Set Up Your Own Social Media Listening Post for Free Online Brand Monitoring

January 26th, 2010 by | 75 Comments

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On the social web, people are talking about your brand whether you’re participating or not. Do you know how to follow the conversation?

I have my own social media toolkit set up so that virtually any time anyone mentions my name, my company name, or links to my website, anywhere online, I’ll see it. I can then choose whether it’s something I should leave a thank-you comment on, share and promote to my own network, or take action to correct a mistake I may have made. You can no longer control the discussion. You can’t prevent people from saying whatever they want to about you online, but you can participate and guide the discussion. If you want to have an influential role in the conversation about your brand online, you need to be listening.

Want to know what peo­ple are say­ing about you on blogs? Twitter? Social networks? It’s easier than you might think, and in this post I’ll show you how to set up your own “lis­ten­ing sta­tion” with a few free tracking tools and your RSS news reader.


Free Tools for Brand Monitoring Online

The first thing you need to do is figure out what you’re listening for. You want to pay attention to mentions of your name and your brand, but you also probably need to keep track of related conversations about your industry. First of all, write down all the following to plug in to your searches:

  • your name
  • your company name
  • any brand-related mentions
  • your website addresses (URLs)
  • possibly your competitors’ names
  • important niche keywords

Depending on the size of your organization, and who’s in charge of collecting and analyzing data about your brand online, your ideal listening station might be your email inbox. A lot of the services below will provide free email alerts, but another invaluable tool for collecting data online is RSS. If you’re not familiar with it, RSS is a useful built-in technology in most social web services (blogs, news feeds) that allows you to subscribe and get new updates as they occur.

1. If you don’t already have an RSS feed reader, the first step I’d recommend is that you set up your own free Google Reader account to collect incoming links from the tracking services below.

2. Set up Google Alerts for any key­words relevant to your industry or niche. Google Alerts is a mainstay in anyone’s online monitoring toolkit. It’s wise to set it to send email notifications and forget about it, but realize that alerts will often come in several days to several weeks after they occur. Select the com­pre­hen­sive search option, then you can either opt to receive alerts via email OR by RSS feed. If you set the “Deliver to” option to Feed, click “Create Alert” and then on the fol­low­ing screen, select “View in Google Reader”. Repeat as necessary to subscribe to as many keyword notifications as you want.

3. Next, let’s search the blogosphere for mentions. Many different options exist for tracking blog post mentions. Google Blog Search is a very straightforward search similar to the default Google search engine. Enter your company name and URLs, perform a search, and then look at the bottom of the sidebar on the left where it says “Subscribe” and select the RSS link.

Alternately, another useful tool that will let you search the blogosphere as well as many social networks like Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and more is Social Men­tion. Right beneath the search box, click the link to “select social media sources”, run your search, and then sub­scribe with the RSS feed link at the top-right of the search results screen. Add to your Google Reader and repeat as necessary. (Note: selecting the BoardReader and BoardTracker options here will also crawl through forums and discussion boards to deliver results for your niche keywords.)

4. If you’re a PR professional or work with a larger company, you may also want to add Google News to your arsenal, which will monitor traditional media outlets and press releases through the news wire services. The Google News search function is also very similar to Google Blog Search in step 3 above, but when you perform your search, scroll down to the bottom of the page and look in the footer (below the navigation and bottom search box) for the RSS subscription link.

5. Next, let’s see what people are saying about you on the web’s largest platform for discussion! Twitter Search crawls and will give you the equivalent of Google Alerts for any mentions there in real-time, with no delays. Run a search for your rel­e­vant key­words, your username (i.e., codymckibb in my case), as well as your full name in case users say something about you without using your username. In the top-right of the results page, click on “feed for this query” and add it to your Google Reader account. You can also use Twitter’s Advanced Search to get a lot more specific, find tweets from particular users, or get results by geo­graphic area.

6. Twitter is a massive network where people are constantly sharing links and updates, but the one drawback about Twitter Search is that it will miss many messages that link to your site with “shorturls”, or short links that redirect to your URL (services like and tinyurl). BackTweets is a great service that will track any shorturls that linkback to your sites. Enter your site URL and perform a search, and subscribe with the orange radio button in the title where it says “Search Results for”.


Putting It All Together

Now you’ll have several RSS feeds delivering a wide variety of mentions into your Google Reader account, where you can collect and organize them however you see fit. Here’s how to tidy them up:

1. Go to Google Reader, click the “Settings” drop-down in the top-right corner, then click on “Reader settings”.

2. Select the Sub­scrip­tions tab.

3. Now you can easily rename your feeds or start orga­niz­ing them into fold­ers (by key­word, company, source, client, etc.) by using the “Change folders” drop-down box and categorizing them into existing folders or creating new folders.

It’s as easy as that. Now you’re properly set up to listen across the social media landscape, which will help you keep your finger on your industry’s pulse and jump in and respond quickly to mentions about you or your brand!

Cody is a nomadic entrepreneur & lifestyle designer who helps social changemakers & other remarkable people spread their message on the web.

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