, live help, and the ability to integrate and export information from Brand24 to Excel and other tools for further analysis. The Enterprise version ($349 / month) gets you an analytics expert who can tell you how to make sense of the data you see in your reports.

Midmarket Social Listening

ExactTarget’s Radian6: One of the more popular packages for both social listening and social marketing, and part of the SalesForce Marketing Cloud, a kind of plug-and-play network of SalesForce compatible apps focused on marketing (as opposed to customer support or multidimensional analytics). The company, which has been around long enough to establish itself and hone its offerings, says they have options for small, medium, and large-sized businesses; however, their pricing starts at $1000 / month, so if you’re truly small this might not be for you.

Beevolve: Billing itself as software for “content marketers, community managers, online marketers, and analysts”, Beevolve’s focus is really on using social media for competitive intelligence — which is a twist. Rather than focusing on what people are saying about your brand, they’re set up to take what people are saying about your competition and turn that into actionable intelligence about what to change in your own company’s sales, marketing, and web content. Tracks FB, Twitter, and blogs as well as other web-searchable mentions of your brand, and includes a social media marketing component.  Aimed at small to medium sized businesses and has a “trialware” option so you can get a feel for whether the product will work for you.

Brandwatch: A time-series combination of more typical social analytics such as page likes and click-through, combined with mentions and searches, plus demographic and geographic data and poster-specific analytics, provides specific insight into conversations about topics of interest. Primarily aimed at larger enterprises and marketing agencies, the “Pro” (lowest level) product starts at $800 / month and unlike other products, provides unlimited searches at the cost of limiting data storage and historical analytics. Free trial version available.

Sprinklr: Sprinklr aims at helping clients manage the entirety of their social media experience, from social listening, to social mention analytics, to social marketing, to social content management, to social CRM / customer service, to integration, mobile deployment, software deployment and consulting services, and everything in between. They also appear to be aiming for midsized companies as clients. Analytics look fairly simple, easy to read, and usable by the average company without a lot of social media sophistication or staff. For what they are, they’re probably competitively priced and hungry for business… provided you want a soup-to-nuts solution that may be way more than you need.

CustomScoop: Moderately-priced full service social listening software starts at $300 / month for 3 users and 25 keyword searches, plus a 30-day archive of searches, the ability to export and share results (not always present in products priced at this level), and phone, chat, and email support. The company also offers “media monitoring services” by real people, plus assistance in analyzing the results of your social intelligence searches. Reports are fairly standard for the industry. Not present: unlimited searches and archiving, alerts, or AI-based concept mapping or automatic topic clustering seen in some of the “big science” offerings in this list.

Talkwater: Social listening and analytics. Monitors Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Google+, as well as blogs, forums, and news feeds. Allows you to identify topics, media types, sources, and sentiments as part of its listening dashboard, and generates “standard” reports on the most common social traffic. Higher-end product integrates with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software as well as advanced business intelligence and 3rd-party analytics software. Pricing is anywhere from free to $3000 / month depending on number of searches, depth of analytics, number of social media channels monitored, and whether you want training, support, or advanced integration services.

Alterian / SDL SM2 / Techrigy: Part of a suite of Marketing Campaign Management, Content Management, and Social Listening tools, Alterian (now SDL) SM2 performs “customer journey analysis”, spanning customer interaction touchpoints that include but are not limited to social media. More suitable if you’re a larger enterprise, such as a national gym chain, with an already-existing customer support infrastructure plus a full-time marketing and content management staff. Single-user licenses start at just under $3000.00 US.

CyberAlert Buzz: Social listening software that includes alerts, multiple social feeds, blogs, and video searches with sentiment analysis and time-series reports. Company offers free two-week trial. Other services include newsfeed, broadcast and PR newswire monitoring, media management services, and a host of consulting services in case you don’t want to be bothered with the details of your own social listening. Pricing depends on which capabilities and services are licensed from the company, but the good thing is that you can grow simple listening into a more ambitious effort.

MediaMiser: Monitors YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. Single-user license allows up to 10 topic queries (fairly limited by industry standards) and 25,000 archival results from those queries over time, plus limited customer support. Website does not discuss pricing.

MediaVantage: Monitor TV, print, Internet, and social media (Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs), conduct sentiment analysis, filter topics, and set real-time alerts for brand-affecting content and posts of interest on these channels. Dashboards are user-customizable, and “executive briefing” versions of reports are available as well. Fairly small company with limited quotable reference accounts but some product delivery pedigree; may be hungry for business and competitively priced.

SentimentMetrics: UK-based middle-of-the-road social listening tool with pricing starting at around $200 / month and industry-standard volume, influencer, and sentiment analytics reports. Unlike many similarly-priced social monitoring tools, offers built-in Social CRM (customer relationship management) software.

NUVI: Slick-looking social media monitoring of keywords, URLs, topics, social handles, and individual posters / influencers, as well as basic analytics for engagement, impressions, reach, etc. Reports include concept maps, word clouds, and time series analytics for post volume, sentiment, and more. Target audience is fairly wide: individual companies, agencies and media outlets, non-profits, sports teams, and universities, among others. It’s uncertain whether the company’s revenue comes primarily from software or data interpretation and analytics services. Their website does mention that they have solutions for small to medium-sized companies, which is encouraging if your club isn’t already a national brand.

Heavyweight Social Listening (Big Science / Enterprise Focused)

Meltwater / IceRocket: Monitors traffic on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, email (part of so-called “dark social”), plus RSS feeds and premium content providers and news services. Uses AI-based “trending keyword” searches and automatically tracks social influencers’ secondary interests, taking note of their editorial style to further filter out noise from substantive commentary. Primarily enterprise-focused business model may put solution out of reach for small to medium-sized clubs.

Networked Insights: A combination of social and traditional media competitive insights, social listening, and marketing management solutions aimed at larger enterprises. The company says that their SmartSearch technology comes already configured with over 15,000 predefined interests that reduce noise and the likelihood of unintended results from homespun ad-hoc queries. The product also identifies “audience affinities”, “brand theme discovery”, and membership in predefined communities of interest, making it easier to tell in plain English whether social mention of your products and services is tracking better among hardcore endurance athletes, rabid soccer fans, gym rats, or weekend warriors.

NM Incite: Nielsen Marketing’s entry into social + TV activity tracking. Probably not for everyone, but if you’re a major national brand with a budget for serious multichannel market impact analysis, this is what it looks like.

Synthesio: Time-series reports, reach analysis, word clouds, slice-and-dice reporting, automatic noise reduction, spam filters, and duplicate reduction are included in this package’s features. Includes social listening, social campaign management and feedback analysis while stopping short of full-on Social CRM. Connects engagement to social marketing ROI through a number of financially-directed social impact metrics. Also integrates to 10 other off-the-shelf social, CRM, and business intelligence tools. The downside? Synthesio is an enterprise-focused social analytics company, so expect longer sales cycles, higher prices, longer deployment times, and more consultants. This may put the package out of reach for many small wellness companies and even some budget-conscious national fitness brands.

Oracle Collective Intellect: Cloud-based social intelligence solution from one of the big hitters, Oracle, who acquired Collective Intelligence back in 2012. The product boasts “automatic semantic analysis” (i.e., automatically figuring out what a post actually MEANS) using Statistical Language Modeling (SLM), a form of statistical AI known to produce fewer spurious connections among patterns; metrics-based insight (turning observations about the mood and number of posts into hard numbers that can be used to determine ROI on social marketing efforts); and the ability to cluster related conversations into themes. The original Collective Intellect had some pretty hard-hitting Big Science behind its product. The question is whether their acquisition means that now Oracle’s money is behind the product, or points instead to losing a great product in a junkyard of corporate takeovers. Regardless, Oracle has been slow to kill anything worth having, and if you’re a large enough business willing to work with an even larger software juggernaut, this might be fore you.

MutualMind: “Supersized” social listening software that monitors nearly a dozen off-the-shelf social channels, plus provides stream and influencer monitoring, search, filters, market segmentation, social marketing and campaign management, configurable keyword searches and social “heat maps” for potentially viral threads. Sophisticated multi-screen dashboard literally provides roll-your-own deep dive analytics on social media… in fact, maybe too much. But if you’re really into tracking influencers, topics, and the effectiveness of your own social marketing, then this may be the tool for you.

NetBase LivePulse: Real-time social media listening solution includes time series reports, word clouds, sentiment analysis, configurable dashboards, and other informative and eye-pleasing graphics and interface elements. The company places an emphasis on its use of Natural Language Processing technology to reduce spam, noise, and duplicate posts in monitored topics. Allows you to post and monitor performance of social content on multiple channels.

A Little Different…

Lithium: Focuses on already-existing online communities, tracks who asks questions and who in the customer community provides answers, and is integrated with Klout social influence scoring to determine a reliable third-party evaluation of who the “movers and shakers” are in your business’s social media circle. The company then takes this information to hone its offerings for social marketing and social customer support (similar to social CRM, not covered here).

If your fitness or wellness business connects with people at a conceptual level and creates genuine communities that exist outside the franchise (such as triathlon, Crossfit, LCHF, yoga, or trail runners), Lithium may offer an approach more tuned to the community and less to who’s complaining about you or how well your company’s Facebook posts are doing.

Sysomos: A subsidiary of Marketwire, Sysomos’s claim to fame is “proactive social media monitoring”, including customized tags, queries, and attractive concept-map style graphics that make conversations and their spin-offs easier to browse and inspect. Monitors Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, and other sources of product mentions. Includes integration with Google Analytics, which already provides basic social insight. Also offers a consulting service to help clients make sense of social media mentions picked up by their listening software. Unlike some vendors, places no limits on the number of saved queries / searches. Partners with Expion to deliver social and content marketing through related products, but you don’t have to buy those pieces if you don’t want to. They’re a little coy about their pricing, but the company appears to be targeting medium-sized companies with big goals for social intelligence and marketing but somewhat limited budgets.

Netvibes: Part social listener, part personal dashboard for social media, part non-technical app mash-up / developer workshop. The company offers free versions of their product and single-user licenses for $2 / month, plus some fairly sophisticated enterprise-level stuff as well. While the out of the box reporting is limited, the ability to set up “potions”, which are combinations of social media monitors and alerts, plus triggers to take other actions, which of course might trigger OTHER actions — including the creation of custom reports — is pretty powerful. Among the company’s tag lines are “dashboard everything” and “listen and act on all of your data.” Takes some investment in thinking completely differently, but it may very well be worth the time. Especially if time is all you need to invest.

Bottlenose: A twist on social analytics that focuses on tracking interactions among social media influencers. The idea here is that behind all that viral social wildfire created by a “hot post” are a few people fanning the flames. They may be brand champions, or they may have an axe to grind, but they influence almost 30 times as many opinions as the average poster, so they’re more important to track. Put out the source of the fire and you put out the fire.

Includes time series and post volume analysis, plus a graphic device that’s a combination of a concept map / mind map and social “word cloud”, where concepts mentioned in posts are connected with lines, but the ones with the most traffic show up larger. The company’s software also provides “reputation management”, allowing just enough ability to interact with posters without being full-on Social CRM, so brand managers can directly address threats to their companies’ reputations without turning themselves into customer service managers. Includes an ability to monitor social trends and set alerts, something that’s mighty handy if you’re not glued to your screen all day scanning live posts about your company on social media. It’s unclear what the company’s pricing model is.

Cision (Formerly  Vocus / Visible / Viralheat / TruCast / Argyle Social / Gorkana): “Indies” –> Cision. Yes, the pun was deliberate.

What were they thinking? Yes, these really all were individual companies or software packages, and yes, they’ve all been merged into one.

There’s been quite a bit of consolidation in the social monitoring and analytics world, especially among small- to medium-sized companies. But this is going overboard. The upside of Cision’s multiple acquisitions of small social listening apps and companies is that the number of product offerings and solutions available to a Cision customer has increased. The downside is that it takes a while to integrate all the different companies and products, and that Cision is fundamentally focused on PR agencies and not individual companies’ social marketing and social analytics vision. It’s also a challenge when you’re trying to move the needle on your company’s own social engagement and it’s not clear what the priorities are, or will continue to be, of a company recently the subject of 7-way merger.