edit Aliza Earnshaw on September 21, 2010
edit Who's saying what about you, when?
Every online marketing advice site is telling you to get active on Twitter, Facebook and other social sites. Reach out to your customers! Dialogue with experts in your industry! Win the notice of influencers in your market!track all this activity? You need to know who's said good things about you, and when, so you you can single these nice folks out and praise something about their website or company. You need to know who's saying less-than-good things about you - or things that just aren't accurate - so you can prepare appropriate responses. You should track who's interested in your field and hasn't mentioned you yet, so you can start cultivating these folks.
Getting proficient at using and tracking social media is more than just a "nice to have." Social media are an important part of online presence, and could become even more important over the next three years, according to some marketing experts.
Fortunately for you, people with deep experience in social media marketing have picked through the myriad tools available for tracking your social reach - and for watching what your competitors are doing. Here's a list of recommended tools to help you get started. Many have free trials or free versions, so you can play around and see how well a tool works for you.
48ers (visit) lets you search for mentions of your website on several important social networks, all at once. You'll turn up what people are saying about your site and your brand on Twitter, Facebook, social bookmarking site Delicious, news clip site Digg and Google Buzz. AboutUs Community Lead Mark Dilley favors 48ers as a way to "get a quick overview of activity around your brand on the most prominent social network sites."
Highrise is a customer relationship management tool for small business. Ian Lurie of Portent Interactive recommends it as a way to track when people say something about you on Twitter, Facebook or a blog. He uses it to remind himself to say something nice to or about people who have been kind to him.
AboutUs.org's Website Visibility Report includes a Social Media Visibility component that tells you how many times your site has been mentioned in the social bookmarking networks. Just type your domain name into the the AboutUs search bar - for example, MyWebsite.com - to get to AboutUs.org/MyWebsite.com. The Social Media Visibility button appears in the left-hand navigation menu. You may also want to check out the Home Page Analysis, which tells you how your home page appears to search engines - and offers tips for improvement - and the Search Engine Visibility feature, which tells you how many pages of your site have been indexed by the search engines.
Open Site Explorer (visit), created by the search optimization experts at SEOmoz, lets you see who's linking to your website. Even better, you can see who's linking to your competitors or other sites similar to yours - a great way to discover whom you should be cultivating.
Open Site Explorer has a free version and a paid premium version. The free version lets you see up to 1,000 links and 20 metrics, while the paid plans let you see up to 10,000 links and more metrics. You also get to ask SEOmoz experts for personal help with the paid version.
The link analyzer also lets you see how many links have been created to your website over time. If you have lots of links for a week or two, and then the number suddenly dives, you can try to figure out what you were doing right when you had more links. If a competitor had lots of links in a specific time period, you can look at their social activity at that time to see what they did to earn those links.
You can also figure out whether your site is hosted in a "bad neighborhood" - that is, you can check whether your current or prospective web hosting company is hosting sites that are considered spammy. You don't want to be hosted alongside these bad actors, for fear of being regarded by search engines as a similarly bad actor. This is an important issue that's not widely understood by most website owners.
TwitScoop (visit) lets you see which topics are hot on Twitter. You can use TwitScoop to post tweets and follow people, just as you do on Twitter itself. At the same time, you can observe the tag cloud to the right of your stream, which displays the hottest topics in real time.
Staying on top of trending topics can help you decide what to write about on your blog, in hopes of getting ranked high in search results. You can also find people who care about a specific topic - people who could be your prospective customers, business partners, or bloggers who might want to write about something you're doing. TwitScoop is free.
BackType is a free website that lets you find mentions of your website on Twitter, in RSS streams and in comments on blogs and elsewhere on the web. Mark Dilley finds BackType easy to use, and points out that it can find mentions of a site even if the person who wrote the comment didn't include a link. "Google Alerts and Google blog search are hit and miss on that," Mark says.
Tracking what people are saying about your site is good, but what makes BackType even more useful is that it tracks conversations. It's good to know what people are saying to each other about topics that matter to you, and about your brand. It gives you a chance to enter the conversation in a constructive way, before it spins out of control.