I just joined a new company here in Boulder that’s started to gain some national attention. That’s cool, but the problem is, we don’t always get positive publicity. As it’s my job to manage our corporate reputation (well, that’s not actually my title but it’s part of my job responsibilities) I need to find some tools that will help me monitor mentions of the company and how it affects our reputation online. And did I mention that we have no budget for this task?
You would be amazed how many companies and service providers don’t even think about what you’ve asked me, don’t realize that whether they’re involved or not that their companies are already being discussed, rated and perhaps criticized online through news stories, blog entries, and even short burst Twitter messages.
This is the new reality of marketing: you as a company can no longer control the message, the message, the reputation of your company, the chance of being recommended are all under the control of your customers and, more broadly, your marketplace. It’s really a complete reversal of traditional marketing, where press releases and marketing collateral let you define the message you disseminated. It was your company efforts that made people see you as socially conscious, green, of a particular political bent, and so on.
That, however, is the past.
Even institutions like newspapers are not immune to the law of the marketplace jungle where someone who might not even read my hometown newspaper, the Boulder Daily Camera can still prove to be its greatest supporter or, just as likely, worst detractor in the online world.
There are two issues involved with this: finding what people are saying about your company, organization, event, or staff, and deciding what to do about it.
There are a couple of key tools I recommend to monitor the online discussion and they are Google Alerts, Google itself (or insert the name of your favorite search engine here, as appropriate. I just have a bias towards Google) and Twitter’s powerful search system. What’s critical is that you don’t really want to manually search each time, but automate the process.
Google Alerts lets you do just that, offering what I used to pay $800/month for: a newswire clipping service. The key to getting the most out of this service, however, is to enter a rich and complex search term. So don’t just search for your company name, search for variations, product names, the name of your CEO and other public figures, and even (shhh) maybe the name of a competitor or two.
To enter a complex query, use the notation (a|b) which means a match of “a” or “b”. If the Daily Camera wanted to search for either “Daily Camera” or “Boulder Camera” or “Boulder Newspaper”, for example, the search would be:
Notice my use of quotes here: without them a blog post like “I use my camera daily” would be a match since it contains both daily and camera. Not what we want.
One smart way to test your alert search pattern is to test it with Google News. Getting matches you don’t want? You can also add negative match keywords too, so if you were to find that you kept matching pages about a Nikon camera for some reason, add “-nikon” after the closing paren, with a space separating them, and the search improves.
Google Alerts also has six categories of search it can do, as they explain: a ‘News’ alert is the latest news articles that contain your search terms, a ‘Web’ alert is the latest web pages that contain your search terms, a ‘Blogs’ alert is the latest blog posts that contain your search terms, a ‘Comprehensive’ alert is the latest matches from multiple sources (news, web and blogs), a ‘Video’ alert is the latest videos that contain the search terms of your choice, and, finally, a ‘Groups’ alert are the latest posts in Google Groups that contain your search term.
While on first glance you might want to just pick “comprehensive”, notice that it’s not really that comprehensive. I recommend you do that AND create separate alerts with the same search pattern for “video” and “groups” to keep on top of as much as you can.
In addition to news stories, blog entries, videos and discussions in Google groups, there are many other places where people could be talking about your business, products or service. I’ll just offer up one more: You can track the micro-blogging service Twitter by going to search.twitter.com and entering your search pattern.
Quite helpfully, Twitter search appears to be able to handle searches as complex as Google, but, typically, you have to write them differently. Instead of (a|b) you write “a OR b”.
Between these services you should be able to start getting a sense of when your company is mentioned online. There are also a number of commercial services that offer this capability in far richer ways, including Filtrbox.com, TrackUR.com and UmbriaListens.com, just to name a few. If you have the money, they can be a far smarter alternative, but with the richness of existing Web tools in the marketplace, you can do pretty well with free too.