Kat recently had a great post about social media monitoring, and lamented that the post might be too elementary for her blog's audience. I disagree, I think that while many active individuals might understand the importance of monitoring, most companies totally miss it. And since we in the 'social media fishbowl' tend to all cover the same topics, I figured this one is actually worthy of more attention.
As I've blogged about before, I am obsessive about my blog's stats, and that carries over to monitoring. I monitor for blog mentions, for mentions of my name, and for links to this blog. I also track twitter replies, and even mentions of terms such as 'social media', 'customer evangelists', etc.
And all this is done in Bloglines. That way, I have everything there where I can look at it in one place, and because I get WAY too many emails as it is, and the last thing I need is more by signing up for Google Alerts. Now if you want to subscribe to a search, you can usually just click on the Feed or RSS button. These will normally work just fine, but what I do is a bit different. After I have performed a search and want to subscribe to the results, I copy the URL by right-clicking, then selecting Copy. I then go to Bloglines and click Add at the top left of the screen, and then Paste the copied URL and subscribe to the search that way. This way I can save every search in the same way, whether it's a search done via Google Blog Search or Technorati or Twitter Search or something else.
Now it's great to subscribe to the so-called 'vanity searches', but why stop there? I also subscribe to several marketing and social media terms. I do this to stay up to date on news and to keep up on how mainstream media is reporting news and information about this space. If you are a company setting up a monitoring system, I would focus on industry-specific terms, as well as your competitors, so you can keep up with what they are doing in social media. Who knows, you might pick up some useful ideas from watching how the competition is connecting with its customers.
Now for the big question; how much time should you invest in social media monitoring? It will of course greatly depend on how much time you CAN invest in monitoring. If I could only use one tool, I would use Google Blog Search. It's Google's search engine for blogs, and probably has the widest 'reach'. And in addition to searches for terms, it also lets you track links to sites/blogs, which is very valuable.
The next tool I would add would be Twitter Search. Think of Twitter Search as 'real-time' monitoring. Google Blog Search gives you a feel for the trend, Twitter Search gives you live feedback. If you need to monitor customer feedback in real-time, such as during a crisis situation, Twitter Search is what you need. Obviously if you work for a larger company, you will likely have more resources to devote to monitoring, and will have more feedback to track anyway.
Finally, what comes next? Or SHOULD anything come next? In my opinion, companies that are just starting to monitor shouldn't overdo it with too many bells and whistles. Stick with one or two tools that give you good results, and master those. This is why I focus most monitoring posts on Google Blog Search and Twitter Search. They both offer a ton of utility, and also complement each other well in what information they track. After you have been monitoring for a while, you'll get a better idea of the information that's relevant to you, and also of which tools can help you track that information. Then you can add more monitoring tools that work for you, after you are more comfortable with the process.
And I also like organizing all your searches in one place with a feed reader. Even though I use Bloglines, your searches could just as easily be organized and tracked with Google Reader, using the same copy and paste of the URL method.