I cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of using monitoring dashboards to understand what people are saying about you, your industry, your competitors and more. The information obtained can be used as ideas for blog posts, marketing messages, competitive analysis, product feedback and much more. In addition to providing inspiration, they also help you become more responsive to your customers by knowing when and where people are talking about your company and products. I usually include monitoring dashboards in my consulting proposals for anyone building a new community or trying to have a more effective social media presence through blogging or Twitter, since knowing what people say about your company and your industry is such a critical element of community management, blogging, and other engagements with the community.
Who Should Use the Monitoring Dashboards
It is important to get as many people as possible within your company to use the monitoring dashboards. Each person or function within your company will notice or take action on different elements. As a community manager, I focus on people mentioning us on Twitter or in blogs. Product management and engineering might use the information to gather ideas for new features. Bloggers within the company can respond to what others are saying about your industry. Marketing can see how people are interpreting, misunderstanding, or resonating with the existing marketing messages.
The format really isn’t that important from my perspective, since these monitoring dashboards can take a variety of forms all with the same content. Each person should be free to customize it and use whatever format is most natural for them. I’ll briefly give a couple of examples of how they can be used to help you picture what they might look like for your company.
Quite a few people like to see it in a dashboard form, similar to the example below for Shizzow (click for larger image).
Other people who already live in their RSS reader would prefer to use their existing tools to monitor what people are saying about their company. In this case, you can maintain an OPML file that each person can import into an existing RSS reader.
Content is King
It is critical that you monitor the right types of content for your situation. In general, I think that most of the monitoring falls into 3 general buckets: vanity, industry and competition. I’ll give some examples of what to monitor in each of these three areas along with some tools you might want to use; however, there are many different methods and sources to monitor with no way to ever cover all of them.
- Blogs. Use feeds from Google Blog Search, Technorati or similar services to find people mentioning your products, your company, and key people within your company. You should also be using Google Blog Search to find people linking to your blog or websites using the link syntax (link:blog.yourdomain.com).
- Twitter. Even if you don’t have a corporate Twitter account or actively use Twitter, I would still monitor what people are saying about you on Twitter. I have a Twitter Sniffer for Brands that I prefer to use, since it picks up a few things that individual services (even the Twitter search) miss.
- Depending on your company, you might also want to monitor what people are saying about you on other social sites: YouTube, Flickr, Delicious, Magnolia, etc.
- Thought Leaders. Find at least the top 6-12 thought leaders within your industry and add their blogs to your monitoring dashboard. These people will have general insight into the industry and will provide ideas for future blog posts. You should also be following these people on twitter.
- Keywords. Use Google Blog Search or similar services to monitor keywords that apply to your industry to see what other bloggers are saying about your industry. These will need to fairly narrow words and phrases in order to filter out the noise, so pick something more specific to track.
- Aggregation. Services like Techmeme can also be interesting ways to find the hot topics in your industry. I recently wrote a Techmeme Keyword Alert Pipe that can used to monitor keywords mentioned on Techmeme.
- Competitor Activity. Put the feeds from your top competitors blogs, news pages, job boards, Twitter, and anything else you can find with an rss feed in your monitoring dashboard to keep track of what they are saying about themselves.
- Support. If your competitors have public support sites (discussion boards, Get Satisfaction, etc.), you will want to track those, too.
- Keywords. Again, you’ll probably want to track a few keywords (competitor names, products, etc.) to keep a pulse of what others are saying about your competitors.
- Individuals. Find a key employee or two from your top competitors who are very active on social websites. Add their twitter feeds, delicious bookmarks or other interesting information to your monitoring dashboards. At a previous job, I gathered a lot of very interesting information from the delicious feed of an employee at one of our competitors who liked to bookmark pages along with notes about how they could use the ideas to improve their product.
Overwhelmed yet? It really isn’t as hard as it sounds. Chances are that you have people in your company who are already tracking some or all of this information. Now, you just need to find them and get them to share with the rest of you.
Here are a few steps to help you get started:
- Send this blog post or a similar list of the types of content you need around to your employees and have each of them gather a list of feeds that fall within these three categories.
- Have someone very smart and insightful review these lists to pick out the ones that are most relevant and important. You can only track so much, so you are better off focusing on the important ones rather than trying to track everything.
- Find someone with advanced knowledge of RSS who can use Yahoo Pipes or similar services to help filter some of the content and then create the dashboards or OPML file.
- Distribute the monitoring dashboard to any employee who wants to use it. You may want to spend some quality time with the head of marketing, bloggers, and other key employees to make sure that they understand how to use the dashboard or OPML file.
- Revisit the dashboard occasionally to update it with new information. For slow moving industries, you could probably update it once a quarter while others might need to update it every month.
The monitoring dashboard will be completely different for each company. Some will not care about certain types of content that I described above, while your industry may have very specific and unique items that will need to be monitored. Find the content that is right for you and your company, and find a way to monitor it.