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By B.L. Ochman
Tools for listening to social media range from free to tens of thousands of dollars, but more expensive isn’t always best.

Here are some tools that do a really good job of helping brands track, respond, and build relationships. These tools will help you learn who’s talking about your industry, your competitors, and your brand, and what they’re saying. They range from free to reasonably priced.

The bottom line is that no one tool that I’ve investigated (and I’ve tried several dozen) can do the whole job. Combining a few of these is the best way to go.

SamePoint is a somewhat geeky but remarkably thorough conversation search engine that tracks – in real time and historically – and categorizes social media mentions, discussion points, bookmarks, wikis, networks, groups, microblogs, reviews, podcasts, documents, video, images, news and websites. Accounts range from free to $1,000 per month.

Spiral16 is a paid service with a human-guided data-validation process and 3D visual mapping, which allows clients to get comprehensive data in a visual format. Spiral16 picks up data from social media, reference sites, directories, and non-traditional trade publications. Pricing starts at $500.

PageLever “If you think Facebook Insights leaves something to be desired, you’re not alone,” says PageLever.” If you’re responsible for managing a Facebook page, PageLever puts Facebook’s own weak analytics on steroids. The demo video ( will show you how it works. Prices range from $34 to $250 a month.

SproutSocial creates a dashboard for monitoring social media relationships across Twitter, Facebook (fan and personal pages) and LinkedIn. You can search, monitor and cross-post to networks, schedule messages to be posted, as well as track links and referrals. Prices range from $39 a month for up to 20 profiles, up to $899 a month for the enterprise version and unlimited profiles.

Vitrue is a social media content management system for brand pages in Twitter and Facebook. You can create and schedule messages for Twitter and Facebook, and you can use Vitrue Apps to create custom videos, photo slideshows, polls, surveys, coupons and other marketing tools for Facebook. Month-to-month licenses in three price plans begin at $300 a month.
Besides letting you upload videos to multiple sites simultaneously, TubeMogul, TubeMogul has recently developed a rich set of metrics that let you see stats on how many people have watched your videos across various networks.

In real-time, you’ll get a dashboard showing views, audience geography, time spent, embeds, referring sites, search terms and lots more. And it’s free.

A sampling of CRM Database Management Tools
Once you’ve got a picture of who’s talking about your brand, you can engage with them with using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database tools tools including:

Assistly lets you create a desktop dashboard of all your customer service conversations. You can collect, prioritize and respond to them all in one well-designed, easy-to-use space. Every employee can use Assistly to provide customer response by phone, email, Twitter, or chat. You can try it free.

Batchbook neatly combines Facebook, Google, and your contact database. It lets you view blog posts, photos, tweets, and more alongside your customer contact history. Prices range from $14.95 to $149 per month.

• If you use Google Gmail, Rapportive will show the contact information for the person whose email you’re reading, just to the right of your inbox. Instead of ads in the right column, you’ll also see links and details from LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and numerous other social sites that the writer uses.

The bottom line: engaging with your customers in social media channels is simply an updated version of fishing where the fish are.

Cartoon: Hugh Macleod, gapingvoid