How to keep tabs on your company and personal brand using Google Alerts

Google Alerts LogoHow big is the World Wide Web in 2007? The answer to that question is hard to pin down, to say the least. I can find little reliable data since a report published by Berkeley in 2003 (at that time the Web had 170 terabytes of information, 17x the size of the Library of Congress), and an analysis done by Antonio Guilli in 2005 placing the number at 11.5 billion Web pages. The most recent data that I could find was an article from Pandia from February 2007 indicating that the size of the World Wide Web is somewhere between 15 and 30 billion pages, probably closer to 30 billion.

My point? The Web is big. Huge. And the best way that I know how to keep up with the new information that is being produced about my brands on a daily basis is to use Google Alerts.

This is a simple tool to use, and in my opinion, every professional up and down an organization should be using it. To set it up, take the following steps:

  1. Go to the Google news home page.
  2. Click the icon in the left-hand column that says “News alerts.”
  3. Enter the search terms that you want to track. I recommend tracking your company name and your personal name at the very minimum.
  4. In the “type” field, select “comprehensive” – this will track the Web, news, blogs, groups and all the information that Google has indexed.
  5. How often depends on your needs. I recommend once-per-day, but if you are really a stickler for finding out information more quickly, you could select “as it happens.” The only warning about that setting is that you’ll be getting multiple notifications per day and it could quickly overwhelm your inbox depending on how many alerts you set up.
  6. Click “create alert.”
  7. In the past I needed to confirm my alerts – I no longer need to do that, but I’m not sure if that is because I am using a Gmail account, because I have set up so many news alerts in the past, or because Google has done away with the confirmation step. So just be aware that you may have to confirm your subscriptions (or you may not).

That’s it! You’ll now start getting notifications to your inbox. You can remove subscriptions by following the links that are in each email, and Google has created a page to manage alerts that will let you see all your notifications in one place and add and remove them easily.

That covers the how, but a quick word on the why you should do this. The primary reason to set up alerts is obvious – if you are the owner or an executive of a company or work in the PR department, it is your responsibility to monitor your brands. This is the easiest, least-intensive way to make sure that you are up-to-date on what people are saying about your company. But there are some other benefits that you might not realize:

You will know what is going on with your company. If you’re an executive, you are likely privy to information before the rest of the employees, so this might not apply to you as much as to the non-executive who isn’t kept up-to-speed. It’s possible that by monitoring your company’s alerts, you’ll find out about acquisitions, financials, layoffs and even scandals before the rest of your colleagues. This happened famously at New York Times Digital where employees found out about layoffs before they were announced because of an article that was published in the New York Times.

You will make sure that a bad image of you isn’t being leaked to the public. By keeping tabs on your personal brand (ie, your name) you will make sure that you know what people are saying about you and how you are being portrayed on the Web. Think that your MySpace page won’t show up in a Google search? Think again. By monitoring my alerts with my maiden name (Melissa Reyen), I found out that I am among the record holders for Harvard softball for most times grounded into a double play. Slightly embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as this.

You will look smart. If you set up alerts to monitor not only your company, but also your competitors and the product or service that your company produces, you will be able to stay on the cutting-edge of the news for your industry. When you find out a particularly juicy tidbit, you can email your colleagues, who will think that you are super-smart and insightful for knowing this information, even though it was sent directly to you from Google.

You can be proactive. If you find out that some unfortunate information is being spread about your company, you can work to to avert the problem and end up looking like a hero. When I worked at Ziff Davis, we were often accused of spamming people – anyone who works at a publishing company knows that this is a fairly regular occurrence, not because we were spamming, but because there are humans involved in the unsubscribe process and things occasionally go wrong. This happened, and my colleague Mary Hart was on the case quickly to respond to a blogger who was ranting. Her actions immediately turned the rant into praise for the exemplary customer service that she provided.

Bottom line: If you don’t have Google Alerts set up, do it today. The small amount of effort will be well worth it.

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