How to tell if your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn efforts are paying off

Expion wins our test of eight enterprise-grade social media monitoring tools

As businesses make more use of social networks, the number of engagement, analysis and monitoring tools has exploded. Enterprises are trying to understand their return on social media investments, to find out if their Twitter and Facebook marketing campaigns are actually delivering customers. They want to track social mentions across multiple networks and be responsive to both kudos and complaints.

We found nearly 100 products that fall into this emerging product category, which goes by a wide variety of names including social media monitoring, social CRM, social intelligence, enterprise listening platforms and media engagement. There are many tools that can perform a few tasks for free or nearly so, such as, Seesmic's Ping, and But if you are looking for a more enterprise-grade tool, then you want something a bit more involved and capable. (We have published a list of all 90-plus vendors here.)

We tested eight for this review: Expion, Gremln, SimplyMeasured, SproutSocial, Sysomos Heartbeat, Ubervu, Viralheat, and Visible Technologies' Intelligence. These eight have a large base of business customers, even though you might not have heard of them. We also invited Google's Wildfire, Adobe's Marketing Cloud and's Radian6, but the vendors declined to participate, either because they didn't have any way to allow a press review of their service or because they didn't have the resources to support our review process. (Watch a slideshow version of this story.)

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The tools we looked at supposedly can answer questions such as:

  • Are your Twitter or Facebook marketing campaigns actually working?
  • Can you coordinate a social media campaign across an entire region for multiple retail locations?
  • When is the best time to schedule your Tweets and social status updates?
  • Should you invest more energy in particular networks for promoting your business?
  • Can you understand or track what your customers or competitors are saying about you online?
  • Is there something other than a simplistic Klout-style score that gives you more insight into what is going on with your brand on each social network?

Of the eight products, the overall best was Expion and tied at the bottom for the worst were SproutSocial and Visible Intelligence. Expion excelled in all three functional areas we tested: monitoring, posting and analysis. It could go both wide and deep and has some very sophisticated data filters to make it easier to focus on a particular collection of messages and act on them.

A close second was Ubervu, which offered almost as many features as Expion and at about the same price. One thing lacking from Expion is LinkedIn coverage, which Ubervu has.

The two lowest priced products were Gremln and Viralheat, and both are good places to get started with monitoring social media. Viralheat is just for single users but covers more social networks than Gremln.

Three of the products integrate various social media monitoring with Google Analytics: Sysomos, SproutSocial and SimplyMeasured. This is a powerful reason to choose one of these products, because they can coordinate social media campaigns with actual Web traffic stats.

Here are the individual reviews:


Expion was our overall winner and it excels in all three functional areas. We tested the product with a sample collection of social accounts from across the financial services industry.

One of the reasons we liked the product is that it is very appropriate for groups as it is being used for some of the largest corporations to manage far-flung social media campaigns that span hundreds of branch offices or retail locations.

As an example, the Applebee's restaurant chain is one of its customers, with more than 1,600 locations and 5,000 users of their software. While it can monitor a wide collection of networks it can only post to Facebook, Twitter and Google+. One significant drawback is that it can't monitor LinkedIn, the only one of the products we tested with this deficiency, besides SimplyMeasured.

The posting portion of the product is quite strong, and its interface looks a lot like the Wordpress blogging software. You develop a content "library" and schedule when and where your messages will appear. One of the nice features is that if you hover over a message with your mouse you bring up a preview window showing what your post will look like. You can send email alerts confirming the post to team members for further follow up, as well as sending you an email if the posting failed.

Expion is designed for managing a large collection of regional offices and to set up dynamic content that can be posted across this collection with a single message. There is also a calendar view of all your posting activity, and a built-in link shortening and tracking system too. There are custom dashboards that can select data from particular sources and dynamically update every 10 minutes, which can be increased to more frequent updates, if necessary.

When it comes to analysis and reports, Expion has solid features, including the ability to filter your messages by a wide variety of metrics including the language it was posted in and by top influencers in particular social media channels. Its dashboards feature useful graphics and its word clouds can be used to further define which phrases will elicit the most response from your audience.

Pricing starts at $1,500 per month. For our sample configuration, Expion cost $2,700 per month for an unlimited number of users at multiple locations.


For a lower-end product, Gremln has some advantages. Its user interface is somewhat reminiscent of Hootsuite (indeed they have a "skin" to make it even more so), it is easy to setup and get started, and the two sets of menus -- one on top of the page and a drop-down one on the right-hand side -- are easy to navigate. If you get stuck there are screencast video help files that you can click on to explain what to do. And unlike Viralheat, it can be used by groups. It works with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

On the posting side, it goes deeper than some products that cost a lot more. It allows you to post a message to a particular LinkedIn discussion or Facebook fan page. It warns when you try to post duplicate messages to Twitter, which is nice. You can schedule posts that will appear concurrently on different social networks, and have them reoccur on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. There is a calendar view that will show you when your messages have been or will be posted. And it has an interesting bulk posting mechanism, using CSVs, if you want to really plaster messages around your networks.

On the engagement side, each message can be assigned to another team member for follow up or can be emailed for further action.

On the analysis side, Gremln's filters are weak: you can slice its data by date ranges only. And while you can run a small number of charts and reports, there isn't much flexibility in how they are created. When we tested The LinkedIn report, it could only display a maximum of 500 on number of network connections, a bug which has since been fixed. maxes out at 500, which means if you have a larger network you won't see it on the report. (They claim this is a bug in the LinkedIn API.)

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Gremln is the second least expensive product that we tested. It offers a free account with many limitations, and if you sign up for one of its paid accounts, the first 14 days are free. Chances are you'll end up at the $99 per month plan if you are going to be seriously using this service. That entitles you to 11 users, 40 branded reports, and keyword filtering, along with six months of archived data. So our sample configuration would cost $3,000 annually. For that price, it is solid value and a good way to start out with social media monitoring.


SimplyMeasured is a reporting powerhouse, but doesn't go much beyond that in terms of engagement or posting new content. We had the vendor set it up to analyze the social networks of the airline industry. The product has two major sections: reports and data collections. The data collections are where you put in your social accounts and your competition, and we had the vendor load up a series of airline industry accounts. The product can easily be setup for groups of users with different access rights, such as just being able to view reports or perform administrative duties.

As you would expect from a tool heavy into analysis, SimplyMeasured has more than 35 canned reports available from its dashboard. Each report is created on demand, and generally takes a minute or so to generate. We liked that its reports looked exactly the same online or downloaded in various formats. They can easily be exported as Excel objects with full image fidelity, not just sending CSVs, as most of its competitors. Reports can be scheduled to run at specific times of the day and cover custom date ranges. You can track the demographics of any YouTube channel even if you aren't the owner, and there is a wealth of information from their report on when various viewers commented, the number of subscribers and so forth.

They also connect with Google Analytics, which is great to measure social/web cross engagement. This was a beta feature when we tested the product.

One limitation of their free trials is that they can't look too far back in time in their data collection. Their connector to Google+ can only look at brands and not individual pages. You can set up triggers to generate reports when someone with a higher-scoring Klout posts, or only when someone Tweets with a large follower count, or exclude Tweets written in other languages.

SimplyMeasured is also quite pricey. They have different pricing tiers that are based on the number of social media networks examined, the size of audience and volume of conversations. Pricing begins at $500 per month for unlimited users but some of their top-end customers can easily spend six figures annually. Our sample configuration would cost $30,000 annually. For a reporting-only tool, we didn't think this had high enough value.


SproutSocial was a frustrating product. Its dashboard is pretty to look at but weak: there is a very incomplete view of your network, it takes a long time to display the demographics behind our Tweets and Facebook posts, and it can't display your personal LinkedIn page (although it can show your Facebook business pages).

But once you get behind the scenes and into the product, it has some very capable features. You can connect to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Analytics and can be used in a group like some of the higher-end products here. Because Sprout can connect with Google Analytics, it can produce a rather unique comparison showing what is happening on both Web and social media sites. It sorts messages that drove traffic to your website by number of followers, which is a nice way to look at what is driving your web views.

Posting messages can be done in one of two ways. First is through a simple calendar scheduler by clicking on the "compose" button at the top of any screen, similar to many of the products reviewed here. But the more interesting method is using a very nifty scheduled post process called the "Queue" that can optimize posts and deliver them during optimal engagement times. You need to have a premium account to enable this feature. And unlike some of its competitors, it can go fairly deep in terms of adding people to a Twitter list. You get an email notification if a scheduled message fails to post, and there are weekly summaries of your posts and notifications of assigned tasks too. It also has a unique method to reply to messages and see recent history of the particular poster, giving you more context to your conversation.

Sprout integrates with UserVoice and ZenDesk helpdesk ticketing systems as part of their workflow. This means that you can assign a colleague to answer a particular Tweet or another way to follow up. Reports can be exported to PDFs. You can choose the time range for the reports but not much else.

Sprout also has iPhone and Android mobile apps, but we didn't test these. It has browser extensions and bookmarklets, too. They also have a free reporting tool which shows how responsive your social networks are, we found this of limited utility.

We give kudos to Sprout Social for having explicit pricing information on its site and it also has the most liberal trial policy: you can sign up for free for 30 days without giving them a credit card. They have three tiers: the lowest plan is $39 a month per user, which includes up to 10 social networks. You'll likely end up at the $99 per user per month plan, which can examine up to 50 social networks, unlimited reports, live support and team collaboration. That works out to $29,700 for our sample configuration.


Sysomos has two products, Heartbeat and Media Analysis Platform. We mostly examined Heartbeat, which is comparable to the other products in this review set. We had the vendor set up a financial industry dashboard. At the core of the product are its queries and tag management. The searches can have very complex Boolean criteria in them, and then further refined with particular tags. These can then be used to filter the data into very actionable collections, and groups of users are supported.

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