Media Monitoring – What it Is, What it Does, How to Use It

Media monitoring is the process of carefully reading, watching or listening to the editorial content of media sources (including newspapers, magazines, trade journals, broadcasters and the Internet) on a continuing basis and of identifying, saving and analyzing content that contains specific keywords or topics.

Monitoring the News Media

Monitoring editorial content of news sources including newspapers, magazines, trade journals, TV and radio stations is by far the most common type of media monitoring. This typicalls is called “news monitoring”.

Most companies, government agencies, not-for-profit organizations (e.g. hospitals, universities, associations, etc.) and individuals such as authors and celebrities utilize media monitoring as a tool to identify mentions of their organization, its brands, and executives in news media. Some organizations also deploy media monitoring tools to track the success of their news releases, to find information about competitors and specific issues relevant to the organization, to benchmark performance against competitors, to manage corporate or brand reputation, to gather industry intelligence, to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of corporate communications, to identify new business opportunities, and other purposes.

In addition to monitoring news, many organizations now also monitor social media on the Internet, tracking word of mouth mentions about their organization in social media such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, message boards and forums. This is commonly known as social media monitoring, word-of-mouth monitoring, or buzz monitoring.

Media Monitoring Profile & Search Terms

The monitoring process starts with the search profile and the search terms or keyword(s) or keyword phrases. The search profile contains the service terms: the media to be monitored, the type of articles and/or mentions to be delivered, the time period of the monitoring, and the method of article delivery.

The search terms are those key words or phrases that must appear in the article such as the name of the organization or its affiliates or brands. An article containing a key word is usually referred to as a “clip” or “clipping,” “news clip,” or “press clipping.” The clips are delivered either physically by mail or as a digital file, usually via e-mail.

While some organizations use in-house staff to monitor news and social media, most companies and PR agencies outsource the function to commercial services. The commercial services can usually provide more comprehensive media coverage than in-house staff using online news monitoring tools such as Google News. Commercial media monitoring services often deliver better results at lower cost than the actual labor costs of in-house news monitoring with staff.

Media Monitoring History

Media monitoring started in the 1800s as press clipping services. Press clipping services (called “press cutting” in Europe) employed human readers to scan articles in printed news publications looking for the key words of multiple clients. The readers marked the keywords in articles, then used razor blades to cut out the marked articles, put the clipped articles into client folders and delivered the clips via mail to the client. Most press clipping services served a limited geographic area – one country, for instance – and monitored publications in only one language. According to studies by GE, Kodak and other organizations in the 1970s, the human readers typically missed 30 to 40% of articles containing clients’ key words, largely because the readers were quickly scanning the articles for multiple clients’ keywords, not actually reading the articles word for word.

Broadcast Monitoring Services

In the 1950s, specialized broadcast monitoring companies started to monitor TV news broadcasts for mention of their client company key words. Initially, the broadcast monitoring companies used humans to watch programs, write abstracts of the content and log mentions of clients’ key words. The development of Betamax and VHS videotape recorders, along with closed caption text for hearing impaired, enabled the broadcast monitors to record the programs and use software to search the closed caption text for clients’ key words.

In the United States, that closed caption system is still in use although computers (not videotape recorders) are now used to record the programs. In countries that do not have closed caption text embedded in the TV broadcast signal, broadcast monitoring companies now often use speech to text software to create a character-based document which can be searched for key words. Closed caption text and the latest generation speech to text software are each about 70% to 80% complete and accurate.

Online Media Monitoring

The growth of the Internet and World Wide Web in the 1990s gave rise to online media monitoring services with automated processes to monitor online news. The online services deploy specialized software called robots, bots or spiders running on high-powered computer servers to quickly scan the new editorial content of online news sources and social media and to index all the words in the news content and social media postings. Once the software has compiled the content, it identifies all articles containing each client’s search terms (keywords or phrases) and then automatically clips and delivers those articles or social media postings to the client. Unlike human readers in old-fashioned press clipping services, software seldom misses valid articles because it reads the entire article word for word.

Advantages of Online News Monitoring

The commercial monitoring services offer multiple advantages when compared to old-fashioned print-based press clipping services or in-house media monitoring by staff.

Today, with rare exceptions, every print publication publishes its editorial content on the publication’s Internet Web site. By monitoring print publications on the Internet (World Wide Web), online media monitoring services can monitor news media sources in all countries in virtually all languages. Online news monitoring services currently monitor between 20,000 and 50,000+ online news sources in multiple languages. Many of the online monitoring services utilize embedded translation software to include instant software-based translation of foreign language news clips.

Whereas the old-fashioned press clipping services required 2 to 3 weeks to deliver clips, online media monitoring services deliver clips overnight as a standard service and usually offer near real time delivery at additional cost. Most clips are delivered by e-mail in text or HTML format but other delivery methods are available including RSS feeds, XML and PDF via FTP transfer. The daily e-mail reports enable executives in client organizations to keep up-to-date with a fast and comprehensive overview of how their organization is being portrayed in the news and social media. The daily e-mail clip report also can provide early warning of brewing issues and problems.

With the use of Boolean logic in client queries, online media monitoring services can meet very specific and specialized media clipping requirements with great accuracy. Instead of delivering “all mentions” of a specific word, the media monitoring service can deliver a specific subset of articles and postings such as:

(Orange OR Sprint) AND (mobile OR phone OR cell) AND NOT -fruit OR Julius OR Crush OR “track and field” within 25 characters.

Because online media monitoring services deliver clips as digital computer-based files, clip storage, management and distribution are far more easier than with old-fashioned paper-based clips. Most online services store each client’s clips in a digital online archive that is available at anytime from anywhere by anyone the client authorizes. Using standard database methods, clients can easily organize and manage their clips in the online archive. Most digital archives include keyword search capabilities – that is, clients are able to search their digital clip book for any key word or phrase. Most of the digital archives also make it easy to circulate clips via e-mail to others within the client organization.

Social Media Monitoring

While news is clearly the core content to monitor, most organizations now recognize the growing importance of monitoring social media such as blogs, message boards, forums, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and video sharing sites such as YouTube. What is published or uploaded in these online social media sites has gained significant credence and influence. As a result, monitoring social media for criticism and complaints is now crucial to protect corporate and brand reputation – and to better understand what consumers think about the organization, its brands, and its customer service.

It’s possible, but inefficient, to utilize in-house staff to monitor social media using free online social media search engines. For the most part, however, social media monitoring services are more comprehensive and more time-efficient.

Most news monitoring services offer separate or integrated social media monitoring services. As in news monitoring, the key is comprehensive monitoring across a wide range of social media, especially blogs, message boards, forums, complaint sites and Twitter. With over 50 million blogs worldwide, it is not sufficient to monitor only the so-called “influential” blogs. It’s crucial to monitor as many blogs as possible because it’s impossible to predict where critical information will surface. It’s also important to use key words on a continuing basis to monitor social media. Monitoring social media sources for criticism and complaints can be especially effective as a customer service tool – correcting problems and issues and earning the customers’ gratitude before complaints spread virally.

Media Monitoring Summary

Most commercial media monitoring services are subscription based with a monthly fee for on-going service. While some services – usually ones that evolved from old-fashioned press clipping services – charge an additional fee for each delivered clip, most of the newer online services do not have per clip fees. To better understand the quality of each service and the differences in services, it’s best to use multiple services on a free trial for a few weeks before committing to purchase.

In summary, monitoring news and social media is a vital function to track news release placements, identify other mentions in the media about the organization, manage corporate and brand reputation, monitor competition, stay current on industry issues and other purposes. Commercial media monitoring services, especially online services, offer superior results and lower costs than in-house monitoring by staff.

© Copyright 2010, CyberAlert, Inc.

Article may be reprinted in whole or part with proper attribution.

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