I have been familiar with social media monitoring since its inception. The first licensed social monitoring tools baffled and delighted digital marketers with a window into ‘the conversation’ at a time when we were solely concerned with click-through rates, page impressions and search rankings. Before social media monitoring, a campaign planner’s insight was cultural, panel-based and certainly not ‘real time.’

Six years on, we still employ the same metrics, with the additional focus of KPIs like viewability and engagement. They’re reliable, too (most of the time). But have brands truly realised the potential of professional social media monitoring platforms?

Were you aware that, with the right tools, I can access an instant cache of historical conversations surrounding any topic of my choice spanning three years? In much the same way as a Google search, but focused mainly upon public Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums and newspaper comments. In essence, if you have said it publicly online, we can find it. New KPIs can be drawn to help your brand benchmark what is being said, when, where, and the demographic profile of those having the conversation. These are all interesting and useful lessons, but even today most brands are missing the real potential.

“Most brands are missing the potential of social media monitoring”

For example, customer or public sentiment for a brand has always been desirable for marketers. Typically, this would be gauged from panel surveys or focus groups, which remain a pillar of any marketing strategy. However, Twitter, for example - which has more than 271 million active monthly users sending 500 million tweets every day - offers a strong chance that relevant opinions are being shared about your brand. Interpreted correctly, we can find lessons in product insight, advocacy rating, share of voice and more from a strong social media monitoring programme. What’s more, competitors can be monitored, with weaknesses exploited and successes mirrored.

Sounds great. But the true obstacle, it seems, is investment in expertise. Just having the tool is, arguably, 20% of the opportunity. Most monitoring platforms allow us to access top-line data like sentiment and reach, but ultimately they are (clever) machines. Mining real, actionable insight is a process that requires human analysis if it is to be reliable enough to make a difference to a brand’s bottom line. If you have ever used apple’s Siri app to conduct a serious task you will know exactly what I mean.

Unfortunately, without this solid human interpretation, social media monitoring is a little like Siri. Cool and nice to have, but not something you would rely on to make a decision that really mattered.

John Barton is managing partner and co-founder of TestifyDigital