I worked in media monitoring for many years. Whenever I told someone what I did for a job, there was always a moment afterwards, a pause, then a blank look. ‘You do what?’ And I’d have to explain what media monitoring is: ‘we monitor all forms of media so we can tell clients what’s being said about them. So, say you’re a telecommunications company and you want to know when people talk about ‘faulty mobile phones’ to stay on top of potential issues—we have people listening to every radio station, watching every TV program and checking every newspaper and magazine, highlighting those mentions so they can be sent to the client’. Another pause. ‘So you get paid to watch TV?’ Ninety percent of the time I’d have to explain. Not many people are aware of media monitoring or the extent to which it’s used. Not many, except those working in big business and government organizations. Whenever I met people from those fields, I never needed to explain. They know exactly what media monitoring is. And for good reason.

Not for Nothing

Big business and government have always been the main users of media monitoring services. This is, in part, due to it being fairly expensive—it makes sense that only those with larger budgets can afford to do so. But there’s a key point that many miss when debating the merits of media monitoring, a critical aspect that is core to the industry itself. Those organizations that do invest in media monitoring, they don’t spend that money for no reason. organizations that spend a lot on media monitoring do so because of its value to them—they can stay on top of industry chatter, public perception, stay ahead of the game on potential issues. The value of knowing is huge, especially in the midst of a crisis or controversy. Being aware of what’s being said, where it’s being discussed, and by whom enables you to manage the message. Businesses are willing to pay a premium for media monitoring because that information is of such high value to their success. You ask any of those organizations if they could do without media monitoring and I guarantee they’d not be giving it up.

How Much Are We Talking?

Data on how much companies spend on media monitoring isn’t easy to obtain, mostly due to it being perceived as a waste of money—or spying—by the public, but the actual figures do surface every now and then, particularly when a government’s been criticised for the high cost of their media monitoring services. In February this year, the Australian Government came under fire for contracting $4.3 million worth of social media monitoring and research within its first five months of office. In 2013, the Harper Government in Canada reportedly spent $23 million on media monitoring within two years. The British Government was criticised for spending £16 million in three years. A basic calculation of these figures (in US dollars) works out to be around $809,000 per month spent by government departments on media monitoring. While that number seems quite high, even a fraction of that is still a significant spend. And again, the important thing to note is that these are smart business minds, good negotiators—they don’t pay this kind of money without good reason to do so. The information is genuinely of that high a value.

The Usual Suspects

The main sources of focus in traditional media monitoring have always been daily newspapers, talkback radio and evening TV news. The daily newspapers set the agenda, the talkback stations run with the issues and the evening news programs summarise the day to the highest viewing audience. These three areas are the areas that organizations need to track. If you want to know whether there are any issues that might affect your industry, you need to know what’s happening in these three. Managing your message in these arenas has long been the key to good public relations strategy. But social media has changed the game on the traditional sources. As more and more people have become tuned into social channels, we can now see the sources of most relevance starting to shift.These three areas remain very important, but year on year, their impact is declining. Fewer people are reading the newspaper, talkback radio isn’t as influential as it once was, and the evening news is covering more light stories. The conversations are shifting, with more discussion happening on social, and the good thing about this is, media monitoring is now becoming more accessible and more affordable for businesses of all sizes.

All Brands Should be Monitoring Social Media

For big business and government media monitoring is indispensable. It gives them a window into the minds of their target audience and enables them to make informed decisions about their strategies. And now, with more and more of these exchanges being conducted online, much of the same data is available to you through HootSuite. You can track keywords, mentions and catch critical issues across the globe, all from your desktop. You can use HootSuite streams to locate conversations on all the major social platforms, then use that data to formulate strategies and manage your message. Social listening is an invaluable resource, one which can open up whole new perspectives on your brand and audience. This is the data that organizations spend big dollars on, and it’s available to you, in real time, for a fraction of what it used to cost to hire someone like me to watch TV. Knowing big corporations value this information so highly, isn’t it worth tracking your own brand mentions to see what you find?

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