Do You Know Who's Talking Behind Your Back?

"Once it's online it's forever"...The infinite and permanent nature of online information has been talked to death. But, amazingly, many small companies still don't know -- or use -- the many powerful (and free) tools and techniques at their disposal for monitoring what's being said about them and where. Every company, no matter how small, can benefit from keeping an eye on itself online.

When I started Skooba Design and was working by myself, getting a few orders a day, I had the luxury of asking customers how they had heard about us. As we got busier, I used our website stats programs to see where inbound links were coming from, and that told me where we were getting PR or other mentions. I still look at those links periodically and have often found some real press nuggets or good business connections that way. And we use many other tools and techniques for keeping tabs on our web presence.

Everyone has googled themselves and their businesses. That's a small but good first step. In an earlier post, I suggested taking the Google "Suck Test" to get at least a glimpse at any nasty chatter that might be going on behind your back. But there is much more that you can and should do.

Monitoring the online universe for mentions of your company and products serves several purposes:

  • As mentioned above, you'll know where you're getting PR, product reviews, etc. No need to buy every magazine, use a clipping service, etc... you can find virtually all of your press mentions for free and without leaving your chair.
  • You'll see who's talking about you in social media, blogs and forums and what they're saying. And you'll have the opportunity to participate in the discussion if/when appropriate. People generally appreciate companies that pay this kind of attention and "show up" for the discussion. We try to do so as often as possible, and it is always worth the time. We might nip a potential complaint in the bud, help answer a question, increase our word-of-mouth, or even make a sale. It's always good.
  • You might find business opportunities. For example, we've seen people chatting about which laptop bag to buy for their sales staff, and just by introducing ourselves, landed an order we probably wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
  • You can monitor and -- to some extent -- control your message and reputation. If you see something incorrect, inappropriate or unfair about your business, you have at least a shot at making it right. If you never see it, or see it too late, it often just spreads, and lasts forever.
Here are just a few great tools for monitoring your online image easily, efficiently and at little or no cost:
  • Your own web statistics: whether you use the stats package built into your site, or Google Analytics, Get Clicky, or any other source, look at where your visits are coming from. There's often a treasure trove of info and ideas to be found in them thar' links.
  • Web mention monitoring services: Most of us know (and hopefully use) Google Alerts to monitor our brand names, competition and other keywords. If you don't, climb out from under that rock and get on it. I can't even begin to tell you how much useful info these alerts have delivered to me over the years. It should be as important to you as getting almost any other business report. Hey, who's that guy dumping all your merchandise on eBay?
  • Social media monitoring: Such a huge chunk of information is now on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media, that there's no way you can monitor it all yourself. There are powerful applications and services that scour those environments and deliver the relevant data. Socialmention (free) and the very robust Alterian SM2 (free/paid) are two to check out. Isn't it good to know that SassySoozee Tweeted that your product rocks, and she's got 125,567 followers. And those 125,567 followers all have followers. LOL.
  • Business review sites: There are many sites that act as clearinghouses for reviews of businesses and products. Yelp is the most popular for local businesses. Angie's List is very powerful in certain industries. And there are many more, both for online and brick/mortar businesses.
Again, these are just a few of many resources for tracking your cyber reputation and other online goings-on. The main thing is that you do it; don't be the last to know.

What tools do you use to monitor your business, and what do you do with the information you gather?