We all try to keep up with competitors, trends, key players, or even just keywords that are important to our industries. To do that, many people use Google Alerts.

For a long time I did. I would set up a Google Alert on a customer's name, company name, and a few topics of interest. Then I could re-connect with that person and actually have something to offer: congratulations, information about a new competitor, trends in their industry, etc, turning a boring (and all too obvious), "Thinking of you..." into a much more meaningful, "I saw this and immediately thought of you..."

Unfortunately, Google Alerts isn't particularly powerful or convenient. After some experimenting I've started using mention, a social media monitoring tool that monitors the web and social media channels and alerts you whenever someone mentions (get it?) your name, brand, or target keywords. (I included mention in my list of eight powerful social media marketing tools for savvy businesses.)

Here are five ways to use mention to beyond Google Alerts:

1. Get social. Probably the biggest shortcoming of Google Alerts is its lack of social monitoring. Plus Google Alerts only lets you post what you've picked up. (And it's perhaps the only Google product that hasn't already tried to force me to sign up for Google+.)

In this case that's a bad thing. Social is where most conversations happen, and joining the right conversation at the right time is extremely important. Mention currently supports Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, traditional sources like news and blogs, and has recently been integrated with Buffer. Being able to follow an exchange as it unfolds on Twitter, thank someone directly on Facebook, and then schedule content to publish from multiple platforms definitely streamlines social workflow.

2. Identify influencers. To paraphrase the pigs, all mentions of a brand or keyword are equal, but some are more equal than others. Paying particular attention to mentions from influencers can help you get ahead of a story or trend before it takes on a life of its own--whether that trend will benefit your business or create a storm you'll need to weather.

Mention's Priority Inbox makes it easy to determine whom the influencers are in a conversation. The app marks widely followed bloggers, Twitter users, websites, and newsmakers with a red flag to denote popularity, and you can filter to view only the priority mentions within each alert. (Not only does that mean you can respond right away, you can also evaluate the effectiveness of your messaging among influencers.)

Unlike Google Alerts, mention makes it easier to tell you when you've been talked about by people who can actually make a difference.

3. Respond quickly on any platform. Influence is important, but most brands try to respond to as many people as possible because every customer is important. Mention's iPhone app and Android app lets you to tweet, retweet, post, follow, email, assign a task, and share almost everything that comes in.

4. Store and analyze data. Google Analytics is an outstanding tool for analyzing web stats. Oddly enough, Google Alerts doesn't provide the same level of statistics and reporting tools. Yet if you're monitoring social mentions in response to social campaigns you're running, having the ability to store and analyze data is crucial.

Mention gives you a fairly in-depth look at how often your keywords are being mentioned, peak times for those mentions, and which source gets the most play, and also lets you store data and export it as a PDF, CSV, TSV, or Excel file. You can also see a snapshot of sentiment trends (the percentage of mentions per alert that are positive, negative, or neutral), as well as a breakdown by source, language, and days of the week.

5. Make collaboration and response a team effort. Finding out when something you're tracking has been mentioned is step one. Telling the people who need to know is a logical step two that Google Alerts doesn't provide. Mention lets you mark a mention "to be read," "to be shared," or "react," which notifies an assignee via email or push notification they have a new task, or you can drag and drop the icon of a team member onto any alert to assign it to them (see it as one-touch delegation.)

And it tracks who has actually done what in response to a mention.

Those are my tips for going beyond Google Alerts. Now it's your turn. Anything I missed? Any tools you prefer?