Online Chatter – Six Free Tools To Monitor What The Public Is Saying About You

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Here is the digital version of my twice monthly column, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation, for the Montreal Gazette. The good news is that it will also appear in the Vancouver Sun from now on as well. Who knows, maybe the National Post is next? As always, I am re-posting it here with all the links and tags. Lastly, if you can think of a good idea that you would like me to cover in a future column, please let me know (I’ll even attribute the idea to you).

Online Chatter – Six Free Tools To Monitor What The Public Is Saying About You.

In this age of new business, understanding the myriad conversations that are taking place online is core to not only having successful marketing and communications campaigns, but it’s key in understanding how people actually feel about your brand, products and services.

And – most importantly – if they’re buying from you, why they’re buying, and what they’re saying about you to their community?

The common mistake that most traditional businesses make is thinking that what is being said online has no real bearing in the "real world." Nothing could be further from the truth. We now live in a day and age where almost every first (and ongoing) brand interaction happens at the search box.

Don’t believe me?

Think about the last time someone told you about a brand. Odds are you did not rush down to the nearest store to check it out. You probably did a quick search online to see what’s being said and read what others are saying. We’re not just doing it for big ticket items, we’re researching everything and anything – from hotels to HDMI cables to paperclips for the office (we’re also comparing prices).

Here’s the multi-million dollar question: what are they saying about you?

Most businesses haven’t got the foggiest idea. Maybe someone in the communications department does an occasional search on Google to see what’s ranking on the first page, but that’s about it. In today’s world of interconnectedness, you may be losing real-world dollars simply because you’re not monitoring your reputation online. While there are countless robust (and expensive) solutions that help companies do this, there is a handful-plus of really good (and free!) ones that will take you there as well:

1. Google Alerts – input your search term (I’d suggest adding individual alerts for your company name, senior management team, products, brands, services and competitors) and you can choose what to be updated on (news, Blogs, video, the Web, newsgroups, etc…) and how frequently (as-it-happens, once a day, one a week). Now, whenever the terms you input are mentioned online, you’ll be notified immediately. You can create as many alerts as you want and you can be notified of updates either by email or through a RSS reader.

2. Technorati – Much in the same way Google monitors the Web, Technorati is a search engine that monitors the blogs. At last check, Technorati was monitoring over 120 million blogs. That’s a lot of people saying a lot of things. Technorati offers a free service called "Watchlists" and, much like Google Alerts, you can be notified as you are being mentioned in these millions of spaces.

3. Search Engines – even if Google accounts for a huge percentage of all search done on the Internet, it’s also important to know what comes up when Yahoo! and Microsoft serves search results about you. There are two things you should immediately be looking at: one is how many results appear on your given search terms (trending if that increases and decreases is a great way of seeing how much buzz you’re building) and the second is a little-known tool: if you enter your website address like this (obviously replacing your website with mine) in the Google search box, what returns is a list of all of the websites that are presently linking to you.

(slight correction above: to see all of the websites that are linking to your website, you must enter this: In editing the printed version, the “link:” part was removed).

In order to build your digital footprint, reciprocating a link back to an existing one that is valuable is a great way to build reputation – Google Search, Yahoo Search, Microsoft Search  (don’t forget to search on the .ca versions as well).

4. Google Blog Search – Google has its own blog search engine that sometimes returns very different results than the ones you’ll find on Technorati. One trick is to organize your search results by date (this way you can see the most recent conversations). You’ll see the link "sort by date" in the top right-hand side.

5. Twitter Search – one of the hottest new media trends is micro-blogging. Platforms like Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku and give anyone 140 characters to publish their thoughts. They’re also talking about brands. Twitter Search enables you to search one of the most popular platforms by keyword.

6. Google Trends and Facebook Lexicon – not only can you find out what people are saying about you, but tools like Google Trends and Facebook Lexicon enable you to compare your brands with others. Not only does it feed back the volume of mentions, these tools also provide some fascinating market research by region, language and related topics of interest.

It’s important to note that just because you’re seeing a high volume of traffic that everything is hunky dory. You could be getting a lot of traffic compared to another brand because of how much you suck as well.

Here’s the bigger idea: the Web provides the ultimate focus group (and it’s free). It’s authentic because you’re not locking people in a room and feeding them pizza to get their opinion. They’re expressing themselves (good, bad and neutral) without being solicited and with passion. Can you really put a price on that? Can you really afford to not be listening?

You can view the online version here as well: Online Chatter – Six Free Tools To Monitor What The Public Is Saying About You.


  1. Hey Mitch,
    Congrats on the column and thanks for this edition in particular.
    In response to your request for ideas for future columns, I suggest the next step after this one. Once we know all the people talking about our organizations what are the free ways to figure out who the influencers are among them?

  2. Love that you used Twitter to call out to your network to suggest tools for this column. Mine was Twitter search – nice to see it up there. I’ve only recently become a Twitter convert after having an account open for about a year, unsure what to do with it. Twitter search is definitely useful to me and my clients.

  3. Love the focus on monitoring, but I guess it’s been too long since we’ve been in touch, so CustomScoop fell from your radar. In any case, we now offer a Personal Edition product for free that has many of the same features as our paid product. With it, people can monitor coverage in online media of all kinds.

  4. This is a good list. I also just came across a thing called FiltrBox ( which looks like it may be promising. We use the Radian6 product here, and we’re very happy with it – in addition to sing all the free tools and techniques you’ve described here, Mitch.
    The other thing I’d add is that when people do their monitoring using things like Technorati, Google Blog Search, they should use the RSS features these guys offer to subscribe to a persistent search in their feed reader of choice. Avoids having to re-run the same search every time you want to check.

  5. Thanks for the comment MOCC.
    Two things:
    1. I wanted to highlight services that were 100% free, not ones that only have limited use for free.
    2. I covered the power of RSS readers in a previous column and, you are very right. Bringing it all together in one, centralized location is panacea.

  6. Hey Mitch,
    I’ve been a quiet listener to the podcast from beautiful Scotland for a few months since Garr Reynolds pointed towards your conversation with him – and I’m loving it (not in a fast-food kinda way…).
    Congrats on the new arrival to TeamJoel. We are 5 months into the new adventures of our family – our baby arrived in March. It’s simply amazing!
    Tracking your blog in iGoogle, which is on the verge of panacea (for me) alright.
    Anyway, back to this post.
    I work for a large Financial Services provider and am keen that we get involved in the conversation with our customers using *new media* (it’s not the smartest moniker, but you all know what that means, so I’ve used it).
    We came across this, you’ve maybe known about it for a while, but thought it relevant to this conversation….
    Some free advertising for some companies, but there’s something in there worth talking about.
    I think it’s great that there are people working hard to make their customer’s experience better. Isn’t that what makes a great company?! The challenge is knowing how much people actually want to interact and how much is just having a rant!! That’s harder to tell from a written blog – but I wonder if seemic et al become more popular, will that help us have better conversations?!
    Anyway, love the chat, keep it coming!

  7. Doh!
    First of all, two versions of the same comment as I got a browser/server timeout error when I added the comment. Both times.
    Then I realised that you picked up the company’s approach from a CC Chapman podcast in July.
    Now the world thinks we’re behind the times in Scotland. It’s not true, honest!

  8. We offer a social media monitoring and analysis tool that covers blogs, wikis, microblogs (like Twitter,, Plurk, FrienFeed, etc), social networks, forums, user-generated content sites like YouTube and Flickr and more. It brings back gender, age, location, sentiment and authority. There is a free version at
    When compared to Google Blog Alerts, for example, we typically bring back 10x results.
    This was designed for brand and reputation managers.

  9. You should also check out — it can track keywords / phrases in podcasts, videos, blog posts, news articles, (new) books, etc. Plus it can find local events matching your keywords. You can track your output (results) on the site or via RSS feeds.

  10. I drop a leave a response each time I appreciate
    a article on a blog or if I have something to add to the discussion.
    Usually it is a result of the passion communicated in
    the article I looked at. And on this article Online Chatter – Six Free Tools To Monitor What The Public Is Saying About You | Six Pixels of Separation – Marketing and Communications Insights – By Mitch Joel at Twist Image.
    I was actually moved enough to post a thought 😉
    I actually do have 2 questions for you if you usually do not mind.
    Could it be only me or does it look as if like some of the remarks appear like they are left by brain dead folks?
    😛 And, if you are posting on other sites, I’d like to follow you. Could you list every one of all your social sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

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