Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Ever since I reported on the launch of Scout Labs, I have had people ask, fairly or not, how it compares with Radian6. It’s no secret that I use Radian6 at Doe-Anderson, am good friends with many of their employees and have recommended them to people left and right for a long time. Scout Labs appeared on the scene in February after two years of testing and development and they have a very nice social media monitoring tool.

To be completely fair, it should be noted that the two companies have slightly different target audiences, strengths, technologies and approaches. Scout Labs is a self-serve, web-based tool priced for small to mid-sized business and brands. Radian6 was originally positioned as an agency model where a single ad agency that worked with many brands could economically offer social media monitoring to its clients. It quickly moved on the market thirst for social media monitoring and expanded their approach beyond ad agencies and PR firms, but they are probably best suited for medium to large sized brands and businesses.

Still, if there is something to be had with Scout Labs for a better price, we ought to know what it is.

So, while setting up and monitoring mentions of a Louisville-area heath care system recently, I composed this comparison on setup, features and price. I chose the health care system because they have several different locations, thus potential keywords to search for, but weren’t a typical “national” brand so the volume would be manageable. Here’s what I found:

Radian6 offers a very simple setup. You start a “Topic” and add keywords. For billing purposes, you’re billed for each “Topic” so all of your searches need to come under that topic set up or you’ll pay more. I added several different keywords based on the name of the health care system and one of their locations. After testing the results returned, I quickly had to add some omission filters for a popular actor who has apparently appeared in several movies about hospitals and shares a name with the brand in question.

Still, the whole set up took 10 minutes. I’ve used Radian6 for a while, so it was familiar territory, but it is fairly easy to understand and navigate once you’ve had the tour from a Radian6 rep. (I wouldn’t say it’s particularly intuitive if you’ve never been in it, but it’s not hard to grasp.)

Just minutes later, I had a “River of News” that revealed 54 posts from the world wide web related to the health care system. You can sort that river in a number of ways to prioritize how you respond or weight the posts. A few clicks later, I had a topic cloud of popular words from those posts. With a few minutes of set up, I had some charts and graphs of some keywords I compared to see the volume of posts related to thinks like, “long wait time,” “terrible service” and “great service.” In Radian6, you can essentially compare any number of topics or keywords against one another, pulling frequency data from your river of news. You can also pull topic clouds or segment that division of data … they really allow you to slice the data any number of ways. Again, you need a little training to know how — even though all you do is click on the word or the bar graph to dive into it, you don’t get that from just looking at it — but once you do, you can slice more than a Benihana’s chef on speed.

Radian6 also produces an influencer report which gives you the most influential authors or sources from your river of news. This is good information to have, though the data is skewed a bit by the limits of your time frame (mine was set for the last 30 days). Still, I love the way Radian6 has added individual Twitter users as “influencers” on the chart. That is much more relevant to the live conversation of the day than which blog mentions the brand more.

Something new Radian6 has added to their River of News view that turns their tool into a much more actionable platform for brands and marketers is the Workflow view. You organize your River of News into a work space that allows you to mark posts for follow up, assign that follow up to team members and make the results actually work for you. Yes, this is a manual function, but one your company will want to use and participate in because it allows you to use your monitoring to realize results and proactively engage those voices talking about your brand.

Radian6 Workflow view with actionable step links to the left.

Radian6 Workflow view with actionable step links to the left.

This particular interface and function of Radian6′s tool would take me a complete second post to tell you about all the features and strengths. There’s tie-in with Google’s social graph API, automated alerts for subjects (giving you Google Alerts on steroids), tagging and activity logging of contact with specific bloggers, a completely mind-boggling integration with Twitter to manage communications with an influencer on that particular network. Oh, and you can have all your “River” results pumped to you via instant messenger so you are never out of touch with what’s being said about your brand.

Frankly, this dashboard functionality blows all other competitors in the social media monitoring space out of the water. If you’re paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for the big boys, you’ve lost your mind. This alone beats them, hands down. (Unless, of course, you just have to have the 56 page PowerPoint with mindless pie charts no one reads.) For medium to small brands, however, it’s overwhelming and impossible to manage or use all the functionality without spending hours a day using Radian6 (which is, I’m sure, what they’re hoping for). The reason I say that, however, is that there’s normally just one or two people managing all this for smaller brands and that isn’t their only role. This is a tool best used by teams of communications staffers.

Oh, and the ability to slice and dice the data in Radian6 is just sick. Once you know how to do it, you’ll swear by this tool.

The only bad thing about my Radian6 experience is that it crashes my browser in Firefox. Maybe it’s too powerful. It works fine in Safari, so I just use it there.

That said, the Radian6 scorecard of results showed 54 total items found, including 17 posts from Twitter, two videos and four images.

In Scout Labs, I set up a “Search” much like the “Topic” in Radian6. The keyword or exact phrase setup was a little disappointing until I got them on the phone and asked about it. They were nice to (politely) point out there’s a big “Click here for help” button that I missed. What can I say? I don’t read instructions.

In order to play out the clumsy usage like the average person would, I used the brand name, then the word “Healthcare” and the name of one of the brand’s locations as qualifiers. (“Relevant” in Scout Labs terms.) Unfortunately, that set up yielded over 10,000 posts. Even adding all sorts of qualifiers (the actor’s name as an omission, etc.), I could only get it down to 8,500 posts. So, I set up one search for, “Brand Healthcare” and “Brand Location” where the brand and location are obviously specific to this particular organization. There was no real way to mash those results up (keeping in mind I didn’t read the instructions on how to do so), so I did that manually for comparison sake.

Once that was done, the information produced included 72 total items found, including 23 posts from Twitter, 22 videos and 18 pictures. For the record, I ran it the way I should have (having read the instructions) and the numbers and content were all but identical.

A sentiment trend view from Scout Labs.

A sentiment trend view from Scout Labs.

Once you’ve set up your search in Scout Labs, within seconds and a couple of clicks you have charts and graphs for volume of articles, share of voice compared to competitors you may set up to track as well and the kicker – automated sentiment so you know if the talk about you is good, bad or neutral. Since this is manually scored in Radian6, you just saved yourself a fair bit of time to produce a sentiment report, though it requires that you trust the automation. (I highly recommend manually checking any sentiment score from any service until you’re confident they’re accurate or you can at least live with the ratio of right to not-so.)

Scout Labs also separates results out by medium, giving you a tab to see posts or conversations and separate tabs for photos, videos and Twitter. With Radian6, they’re all together in your stream, though easy to delineate. You can delete or remove posts you don’t want considered very easily using both tools. Instead of a topic cloud, Scout Labs lists popular words discovered in your stream and goes the added step of indicating which words are new in the last 30 days. This gives you a quick and automated glance at what topic might be trending or a sore spot that consumers are complaining about.

Comparing the results, it’s clear that Radian6 has a much more thorough scan of the web. News items posted on WFPL.org, the website for the local NPR affiliate, were not picked up by Scout Labs, showing some apparent holes in their scans. They also don’t do a good job of catching message boards and forums, though I’m sure that will improve over time. Radian6 didn’t do that well with forums a year or so ago when I first saw their platform. They’re better now.

Of the nine posts returned by Scout Labs, Radian6 only had three of them, and while the tool should have found them, I would only consider one of the six relevant to the search as three were job postings and the other two appeared to be spam sites. While I’m not sure why there was an inconsistency in the number of Twitter messages returned, it may have something to do with spam/duplication filters. The entries Radian6 failed to return appeared to be re-tweets or exact duplications of bot-controlled feeds.

Scout Labs did out-perform Radian6 by returning lots more videos and images. There was a Flickr set of 17 images I found through Scout Labs of a newborn baby that wasn’t in the Radian6 filter, all tagged with the hospital’s name. However, none of the four images Radian6 returned, all of which were relevant, were to be found in the Scout Labs data.

Tit-for-tat comparison’s are relevant but not altogether conclusive, however. The thing that often sets the tools apart is the ease of use and quality/quantity of data returned. Scout Labs offers a more seamless experience in a web-based environment while Radian6 is a Flash interface. It can be clunky and slow, though it is noticeably faster now than in months past. Radian6 allows you to produce topic-related comparisons easier than Scout Labs, in my experience. And, as I’ve indicated, the Workflow tool in Radian6 is simply unmatched in anything out there. It alone is worth the cost of the service.

And while Radian6 has the powerful play of the Influencer Report, which now includes Twitter users in its consideration set (a far better insight than just blogs that mention the brand most often), Scout Labs counters with the trump card of automated sentiment scoring. It is currently time consuming to manually grade sentiment in Radian6. Even though the brand in question only returned 54 posts, it would have taken about an hour to go through each one, read, score sentiment and so-on. In Scout Labs, if I trust their tool, it’s done.

For the record, according to my friends at Radian6, automatic sentiment scoring is coming and soon. Until it does though, Scout Labs has that as a selling point.

While I’m not well-schooled in the back-end technology lingo, Scout Labs uses indexing which, as I understand it, is more nimble and flexible than database-driven information. Radian6 uses a combination of indexing and database technology. Is that a sticking point for them in the long, run? I don’t know and would love some technologists and engineers to chime in. Seems like both companies have good engines and continually improve what they have, so both can give each other good runs for the money for a while. I promise to do more research here to edu-ma-kate us on the differences.

So from a power perspective, I give the edge to Radian6. Both the Workflow panel and their breadth of data collection sets them apart. Scout Labs can probably catch them on the data collection pretty quickly but duplicating their Workflow panel will be tough to do knowing Radian6 is always improving their own tool as well.

From a data perspective, Radian6 also stands out because of their breadth of data, the Influencer report and the data slicing and dicing ease of their tool. (Did I tell you it’s just sick? Sick!) Still, it’s a close call because of Scout Lab’s automated sentiment scoring, which is a big time-saver and important when you consider the good vs. bad is sometimes all a brand manager or CEO wants to hear.

But when you look at price, Scout Labs wins. They don’t limit the number of users \and offer monthly plans starting at $99 (enough to handle a single brand or small business with monitoring of 3-4 competitors). For $249 monthly, you get more searches for competitors or divisions of your business. This would be the price point for the health care system I used. The most you’ll pay for Scout Labs, unless you have a large, customized solution, is $749.00 monthly. That’s almost the entry point for Radian6, which is a volume-based plan with 10,000 “posts” as the lowest price point at around $600.00 per month. And you’ll need to be very meticulous about defining your keyword. If I hadn’t eliminated the actor’s name from Radian6′s scan, I would have been automatically bounced up to the more expensive plans at the end of the month. (Though I can attest, Radian6′s folks will notice inconsistencies and call you to make sure you’re aware you have exceeded your post limit.)

So you get a better price with Scout Labs, but not as thorough a search. Radian6 has what is essentially internal project management software for response management, but Scout Labs offers automated sentiment.

And both firms have a strong footing in customer service and innovating based on their technologies. So both will evolve and get even better at what they’re doing. Radian6 today is far better and vastly different than they were a year ago. Scout Labs is going to trump even themselves in a month or so with new features and broader reach with their searches.

In the end, the decision is going to be unique to each organization or business, so it’s up to you to decide.

If you’re a small business or on a tight budget, Scout Labs is well worth the investment. If you have a little bit more money to spend and want to see a more powerful tool put to use for your brand, Radian6 might be a better fit. But both are infinitely useful and worth the time and money. And both will get better.

As a matter of point and disclosure, allow me to say that I have the utmost confidence in both of these services. I’ve paid a personal visit to Radian6 and am good friends with many of their employees, including CEO Marcel Lebrun. In my brief time getting to know Scout Labs CEO Jenny Zeszut and product VP Margaret Francis, it’s clear they know what they’re doing and are offering a valuable service at a very competitive price point.

Now it’s your turn. If you use one, the other or both, please fill us in on your experience. What do you like? Dislike? What could either do better? They’re monitoring firms, so you can bet they’ll be anxiously awaiting your feedback. Scout Labs is new, but they have a 30 day free trial. Go sign up and let us know what you think. The comments, as always, are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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  • http://natural-breast-enhancement.org/ Lynn Ritche

    Hi Jason, I came across with you blog and I find it very interesting and informative… thanks for the tips about social media monitoring. Cheers!! Lynn :)