But one element of a strong social and online presence that's often forgotten is that of brand monitoring and reputation management. It's not enough to simply post on your favorite social channels from time to tie. You need to keep your ear to the ground and find out what people are saying, or not saying, about you and your competition.
Here are 9 free tools that I use regularly (some have premium versions) to make sure I know what customers and others are saying about our business, allowing us to respond properly, while also learning where we can improve.
1. Google Alerts
This is the granddaddy of all brand monitoring tools, but it's important to set up these free Google Alerts so that you get an email notification any time someone mentions your business or something related to your business. Not foolproof, but a good starter. You can get them anytime Google finds a mention, or set it for reports once a day or once a week. I prefer the "as it happens" feature so that I can make sure I have the ability to respond in a timely fashion if need be. It might be a good idea to monitor common misspellings of your business name or your own name, as well.
2. Talkwalker Alerts
A few years ago there was talk of Google shutting down the Alerts product, and a lot of folks turned to Talkwalker Alerts. I've found that Talkwalker often finds more mentions than Google, so that's a good thing. I use both, so quite often I'm getting some redundancies, but it's worth it to make sure I'm covered. These two tools do a great job of any mentions on blogs as well as in news stories.
Reputology might be my favorite of the bunch because it specifically searches for mentions on review sites like Yelp, Foursquare, Google My Business, and other sites where customers have the chance to leave reviews. For some reason, neither Google nor Talkwalker alerts scour these sites. This is one where I use the free version, but a more robust premium version is available. As it turns out, while I was writing this blog post, two notifications came in: one for a good review, and one for a less than stellar review.
This allows me to easily pass these reviews along to my coworkers, as well as to respond properly to the reviewer. We take negative reviews seriously, and want to use them as learning experiences. The notifications give me links so I can see the actual reviews where they are, or I can use the Reputology Dashboard to see them all together, regardless of which site they are on. This allows me to get a nice snapshot of how we're doing. The dashboard also provides some analytics so you can measure your online reputation.
Another free tool that offers a premium version, Mention does a great job of scouring the social web for mentions of your business. The biggest problem with the free version is that you are limited to getting only a certain number of notifications. I find that I run out of notifications each month because of how thorough it is, so have toyed with paying for the premium version.
5. Social Mention
Social Mention is another free tool that combs through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social sites for business mentions. Plug in your name and set it up as an alert and you'll start seeing how and when you're mentioned. As an added feature, the tool also includes a sentiment analysis gauge so you can see if your mentions are positive, negative, or neutral. That said, I've found that like most sentiment analysis tools, that aspect of the tool isn't very good, often marking positive mentions as either neutral or negative. There is also a keyword feature so that you can tell which aspect of your business gets the most conversation going.
6. Platform specific alerts
Less a tool than it is a setting, most platforms from Facebook business pages to Twitter and Google + will allow you to get some sort of notification, either through email or a smart phone app alert, when there has been activity on your pages, or if someone has tagged you. I rely on the smart phone alerts so that I can quickly check these mentions and respond, if need be. With very little intrusion, this can make your business look as if you are active online 24/7, which can impress your customers. When I respond to tweets or comments in the evening or on weekends, people are often pleasantly surprised.
And yes, I confess that I even responded to a tweet during my son's wedding reception last week. It took all of 1o-seconds, and no one was all the wiser, since we were all using our smart phones to take pictures and videos of the reception anyway. I guess this makes me a bad dad, eh?
While Hootsuite is primarily a tool for social management and engagement, it's notifications of mentions on Twitter, Facebook, and more is really helpful. You can even set up a stream/column that searches specifically for your business name (or anything else related to you) apart form actual "@-mentions" on Twitter. And you can respond to mentions from right there in the Hootsuite app or dashboard. Again, I use the free version even though there is a nice paid-version available.
To be honest, I rarely use this tool, but Topsy is another good option for scouring both the social web and news sites. There is a premium version available with some added features, but for most small businesses, the free version should suffice. This tool allows you to quickly toggle back and forth between different date ranges so that you can visualize trends over various periods of time.
9. Moz Local
Moz Local is not really a tool for brand monitoring, but it can certainly make the job a lot easier. You might not even realize that your business is listed on any number of directory and location based sites and platforms. Moz Local will not only help you find those listings, but walk you through claiming them and optimizing them so that they feature accurate information and are consistent across the board. By claiming these directory listings, you can then set them up so that you are notified of any reviews or changes made by others. And, if you don't mind spending a little money, they'll help you manage all of these diverse listings, as it can be quite time consuming, and frustrating, to do it yourself.
These are just a few of the tools that are available for the all-important tasks of brand monitoring and reputation management, but a quick Google search will help you find quite a few more. My personal tool kit consists of #'s 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, & 9, but you can play around with them and find the right mix for you and your business. And remember, you can use these tools not just to discover what others are saying about you, but to learn from negative comments and get better at what you do.