One thing social media experts always say is, “People are talking about you (your company, organization, brand, etc.) online already. You can’t control it, so social media allows you to join in that conversation.”
So that’s kind of scary…people are talking about your organization online, but where? How? When? Who? How can you find out?
The good news (and sometimes the bad news, depending on your perspective!) is that pretty much everything that happens online is indexed by search engines. Even if it’s in a private message board or user forum, it usually winds up indexed by Google. (“Indexed” means that the search engine runs programs that search through all the millions of websites in the world and catalog their contents, so they can be searched)
If Google and other search engines know about it, then you can too!
A great place to start is to set up a Google Alert for yourself. A Google Alert takes any phrase (your name, your company name, a person’s name, a phrase, etc.) that you set up, and then it will monitor the web constantly in search of this phrase. If it finds it, it will send you an alert email with a link to the page where it’s mentioned. You can set it up to receive updates immediately when the phrase is found, or just once a day, once a week, etc.
The main uses for this seem pretty obvious, right? You should set up alerts for your organization name. Be sure to put the whole thing in quotes, so it searches for it as a phrase, rather than as individual words. Here’s an example:
“Disney World” tells Google Alerts to return pages that contain both those words together as a phrase. (You get the same results by searching for Disney AND World) Just typing the words Disney World tells Google Alerts to find any page that contains the word “Disney” OR the word “World.” So that is going to reutn a lot of pages that do not pertain to Disney World, which is probably what you were searching for. If you want to know more about how to write search terms on the net in general, this is called “Boolean searching” and you can read more about it here.
So you know you want to set up an alert for your organization name. But how about other terms? For example, the name of your executive director, board president or any other prominent people in your organization? You might also want to reach out to people who are writing specific phrases, like “get rid of my dog” who are in “New Brunswick.” This is easy to do! Just create a Google Alert that contains both those phrases.
Since Google Alerts indexes blogs, websites, message boards and most of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Myspace, you’ll get a read on peoples’ conversations pretty fast. This provides an excellent opportunity to reach out to people in your community and people who are talking about you, your organization, and basically anything else you want to keep track of!
Of course, like pretty much everything Google offers, Alerts are free. You do have to have a Google account, though–which is also free and you can set it up with any email address (you don’t have to use a gmail address).
Google Alerts are great for indexing content all across the web. Another great place to go that is specific to Twitter is to do a Twitter Search. This is a great way to keep track of immediate conversations–since Twitter is so timely and immediate.
You can do this through an external Twitter software like TweetDeck (I’ll post about this later this week) or you can do it via the Twitter website at http://search.twitter.com. I would recommend doing an advanced Twitter search, though–you can drill down and be a lot more specific. This gets you more relevant results. What’s great about the advanced search is that you can search by location–you can tell it to return results that are within xx miles of this ZIP code, or this city. This helps you see what’s being said in your own community.
You might want to use these tools just to keep track of what’s being said about your organization. If you have more time or someone who wants to do it, you can search out people who are dealing with pet-related problems and talking about it in social media (I often search for “get rid of my dog” or “cat won’t use litterbox”). You can reach out to these people and offer them information, whether or not they are in your community.
This is what social media is all about. Bringing together people who have information with people who have questions. Sharing information and resources. Helping other people find answers. YOU have lots of great information that people are looking for. How will you share it?
And if you think that spending time on social media will not offer a good return on investment (ROI), just remember that you never know who will end up being a donor, supporter, adopter or volunteer. You might help someone clear across the country solve their cat’s litterbox problem…and they might become your biggest online cheerleader. Or you might get a check in the mail when they win the lottery! You just never know!