Ten Tools for Tracking a Topic or Issue

Assorted ToolsThere is a fair amount of buzz out there these days about tracking your brand or reputation online. Individuals and companies are increasingly trying to keep tabs on what is being said about them on the Web, and in the best cases, engage with these conversations in a productive and meaningful way. Of course, there is nothing specific to brand or reputation about the tools that people use track things on the Web. Those same tools can be used to track topics and issues that are an important part of your personal learning.

So how do you listen in and find things that might be of interest? Here are some tools to help you out. It’s certainly not a complete set, but it will definitely get you started.

Hand Tools

Google Alerts
Setting up Google Alerts for a topic or issue is a great starting point. It won’t cover everything, but if you are currently not tracking at all, it’s a solid first step. By default Alerts is set to “Comprehensive” which means it will search across Web sites, blogs, major news outlets and Google groups. You can choose to have search results for any term you enter sent to an e-mail address of your choice. Any updates to the search results will then be e-mailed to you at the frequency you specify.

Better yet, you can choose to have the results delivered to RSS – which leads to the next part of this post.

… Well, not quite yet. Before we get to RSS, you might also considering supplementing your Google Alerts with a few saved searches at Addict-o-matic. With just these two quick tools, you will have already kicked up the volume several notches on your Web listening…

But if you want to take things further:

Power Tools

Personally, I prefer picking and choosing among multiple tracking tools and pulling them together into a “dashboard” by using an RSS reader. If you aren’t yet making use of an RSS feed reader, brand monitoring is a great reason to start. Not really sure what RSS is? Check out this great tutorial, RSS in Plain English, from Commoncraft. And if you need a reader, I recommend Google Reader along with this brief tutorial on how to get started.

Once you are ready, give the following a try:

Google Alerts
Yep, same Google Alerts as above, but you can choose to receive it by RSS feed instead of e-mail. Or, if you prefer, grab Google News or Google Blog Search or any of the other parts of Google Alerts as separate RSS feeds.

Technorati catches a fair amount of flack these days, but it is still a pretty good tool for picking up on buzz in the blogosphere. Similar to Google News, you put in a search term, hit return, and mentions of you across the social Web appear starting with the most recent. Hit the subscribe button and you can keep track of new mentions in your RSS reader.

Keeping up with blog posts alone may not be enough when it comes to staying on top of conversations about a topic in the blogosphere. And subscribing to the comments of every possible blog out there that posts about you is not realistic. Tools like backtype do the work of tracking comments for you. You can search for comments containing particular keywords and, of course, subscribe to your search results with RSS (or by e-mail).

BlogPulse Conversation Tracker
BlogPulse is a fascinating tool that helps you track conversations from the “seed” that started them. Sometimes relatively unknown bloggers might mention a topic or issue of interest to you, but instead of the post languishing in obscurity, it gets linked to by a much more popular blogger and the conversation explodes from there. Blogosphere helps you track the whole cycle. To get a feel for it, take a look at the following searches – one on the term “open education” and another on the URL for this blog, Mission to Learn.

As with the other Google and Technorati, you can subscribe to a feed for the search or even to specific conversations that the search uncovers.

Blogs are all the rage, but good ol’ discussion boards still generate plenty of…well, discussion out there on the World Wild Web. Boardtracker helps you find the ones that are about you. Just put in your search terms and hit enter. You can add the search results to your RSS reader (seeing a theme here?!) to keep track of updates and new conversations, and it you sign up for a a free account, there are a number of other tools you can use to track boards.

Twitter Search
From a brand standpoint, Twitter is becoming as important as Google. It’s the place where your people can cal all sorts of things about a topic – good or bad – in 140 characters or less. “Listening” to Twitter is much the same as listening to Google. Simple go to Twitter search, enter your search terms, and subscribe to the RSS feed for the search results. There are also various services, like Twilert, that will send search result and updates to you by e-mail. I recommend doing a search on “mission to learn” and seeing what you get.

Facebook Lexicon
Facebook has grown tremendously in popularity, but listening in to the conversations there can still be a bit of a challenge. One tool to take a look at, though, is Lexicon (Facebook account required). A search on Lexicon will give you insight into how often particular keywords are mentioned on “walls” within Facebook. While you can’t tell who has been mentioning a topic, the next version (currently accessible in beta) will also provide some demographic data, association with other words or phrases, and the positive vs. negative “sentiment” surrounding a particular word or phrase.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Social Mention. Similar to Addict-O-Matic, Social Mention aggregates what’s being said about a topic or issue across a number of different media sources and even assigns a “social rank.” As with all the others, you can grab your saved search by RSS feed.

If you pull all of the above feeds into a single folder for your topic or issue, you’ll have a great way of keeping track of the majority of what’s being said out on the Web.

Jeff Cobb
Mission to Learn

P.S. – Looking for other great tips and resources? Follow Mission to Learn on Twitter.

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