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Media Monitoring News
December 2009

Choosing a Media Monitoring Service:
9 Questions to Ask

With communications professionals under unrelenting pressure to show return on investment, an effective media monitoring service is critical to PR and marketing success.

With budgets under pressure, the temptation may be to seek out the service that appears to be the least expensive. As with many products, however, what appears inexpensive on the surface may have hidden costs.

Given the various media monitoring approaches and companies out there, how do you sift between all the promotional claims and find the one that's right for you?

Here are three key questions to ask yourself before contacting media monitoring services:

What do I need monitored?

News? Blogs? Message Boards? Social Media? Video Sharing services?

For most organizations, news monitoring is the core coverage. Today, news is best monitored on the Internet. Most every traditional print publication (newspaper, consumer magazine, trade journal, news syndication service) publishes all their print content on the publication's Web site. Many also publish stories on the Website long before the print version reaches newsstands or post offices. (Check this afternoon's New York Times for tomorrow's stories in the print edition.)

With few exceptions, most all news in print is also on the publication's Website. However, live TV news broadcasts are seldom broadcast on the Internet and are best monitored through closed caption feeds. Some small community newspapers (mostly weeklies) and some trade journals (mostly medical) do not publish all their print content on the Internet — but that's rare. On the other hand, Internet monitoring captures clips from thousands of online news sources that don't exist in print. In addition, Internet news monitoring offers worldwide coverage in most every language. On balance, you get far more coverage and clips by monitoring online sources than through traditional press clipping services (partly because online covers more news sources and partly because human readers miss 35 to 40% of relevant stories and software misses almost none).

If your organization wants to track what's being said by consumers about your company or brands on the Internet, it's best to monitor all forms of word of mouth media including but not limited to blogs, "complaint" sites, message boards, forums, Usenet news groups, and video sharing sites such as YouTube. Since it's impossible to predict where or when important market intelligence will "pop up" on the Web — or where it will be repeated, it's best to do comprehensive monitoring of all possible sites. You may also want to monitor social media sites such as Facebook and MySpace — but this is best done manually by a staff member since you must be each writer's "friend" to gain access to most of the worthwhile content.

What custom features do I need?

Some of the better media monitoring services can customize their service to meet your specific requirements. Do you want clips only from a custom list of specific publications — not all news sources? Do you want only "important" articles, not all mentions of your key search terms? Do you have special delivery requirements such as delivery throughout the business day or XML format? Do you want only one copy of the same story — an Associated Press article for instance? Do you want the clips delivered to multiple people? Do you want the clips delivered at a specific or unusual time each day? Do you want the clips edited and packaged into a daily or weekly newsbrief for executives? Do you want all news clips edited by human readers before delivery to absolutely, positively eliminate unwanted clips? Among the media monitoring services, CyberAlert ( most emphasizes customized services to meet specific client requirements, especially from measurement and analysis services.

Is a "f.r.e.e" online media monitoring service good enough?

For many smaller organizations, news search engines such as Google News or Yahoo News provide sufficient coverage and features. For online word-of-mouth and social media monitoring, there's Technorati, BlogPulse, and Google Blogs.

Those "f.r.e.e" search services, however, can be costly in terms of time required to do daily searches. Since the "f.r.e.e." services do not store your clips as do most subscription media monitoring services, there is also the cost of printing out clips. Searching and managing those paper-based clips is also much more difficult and time-consuming than the digital clips subscription services store in an online database. For any organization with even a modest number of media clips per month, an online subscription news monitoring service is more time efficient and may be more cost-effective than "f.r.e.e." online media monitoring services.

Now, here's six key questions to focus on as you go through the process of searching for and evaluating media monitoring services:

What media does the subscription service cover?

Are they the media you need covered? Get the service to pinpoint exactly what news sources, blogs, and word of mouth media they cover. If you're interested in specialty publications, make sure all your key news sources are included or will be added upon request. CyberAlert , for instance, is willing to check your list of "must have" media against its own media list and add any news sources that it does not already monitor — and it does that within 24 hours of receiving your order. If you're a global company, get the details on the news sources the service covers worldwide and how those news clips are delivered. Special tip for international coverage: check to be sure the service can search your key words in the native language including languages with non-English or kanji characters.

What's the service's track record on "missed clips" and "clip accuracy"?

Dirty little secret #1: Traditional press clipping services with human readers miss 35 to 40% of valid clips. Because they miss so many clips, many corporate clients subscribe to two press clipping services to assure complete coverage, effectively doubling the cost of service. As noted above, reading and clipping the hard copy of publications is probably not necessary and is certainly not cost effective compared with online news monitoring services. Dirty little secret #2: Many online news monitoring services do not discriminate well between valid and irrelevant clips — especially if your company or brand name is a generic word like Orange (a telecom company) or Gap (the clothing retailer), or a common proper name like Sears (the department store). The last thing a busy communications professional needs is irrelevant clips filling the in-box.

To avoid these problems, make sure the service will help you develop the most accurate, incisive search terms. Have them explain in non-technical terms how their software works, how they assure comprehensive media coverage, and how they guard against inaccurate articles being forwarded to you. To avoid extraneous clips, most online services use Boolean searches employing multiple words such as "Orange" AND (telecom OR cellular OR mobile OR phone) AND NOT "Orange Crush". To optimize clip accuracy, the better online media monitoring services also specify "proximity" of search terms within a specified number of characters, words or sentences. The best services utilize Rex statements that tell the software that, for instance, the first letter of "Orange" or all letters of SPA must be capitalized. With these advanced searching methods, online news monitoring services such as CyberAlert 5.0 can achieve 97%+ clip delivery accuracy, even for difficult search terms.

How soon are clips delivered?

In what format? Ask the service: At the price you are quoting to me, if a story is published today in my hometown newspaper, when will I receive the clip? Traditional hard-copy press clips often take two to three weeks to deliver from date of publication. Online clips are delivered overnight or in near real time. Some online services deliver only a link to the article and a short extract. Others deliver full article text. Ask: do your online clips contain full text of the article? Some services deliver "cluttered" clips that contain extraneous copy from menus or contiguous articles. The best services delete superfluous content. Ask how many people can be included on the daily e-mail clip delivery at no extra charge.

What levels of customization are available?

You should not have to settle for an "off the shelf" service. Explain what matters most to you and have the service describe how they can meet your requirements.

What kind of clip storage is offered?

Obtain details on the clip storage choices the service offers. And ask exactly what information they store. Do they store the full text of the clip or just a link and an abstract? What is the storage format? Does the clip storage offer full text search to find stored clips? How are clips protected and accessed? How many people can access clips simultaneously? What media measurement data is included on the delivered and stored clips?

What is the price? What are the terms?

There are many different pricing structures ranging from pay-per-clip to annual contracts. Have the service explain how the options work. Specific questions: What is the fixed monthly fee? Is there an additional per clip charge? Is there an extra charge for overnight delivery? Is there an additional charge for access to the clip portal? Is there an extra charge for additional people to access the clip storage portal simultaneously? Is a long-term contract required? If they insist on a yearly contract — be wary, and ask for a free trial period to judge the quality of the service or an opt-out period so you can withdraw without penalty in the first 60-90 days if their service is unsatisfactory. Finally, get a written price quote with a description of the service you will be receiving.

Many of these important questions can be answered if the service will let you kick the tires before you sign up. CyberAlert offers a 14-day f.r.e.e media monitoring trial and allows you to be a client on a month-to-month basis. No long term contract is required.

Choosing a media monitoring service is an important decision. No one needs to settle for a pre-packaged, inferior or overpriced media monitoring service in today's competitive online age.

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