Tool Report: CustomScoop

Quick hit
Description: Media and social monitoring tool that searches the Internet for user-specified keywords
Purpose-built for reporting: No (original use was PR media/reputation monitoring)
Journalism uses: Company monitoring, specific social media monitoring, beat story finding
Competitors: BurrellesLuce, Cision, CyberAlert, Google Alerts, Meltwater
Pros: Easy to use, flexible search parameters, large search universe
Cons: Report generation can take getting used to, large search universe can return too many results
Company website: http://customscoop.com

If I’m an assignment editor, I live in a world of lists: I’ve got my morning callarounds to local law enforcement, I’ve got my Twitter lists organized, I’m checking websites. And that works for breaking news. But what if you want to break news, or keep abreast of what’s happening on a niche beat?

The Internet’s expansion has made it almost impossible to keep up. So we turn to technology. But this is an area where there aren’t a lot of obvious choices. There’s Google Alerts, which work pretty well, but aren’t exhaustive. Factiva is nice to find stuff, but it’s dependent on when a story gets cross-loaded out of a content management system and into Factiva’s system. And there’s about a jillion different social sentiment monitors out there, but they’re designed to monitor what’s being said about you online, not what’s being published about something you’re interested in.

We have to go to a one-off category: Reputation monitoring and tracking. There are a few companies that do this — Meltwater, Cision, BurrellesLuce, CyberAlert. And there’s CustomScoop, which is a company out of Nashua, N.H., that has built  a solid engine with excellent functionality, mainly based on how it handles proximity searches and allows the combination of social and traditional media results.

Like all systems, CustomScoop is keyword-based. You select the keyword and it monitors, reporting back with emailed alerts (if you choose) every hour, day, week, month, etc.  CustomScoop claims that it hits 3 million+ news and information sites, plus social media, which is fairly expansive. I haven’t done a statistical comparison with Google Alerts, but it does seem to pick up most, if not all, of the same results and then comes through with some others.

Selecting keywords for the Aaron Hernandez search

Selecting keywords for the Aaron Hernandez search

 

The Patriots’ Aaron Hernandez has been in the news for possibly killing someone, so that makes a nice thing to search on. At least we know there will be lots of hits.

Here, I defined the search criteria. The search must find “Aaron Hernandez” with that exact case spelling AND it must find the word “football.” Hernandez’s name is too common and this helps sort through the noise a bit.  One of the better features is that it’s one click to specify the case sensitivity and you don’t have to program in Boolean terms to get Boolean operators. They provide boxes for both.

The search selections are shown all the time off to the right and the editing is pretty easy.

 

In the second step, you can choose which social media outlets you want searched. The choices are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. If I’m looking at this from a PR perspective, it’s a nice thing to be able to collect sentiment on what people are saying. From a working journalist perspective, this particular search term on social media doesn’t really bring back all that much. But, if you’re looking for comments about a company’s customer service, for instance, it’s a good search term.

The third step is selecting which traditional media outlets you want: published online, broadcast radio and broadcast TV. The latter two options get you transcripts and the ability to view the broadcasts in-browser (and they also cover commercial traffic).

When the results come out, you can sort them by source type, keyword, outlet, circulation, etc.

Here’s a live RSS of the Aaron Hernandez feed:

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Maybe a better use case for it came when tensions were high between the U.S. and North Korea. A friend at a large publication wanted to know when any mention of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system was made, or when it was being deployed. It took a few minutes to set up the search (we used two terms:  ‘Terminal High Altitude Area Defense’ OR ‘THAAD’) and the system automatically emailed him any mention.

The proximity searching is a nice feature, too. Let’s say that you cover US Airways as a beat, or you’re an aggressive TV news director in Charlotte (a hub city) who loves to cover news about a local employer. You can set the search engine to search for phrases within 15 words of ‘US Airways.’ For instance, ‘US Airways’ and ‘horrible experience’ (it looks like ‘US Airways.NEAR.horrible experience’), and specifying social media-only searches can be productive. You’ll get YouTube videos, Tweets, public Facebook posts, all that can turn into a story or help you gather string for potential future stories.

There are some downsides. The search engine is expansive — but it’s not as selective as I’d like. Sometimes the results are gargantuan and overbroad and it really takes some time to whittle them down (a search for stories or mentions on ‘Mississippi River’ and ‘business’ returned 164 results in a 24 hour period; whittling them down from duplicate references of wire briefs and anomalies brought it down to 31 results).

Generating a simple report from within the system is simple. Creating an alert that emails you is a bit harder. It’s not difficult. It’s just more steps than you’d normally have and it’s a little annoying. You have to create a search for your keyword, save the search, create a report, save the report, create an alert, save the alert. It’s about 3 minutes, but it feels like you do the same inputs over and over again.

Oh — and if you made it this far, the first 24 hours of the Aaron Hernandez search netted 1,351 mentions excluding social media.