Expert Commentary

Reporting with Web and social media data: Some helpful tools

2016 tip sheet explaining several online tools that journalists can use to analyze Web traffic and social media patterns, including patterns related to popular search terms, hashtags and URLs.


The vast streams of digital data being produced are proving to be a goldmine for marketers and companies of all kinds, but they also are a promising source of information for journalists.

Analyzing Web traffic and social media patterns can be a rich, and increasingly vital, supplement to the traditional reporting tools of interviews and observation. Such data can provide context and clues that also can help better frame and situate stories, as well as furnish new pathways to sources and assess popularity, importance and visibility within the online world.

Needless to say, journalists need to be wary of the dangers of misinformation on the Web. A variety of tools — and a growing community and subfield — have sprouted up to encourage more targeted and powerful verification of information.

It is also worth knowing a bit about the sharing, conversation and viral patterns that social scientists typically see online: The Pew Research Center has a good breakdown of archetypal patterns of crowds, clusters and networks.

There are many competing tools offered by analytics firms and technology companies. This post highlights a small sample:

Web traffic

It is not always easy to monitor the Web traffic flowing to a given third-party site, and having access to server data and a tool like Google Analytics is the most valid way of doing that. Perhaps the best-known analytics firm that measures web traffic and ranks sites is comScore, but there are several other commercial firms that can help make estimates and allow basic/introductory analysis for free:

  •, owned by Amazon, can help you analyze traffic patterns and other metrics. See the firm’s explanation here for how traffic estimates are derived.
  • makes estimates of unique visitors freely available, and a premium or a paid account can provide access to metrics like pageviews, average stay and search referrals. See their methods for deriving estimates through online panels.

Social media

In terms of social media tools, there are a variety of competing sites that allow you to do such things as track hashtags, search for mentions of certain terms and places and to even limit searches to certain geographical areas:

  • SocialMention monitors user-generated content across platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and dozens more. You also can get measures of sentiment, reach and other analyses of patterns.
  • allows you to analyze specific terms, hashtags, URLs and more and to also get data on patterns across the Web. You can see the reach of information, timelines relating to posts, and much more.
  • Twitter, of course, is of particular interest to journalists, given its speed and the open nature of the platform. Other tools that can help include: Twilert can give you real-time alerts; Twiangulate can show you common followers among user handles and analyze hidden relationships; HashTracking provides useful insights on hashtag patterns; and Who Tweeted It First allows you to track the original source of memes and messages.

Influence on social

Patterns of influence and attention are a huge focus for those doing business intelligence and social marketing, and several tools can help you discern hubs of conversation.

  • BuzzSumo can help with assessing “most shared” content and related trends.
  • SocialRank can help you figure out patterns among your followers on platforms such as Twitter and Instagram.

Social images 

  • GramFeed allows you to conduct and manage searches across the Instagram photo platform. It has some functionality to allow for very targeted research around user-generated images.

Search patterns

  • Google Trends is a useful tool for revealing search traffic around certain keywords, both across the Web and within YouTube.

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