If you’re going to get more involved in social media marketing, you need to stay on top of what customers and prospects are saying about you and your brand across the Web. That is particularly important for B2C companies, says Mark Willaman, founder of SocialEars.com, a cloud-based software tool for social listening and conversation analysis. “But even B2B companies should be monitoring social conversations to be aware of any mentions and to stay on top of industry conversations in order to uncover trends and other business opportunities,” he adds.

Scott McIntosh, senior account supervisor and Web strategist at Lovell Communications, a marketing and public relations agency, uses a variety of tools to monitor online conversations about his firm and its clients, including:

  • Search engines. Sometimes it’s as simple as typing your company name into the major search engines and scanning the results. “If you don’t feel like Googling your company every day, set up Google Alerts,” he suggests. That tool searches news sites, blogs, forums, and other places on the Web, and emails you whenever your company is mentioned.
  • Twitter tools. You can use the Twitter search engine or the search field on Twitter itself to keep track of what people are tweeting about your business, but it’s easier to automate the process with a free app called Twilert. An even better option, McIntosh says, is to use TweetDeck, a free tool that can continuously search Twitter for mentions of your company name and alert you with a desktop pop-up immediately.
  • RSS feeds. A slightly more advanced approach is to set up a social media monitoring station using an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader, which allows you to pull a specific feed of information from different sources and display it in a single location for review.
  • Influence checkers. “Once you start getting results for mentions of your company, it’s good to know how much influence the people doing the talking really have,” McIntosh says. A negative article about your brand on a blog read by 10 people a month has much different implications than an article on a blog read by 10,000 people a day. Services such as Compete and Quantcast measure and compare a site’s effectiveness, and Klout can be used to measure the influence of specific online individuals.

“All these services are available for free, but keep in mind that there is always a cost in terms of your time, lack of capabilities, and potential lack of results,” McIntosh cautions. For those who lack the time, inclination, and/or ability for do-it-yourself monitoring, paid platforms (Radian6, Vocus, and Meltwater Buzz, for example) provide a single interface to review all the above information and more.

When you come across information about your business that is incorrect or derogatory, it’s important that you respond—most of the time. “A lack of response can often look bad, but you have to weigh the possibility that a response will only escalate a situation,” points out Janet Tyler, co-CEO of Airfoil, a marketing communications and public relations agency that specializes in the technology field. “A good general tactic is to simply post a response that states your concern and suggests taking the conversation offline.”

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