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Published August 12th 2013

Complex Queries: The Most Important Feature in Social Media Monitoring

At DragonSearch, we deal with many different clients for whom having a social media monitoring tool is crucial for reputation management, finding content to share on social networks, and responding to social mentions on behalf of the brand. We also like to keep up to date with the latest available tools that we can use to get our jobs done.

We constantly evaluate new tools if they look valuable to us or there’s buzz about their innovative features.

While searching for a social media monitoring tool for our agency, Deidre Drewes reviewed a large selection of available software and wrote numerous blog posts, including an extensive social media monitoring tool comparison table, covering many features. As a result of her research, we decided upon and immediately started using Brandwatch at our company.

Most Monitoring Tools Can’t Do Complex Queries

Following in her footsteps, I was asked to evaluate an assortment of recently released monitoring tools. Having a background in computer science and software engineering, the concept of constructing Boolean search queries was straightforward to me.

As I evaluated other tools and tried to create complex queries, I was shocked at how limiting the user interfaces were for many of them. Some would allow a Boolean search string, but would give syntax errors if I used something as critical as parenthesis to group sections of the query string together to specify the order in which they should be performed.

Others only provided fields for keywords to include (OR), keywords to exclude (NOT) and must have keywords (AND). But you couldn’t manipulate the criteria in any way.

Attempting to monitor some example brands with these limitations would result in many mentions that weren’t applicable to what I wanted to monitor and would have required hours of work pruning out the garbage. Also the tool’s analysis could be skewed by irrelevant mentions.


Figure 1 – This tool wouldn’t accept parentheses

Frustrated, I sent my review comments to my manager, noting that the tools I reviewed were just not adequate for all but the most basic or unique searches (e.g. brand names that wouldn’t be confused with any other common terms) because their search query functionality was too limiting.

I stressed how important it was that any social media monitoring tool be able to handle complex Boolean queries to pinpoint what we want to monitor as accurately as possible.

Upon discussion, we realized we had an opportunity to help educate others who may be evaluating social media monitoring tools and tell them that flexible and robust advanced Boolean query functionality was the key to the effectiveness of the tools.

Choosing a social media monitoring tool

I performed quite a bit of research on monitoring social media and came up with a good example brand name with many variations of spelling to test the Boolean search query functionality in a handful of tools. During my research, I discovered some glitches in every tool, some rendering the tool useless for our needs.

However, a tool like Brandwatch had such a rich set of advanced Boolean search operators that we could come up with an easy workaround for any difficulties we ran into with syntax.

Choosing a social media monitoring tool is a complex process. There are so many tools available and so many features to choose from. It’s hard to know where to start.

One thing I realized is that it’s important to establish a list of requirements before you start shopping. Understand why you need to monitor, what types of things you’ll be monitoring and what you need to do with that data.
An in-house marketing department for one company or one brand is likely to have very different needs than an agency with many changing clients of varying types.

There will likely be bigger challenges monitoring a brand whose name is all over the internet and who needs a tool to help develop a marketing strategy. On the other hand, a small local company who just wants to catch negative comments about them on the social networks will have different needs and goals.

No tool is perfect. In every case, there are likely to be mentions missed and some irrelevant results pulled in. But this can be dramatically reduced by the ability to be as specific as possible when defining your query.

Thanks to my experience using Brandwatch, which has the ability to monitor brand names that could be expressed in variable ways, I wouldn’t even consider any social media monitoring tool that doesn’t have the ability to handle complex Boolean search queries.

Interested in our research and the results of the case study? Read or download a copy of the white paper: The Importance of the Boolean Search Query in Social Media Monitoring Tools.


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