Public relations: What are people saying about you? Here's how to find out

Contributing columnistFebruary 24, 2014 

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations.

Listening. It's something every business must do in order to retain customers, grow new business and protect their brand. That seems like common business sense. And it is.

Every organization should be monitoring what is being said about them, says Doug Haslam of Scratch Media + Marketing in Cambridge, Mass. It enables the organization to gather intel on how the business is doing, what is going on with competitors, and/or what is happening in the industry. Listening opens a window into customers' lives.

Social media has opened that window wide. But how do organizations and businesses listen in the digital age? Customers are taking to social media to ask questions about products and talk about service. The comments could be good or bad, but business owners and organizations need to know that.

Before you undertake a listening or monitoring program, it is recommended that you conduct a communications audit to see how your business is communicating. This includes any printed materials, website, e-newsletters, and social media. You can do that by conducting a SWOT analysis, which involves listing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

When you do this, ask yourself three questions: Is this meeting our business goals? Why are we doing this? Where are our customers getting their information?

Once you answer those questions and conduct your SWOT analysis, you can decide what key insights are important to your business. To effectively monitor social media, you have to decide what you want to know. From there, you can set up a monitoring program based on those key insights. Reasons for listening could be for customer service, research, competitive analysis, and/or reputation management.

There are many options available to listen to what is being said about your organization or business. There's some very basic monitoring with free tools such as Google Alerts (Google.com/alerts), Mention (En.mention.net), and Talkwalker.com. You set up alerts using keywords such as your organization's name, product, or other topics. These tools monitor everything on the web from blogs to news outlets.

Social Mention (Socialmention.com) is another good free site. I suggest you use multiple tools to ensure you are getting a full picture of what's being said. You could use the search functions on the actual social media platforms. For straight analytics and reporting on various platforms, Simply Measured (Simplymeasured.com) provides solid customized reports for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It offers free reports as well as paid service for every detailed reporting.

If your business already has a presence on social media, then you want to look at some management tools with search and analytical capabilities such as Hootsuite (Hootsuite.com) or Sprout Social (Sproutsocial.com). Hootsuite has free and pro versions ($8.99 a month) though the free version lacks the analytics. Sprout Social prices range from $39-$99 monthly.

There are some platforms that provide budget-friendly pricing for monitoring and analytics. They have more features than free accounts and allow for measuring sentiment. Twtrland (Twtrland.com) helps you visualize your social footprint with plans from $19.99 to $249 a month. Another platform, Trackur (Trackur.com) allows you to check the health of your brand with plans starting at $97 a month.

For more enterprise level software, there are some very strong platforms, which provide a complex analysis. Netbase (Netbase.com) is one such firm that provides in-depth monitoring and insights through a customized command center. Pricing is tailored. Critical Mention (Criticalmention.com) is a media-monitoring platform which provides real-time TV and radio coverage about your brand.

Haslam cautions that you shouldn't become dependent on monitoring platforms, but should be on the actual social platforms yourself. And especially with free platforms, you should combine them for the best listening capabilities. If a free trial is offered to the platforms, take it. It is important for you try them out and see what works for you.

People are talking about your business and your organization. Don't you want to listen in and hear what they are saying? A monitoring program helps you do that.

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations. She proudly called Lexington home but now lives in North Carolina. Email her at ann@mindthegappr.com, or follow her on Twitter at @amvandenhurk.

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