Social media dwellers, yes, that’s me, throw the term “listen” around as if everyone knows what we’re talking about. Listening in a social media context means using tools to monitor the mentions of your name, your username, your company and other keywords. When you listen, you become aware of these mentions and therefore any conversation about you or aimed at you. You have the opportunity to be part of the conversation, instead of being oblivious.

Sometimes when I tweet to an infrequent or untrained Twitter user, it’s like tweeting into the void. I never hear back from them, or I hear back a week later and by then I can’t remember why I tweeted at them in the first place. They’re not listening.

This problem is complicated by Twitter’s technical bugs. I heard that Twitter missed many Mentions this past weekend — tweets mentioning your username or directed to your username. Twitter’s API, the programming interface allowing Twitter to talk to applications like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, had problems again – growing pains. If someone directed a tweet at me this weekend with the @ symbol or mentioned my username, it might not have shown up in my Mentions column. I would have never known that someone tweeted me or that I was a subject of conversation unless I was listening, which I was.

It’s hard to have a conversation when the other person’s not listening. There are dozens of monitoring tools out there – basic ones are free and more sophisticated ones come at a price. Here are some free tools that work well for individuals or for organizations just getting started in social media.

 

Google Alerts

Even if you don’t use social media, I recommend you create Google Alerts for your name, company name and other keywords like the name of your blog, products, events and publications. You’ll be notified when your name shows up in blog posts, tweets and websites. If you use Twitter, create Google Alerts for your Twitter username. If you have a commonly misspelled name like mine, create searches for the frequent misspellings. In Google Alerts, select the option for real-time (as-it-happens) search results to be delivered in Feed format to your Google Reader.

Twitter Search

The first step to listening on Twitter is reading your @Mentions tab on the Twitter site or, if you use Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, reading your Mentions column. Keep this column where you can see it. Do the same for your Direct Messages tab or column. I also set my UberSocial mobile application to alert me when I get a Mention or Direct Message.

Twitter search is not what it used to be. At times it only goes back a few days. That’s why it’s better to get real-time search results sent to you instead of relying on the web page to show you results. Go to the advanced Twitter search page and create searches for your name and other keywords. Then click on the orange RSS icon to create and send a feed for each search to your Google Reader.

Comments

Lots of conversation happens in blog comments, possibly about you or your organization. I use these tools to keep up with mentions of my name and blog:

URL Twitter Mentions

You could set up a Twitter search or Google Alert on your blog’s domain but it won’t capture any tweets that use a shortened URL, like a bit.ly or ow.ly address. My favorite URL Twitter search tool is now Topsy. You can register your domains with Topsy and it will alert you when a blog post with your domain has been tweeted. It’s a great way to find all the tweets mentioning your posts. I find tweets via Topsy that other tools don’t catch. A similar tool is Backtweets but I’m not as in love with that one.

Twitter Favorites

If you’re curious to see which of your tweets are being Favorited by others, create an alert with favstar.fm to have alerts sent to your Reader.

Want to Learn More?

Here are a few additional resources to get you started.

Listening is just the first step. Now that you’re aware of the conversation about you or your organization, what are you going to do?

Your Turn

I’ve shared the free tools that I use, what about you?

  • What other free tools do you use to monitor your name?
  • Do any of these tools have shortcomings that bother you?
  • What about tools that search discussion forums or boards, like BoardTracker or BoardReader? Do you use them?
  • Do you use any Facebook-specific tools?