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2010 March 8 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: Are People Talking About You? Some Internet Services Can Tell

Several years ago a company advertised its hearing amplification device on TV by dramatizing how it could let you hear what friends and neighbors were saying about you behind your back.

Curious about what others are saying about you behind your back on the Internet?

Services exist that can alert you when you, your company, your organization, your product or service or anything else of interest to you is mentioned on the Web or elsewhere on the Internet.

Such services are outgrowths of older media monitoring services, whose clients pay to find out when they or items of interest to them are mentioned in newspapers, magazines or television and radio shows. The first press clipping agency opened in London in 1852.

With the explosion of the Internet into popular consciousness in the mid-1990s, such services expanded to encompass it, and new services came into existence that were Internet specific. Some of these services have come and gone.

But other services have popped up, some free, some pay, that you can use for purposes ranging from automated vanity searches — of your name — to obtaining strategic intelligence about how people are talking about your company’s products or those of your competitors.

The most popular free service is from Google. Google Alerts (www.google.com/
alerts) is still in “beta” or test phase, but it has been available for several years now. You can use it to automatically search newspapers and magazines that put their content online, blogs, general Web sites, social networking sites such as Facebook, video sites such as YouTube, Usenet and other Internet discussion sites through Google Groups or all of the above.

You can instruct Google to alert you as soon as it discovers an appearance of your search term, once a day, or once a week. Google can alert you through email or through an RSS feed to your desktop PC or mobile device.

The service works moderately well. But because Google’s alert algorithm is based on when your search term first appears in its top 10, 20 or 50 search results, on occasion its alerts are appearances that happened years ago.

TweetAlarm (www.tweetalarm.com) is a similarly free service. But it alerts you when someone “tweets” about you, your company or your product or service using Twitter (www.twitter.com), the popular microblogging and social networking service. Such tweets are short text posts up to 140 characters in length.

If you’re in a business or profession in which you have the need to hire a public relations agency or publicist, you might consider hiring a professional media monitoring service, provided your PR agency or publicist hasn’t already or doesn’t provide such a service itself. Commercial services such as these typically use human intelligence in addition to machine intelligence in selecting which alerts to send you.

The International Association of Broadcast Monitors (www.iabm.com), established in 1981, is an association of companies providing such services. Most of its members are small local businesses that monitor a single market or that monitor two or three regional markets, though a few are large companies employing hundreds of people and offering a wide scope of service.

Nielsen BuzzMetrics (www.nielsen.com) is such a service from Nielsen Co., a huge market research company headquartered in New York City that’s active in more than 100 countries around the world. The company says it monitors nearly 100 million blogs, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and various types of online discussion groups and boards.

The overall purpose is “online reputation management.” In promoting its service Nielsen asks, “Are you listening, connecting and responding in a way that protects and promotes your brand?”

Some companies, however, have tarnished their reputations, rather than polishing them, by being overaggressive in trying to manipulate public opinion over the Internet. One all-too-common tactic is for a company to pay bloggers, without disclosure, to make positive statements about the company or its products in these supposedly independent commentaries by ordinary people.

The market research firm Forrester (www.forrester.com) received criticism last year for its report “Add Sponsored Conversations to Your Toolbox.” In the report it recommended that companies arrange “sponsored conversations” with bloggers in exchange for, say, a free shopping spree at one of the company’s stores. The report did recommend that companies disclose such campaigns, but not all companies do so.

There’s clearly a difference between, on one hand, learning about opinion over the Internet and trying to solve any problems that may have caused it and, on the other hand, creating opinion through false representation.

Comments: editor@ccweek.com

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com

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