social media how toDo you need a better way to manage the monitoring of your social media? Don’t want to spend a lot of money? How about a free alternative?

Keep reading to learn how…

Google Alerts has its uses, but it is simply not effective as a stand-alone tool for monitoring social media conversations on a day-to-day basis. Dozens of paid options exist, including Radian6, SAS and Lithium.

However, with an RSS reader and some Internet savvy, you can build a powerful social media listening post at no cost. This article will show you how.

Knowing where your company is mentioned online, who’s doing the mentioning and how others are responding is crucial to 1) understanding the “buzz” about you, 2) addressing complaints and negative mentions quickly, 3) knowing the impact (or lack thereof) of your marketing efforts, and 4) shaping social media marketing efforts to reach the right people (key influencers) on their preferred platform.

Start With a Feed

A “feed” is a summary of web content that is updated on a regular basis. It allows users to keep informed of a website’s latest changes. The predominant feed format is Really Simple Syndication (RSS) 2.0.

Feeds allow you to easily see new content. A summary or “headline” view lets you quickly scan recent content changes, and headlines are linked to their appropriate content. RSS readers are very useful because you no longer have to search for relevant information; you simply save your search queries in the reader and the relevant information will come to you.

Unless you have another blog aggregator that you prefer, I recommend you sign up for Google Reader.


The first time you log in, the screen will look like this.

The remainder of this article will show you how to use an RSS reader to build a social media dashboard.

#1: Track News and Blogs

Go to Google News and enter a query into the search box. I recommend you use complex queries when possible, as they provide more focused results. If your query returns items that are relevant, scroll down and click the RSS button at the very bottom of the page. On most sites they appear as orange badges.

After clicking the button, copy the URL of the page that comes up. This is the RSS feed for your search query.

google news

You just want the URL (indicated by the arrow). The rest of the page is not intended for humans to read, but for an RSS aggregator like Google Reader.

Go back to Google Reader and click the “Add a Subscription” button in the upper left corner.

add a sub

I’ve marked it in the screenshot above with an arrow.

Paste the URL into the form field that appears.

Now every time a new article that fits your search query goes live, it will be added to your Google Reader. Add as many query feeds as produce articles relevant to your brand or industry.

rss badges

Here's a selection of RSS Feed badges, both traditional and creative, that you may find on blogs.

Go to Google Blog Search and run search queries, pasting the RSS feeds of queries with relevant results into Google Reader as above.

#2: Track Wikipedia

Wikipedia is where experts, industry leaders, researchers and other key influencers talk. You may have thought it was just an online encyclopedia, but it has a forum for every single article posted. Lively discussions are often ongoing behind the scenes, as each article has its own discussion page where Wikipedia editors debate and discuss.

You’ll want to know what people are saying about your page, your competitors and your industry.

Subscribe both to edits made to each article you select as well as its corresponding discussion page, in order to monitor what people are saying.


View History shows you a log of all edits made, along with the time, editor and often a summary of the changes.

To do this, select the “History” tab above the article, then on the left sidebar click “Toolbox” and then “Atom” with the orange RSS badge next to it. Paste the URL into Google Reader.

If you want to subscribe to discussion on the article as well, click the “Discussion” tab above the article, then click “History” then “Atom” as described above. You may also want to subscribe to pages about your competition or about the industry itself.


Atom is a type of RSS feed and works exactly the same way. Find the button in the left sidebar.

#3: Track Tweets, Comments and Discussions

Twitter is one of the main places online that comments go viral. Companies like Dell and Southwest Airlines monitor Twitter in real time so that a negative tweet about a product or service can be addressed quickly by customer service.

It is also important to note that Google indexes tweets. If your company, product or brand is being tweeted about, you’ll want to know. Luckily, Twitter is equipped to send information to your social media dashboard.

Go to Twitter Search, run a search query, click the “Feed for this query” link next to the orange RSS button, and paste the URL in your aggregator.

twitter search

Twitter searches can be imported to your social media dashboard.

All tweets you monitor will be stored for you.

Are you regionally focused, or is your audience in a single country? Click the “Advanced Search” link to the right and set your parameters. You can even specify whether you want to see positive or negative tweets, or tweets that ask a question!

twitter advanced search

Advanced search in Twitter is a powerful way to find exactly what you're looking for.

Go to Samepoint. This is an engine searching millions of conversations taking place on blogs and social media sites. User-generated discussions (other than Twitter) are typically not indexed by major search engines, such as Google, as they do not reside on static pages.

SamePoint converts these discussions into web pages, or permalinks, and organizes them within a tag cloud. Enter your search query and subscribe to the feed, just like above.


Samepoint search results actually show sentiment analysis with their "social tone" indicator.

Go to BoardTracker. This engine searches over 2.4 million live message boards and discussion groups. While Google searches message boards as well, BoardTracker serves up better results. Run your search query and grab the RSS feeds.


BoardTracker will draw back the curtain on Internet forums, showing you what people are saying about your product, service or brand.

#4: Optional Tracking

The above feeds are required for in-depth monitoring of your brand and/or industry. The following feeds are optional, depending on your particular circumstances.

If your industry has strong aftermarket sales, you may wish to monitor prices. eBay and Craigslist are the top aftermarket sales sites. The prices people are paying for your products there will help you determine aftermarket value.

Go to eBay. Enter a search query. Scroll to the bottom and click the orange RSS button, and paste the link in your aggregator.

Go to Craigslist. Enter a search term. Look for the RSS feed. You know what to do.

If you want to monitor your competition, or any webpage in particular, subscribe to an RSS feed at WatchThatPage. It will notify you any time a page is changed.

watch that page

WatchThatPage can extract new information from multiple web pages.

#5: What About Facebook and LinkedIn?

Facebook and LinkedIn are noticeably absent from this social media monitoring dashboard. Why? Because both platforms have privacy settings that preclude interacting with the general public.

Users must register, and then they can only interact with their friends/contacts (with the exception of Facebook Pages, which are indexable by the search engines, and LinkedIn Today, which is an aggregation of other news sources).

There’s not a search engine around that can search a closed network, at least not as of this writing.

social meda dashboard

This is a screen shot of the social media dashboard for my company, Sterling Rep Social Media.

As you can see, I can quickly scan the list for items of interest. While most of these are mentions of my blog posts, if someone mentioned my company (or me) online in a blog comment, forum, on Twitter or in the news, it would show up here.

The above plan will allow you to construct a powerful social media listening post, free of charge. It is searchable, saves all records indefinitely, and is updated upon refresh. Using it will give you a significant advantage over your competition if they’re still just using Google Alerts.

What are your thoughts?

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  • Nice….

  • Hi Tony, thanks for a great article. I use Google Alerts now to follow my industry. Your suggestion to use the RSS feed for the news search is excellent and something I will start doing today. Also, using Google Reader as a way to monitor Twitter searches is something I will try. I have to go set up my Google Reader now, thanks again.

  • Great ideas. I would recommend going 1 step further, however. Having all that information can be wonderful until there’s too much information to manage and with a large brand or industry, that happens pretty quickly. A client had his own listening post and missed growing negative sentiment because it got mixed up in the mess.

    I would invest the few dollars in qualitative software, such as HyperRESEARCH (less than $200) which will search for words or phrases and track how many it finds. You can read more about managing all that data at:

    Beyond just listening, you should be on the lookout for customer insights — unmet needs, problems, and anything else that gives you an opportunity to provide a solution. Remember, consumers buy solutions not brands. Listening can also provide subtle direction. For instance, if consumers are mentioning some parts of your product or service as being great, but not mentioning other aspects at all, it may mean these other aspects are not valued. Maybe you can drop these aspects of your product or service, drop the price in reaction to your lower costs, and expand your market.

    Angela Hausman, PhD

  • Great post, personally I use Social Mention as well to compliment the feeds but the one thing missing is an automated dashboard to filter and summarise results. Currently this has to be done in Exel to create a summary report.

    It will be great when there is an aggregator available at little or no cost that can provide and effective summary that can be understood at a glance.

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  • If you want an excellent free tool to add to this list I would recommend . It even out preformed some of the paid for tools that we have evaluated too!

  • Good article for SME’s but still, you have no strategic view on the buzz. I believe, we´ll see free monitoring tools available in the market in short.

  • Such a helpful post, and a real time saver.

  • Great article!

  • kaziam

    Fantastic tips! Thank you.

    And a great way to tune into what’s going on your industry as well. Being able to find and meet the needs of customers is a huge benefit for a business.

  • Hey nice piece. I picked up a few tweaks. I did a similar post few months ago that might help with its own tweaks. Interested folks can link through here:
    Hope this helps.

  • This is definitely insightful information, but I prefer to use Post Rank to measure and analyze my social media data

  • For Facebook I use . It show me results from personal walls if it was open for all, but it hasn’t RSS.

  • @netvibes seems to be a solid tool for organizing feeds. I’ll try pulling some of these ideas back into my dashboard there. thanks

  • Thanks for this… What about exporting the results from this dashboard to an excel or Google spreadsheet? Any tips or simple api to use? It could be helpfull to have a weekly report! Thanks for your replies

  • Thanks for this… What about exporting the results from this dashboard to an excel or Google spreadsheet? Any tips or simple api to use? It could be helpfull to have a weekly report! Thanks for your replies

  • Guest

    These are all good ways to monitor social media. In addition to this, I still think it’s important to be more expansive with your listening. Using a social media monitoring tool will help analyze the conversation, in addition to just supplying you with mentions across the web. Alterian has a freemium edition of SM2,


    Community Manager | Alterian

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  • This article is after my own heart! I love how organized and succinct these steps are – thank you!

  • This is a great overview Tony. There are still so many people who don’t really understand the power of the RSS feed. I’ll be sharing this article with my community!

  • Tom Costello

    Great article Tony and thanks for all of the hard work. We love keeping track of new tools and implementing those that give our hotel partners an edge in a very crowded market!

  • Hey Tony! The tips are just great! I did new some of them, but this wikipedia tip literally blew me away! I will now go and subscribe to all of my competitor pages to monitor them 🙂

  • I think it will be a hard task to find a tool, which is capable of filtering information from that many diverse sources. To me this kind of monitoring is more of a day-to-day (or week-to-week) manual process rather than something automated 🙂

  • Excellent. Have done a similar monitoring solution. Do you know if it’s possible to get alerts for mentions outside of the English language?
    My google alerts only report English results when I know there are german instances out there…
    Any thoughts how to get these?
    Separate alerts for local language?

  • This is a great post with some great FREE alternatives. Doesn’t cover analytics or quantifies data captured but a good basic listening approach to what’s out there with your brand, industry and market competitors.


  • @yahoo-N5H6H2D7T6XZKPPDBE2AC5K63Y:disqus I took a look around the Reader interface and didn’t see a way to export results. If anyone else knows a way to do this, please let us know!

  • Hello, @facebook-100001232589864:disqus I think there are ways to scale this when the volume increases.

    I’m currently working with an insurance company that has 1.5 million policy holders. They’re just starting to get into social media and so are not yet willing to invest in a paid tool. I successfully scaled this tool for their use. They have multiple employees that spend an hour a day monitoring their social media monitoring dashboard, and each of their dashboards is set up to cover part of the entire spectrum outlined above. If one of them sees something that needs attention, they mention it on an internal microblog, and then someone monitoring that microblog refers it to sales or customer service as needed.

  • I took a quick look at openbook, but they don’t seem to offer an RSS feed on searches….

  • @IsmaelAlterian:disqus Thanks for your suggestion! I’m flattered that Alterian responded to my article.

  • Great post about free social media monitoring dashboards. What do you think are the top free social media tools? (i.e. hootsuite, tweetdeck etc.)

  • Fantastic article. Thank you so much. I will be setting this up ASAP.

  • Great post and thanks for sharing this. RSS feed and Wikipedia were mind blowing. I am going to use them from today.

    Singha Roy

  • Jack Taggerty

    Hi Tony,

    This is a great article and I would be interested in reading more about how small business owners (and others) can better manage their social media comments efficiently whether with a free service such as Google Reader or others not free. It is really an important time management issue for people involved with social media.
    Jack Taggerty

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  • Tammy Kahn Fennell

    Hi Tony, good article. I’d love you to try MarketMeSuite which is designed specifically for small businesses.
    Tammy, CEO @Marketmesuite:twitter

  • Great post Tony! So many tools exist, and there are always going to be different methods of going about things, but this is a comprehensive, and well researched starting place for SMBs and invididuals I think.

    I am currently researching/building my own method of social tracking and awareness for my PR consultancy supporting European and US startups. Since I work in a much geekier niche, I have to add tools like Greplin, Quora, and the tool I’m using to comment right now Disqus!

    For anyone who would like to follow my trials and successes, here is the blog link:

    Ryan Sommer
    Director, MaintainPR

  • Anne

    Funny, just yesterday I found a description of the same way to monitor social media, written in 2009 ( But this is a lot more precise with all the screenshots etc. Thanks for this great post!

  • Wow, if I had 1.5 million users I would seriously consider investing some money into a social media tool. At least they’re getting their feet wet at this point.

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  • Or… you could just use one of the many free services that aren’t simply hobbled together mess of duct tape and bailing wire. Favorites include:,, and I mean the solution offered here is interesting but really, without Facebook you basically built a social media monitoring tool without including the largest social network, which seems a tad silly.

  • EXACTLY. Getting them to hire me in the first place was such a difficult decision for them that additional spending is out of the question. My plan is to show them value and then show them how a paid tool can deliver even more value.

  • You can get RSS feeds on Google searches in any language. Just have to set the language in advanced options. 

  • Yes, those are wholly separate articles to be written… 

  • If I tell you what they are today, my opinion may be obsolete tomorrow. And when you say top 3, do you mean most popular, or best? 

  • I’d be happy to review it. 

  •  Best all around tool that provides many functions but are quality.

  • Kerryn

     Google Reader also allows you to track Twitter and Ebay direct from the reader…but it is buried under the Browse For Stuff >Search …then Track Keywords and Search down the bottom!

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  • Rebecca Olkowski

    I’ve been using IGoogle instead of Google reader and use it as my home page because it is easier for me to read than Google Reader.  Just go to Get More Stuff and subscribe to RSS on the bottom of the next page.  I signed up for Gist which is pretty cool and includes Facebook and Outlook, but I have to admit I forget to visit it.

  • Cool! this is real enhanced version of my initial thoughts, I liked it :-)

  • Tammy Kahn Fennell

    Just sent an email 🙂 

  • From doing some research into this, i beleive the search term required to enter into Google (Alerts or News) to acheive German results is:
    – is this what you are refering to?

  • Chandortony

     As a new beginner, I find the article is so refreshing and useful and I will adopt some of them.

    Am just wondering whether the articles researched through that means could be used in total in blogs, Facebook etc without obtaining the author/publisher consent.

  • Nice bro.. Thanks

  • solvencyiiwire

     Nice post. Thanks.

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  •  You might like to add listening into Answer sites into this great post. I believe you can get a feed from LinkedIn’s Answers section (on a per category basis). Quora has some feeds available now also.

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  • Edvaldo Corrêa

    Great post Tony!!! Small companies have difficulty making social media management. It is a great challenge to generate content, but monitoring is even more complex for this type of business. 

  • Edvaldo Corrêa

    Great post Tony!!! Small companies have difficulty making social media management. It is a great challenge to generate content, but monitoring is even more complex for this type of business. 

  • Not all free solutions are great solutions. They often lack the depth of analysis that a professional tool can give. I myself use Fuseware Social Insights that extracts detailed sentiment and influencer analysis, while letting me engage with anyone online simply by connecting my Twitter account to the platform.

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  •  Bookmark links twiter and facebook profile in various bookmarking sites …
    google scans soon and it will allow you to search for social media.

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