28 Jan
Posted in: Geekery
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Online “Listening” Tools for Bloggers and Other Online Snoops

Here is a cyber-detective crash course for people who want to track others online. Okay, that sounds more nefarious than I intended. But, maybe you are a blogger who hasn’t, um, updated your blog in a while (cough, cough) and you wonder what sort of topics will draw the most interest from readers in the big TwentyTen. Or you sent an e-mail to your boss and wonder if she ever even clicked on the important link in it. Or you are just a big snoop. There are tools for that, my friend. I’m prepared to help.

The first tool in your online arsenal is a link shortening service. And you are in luck, there is a great one, http://bit.ly, which is free and super-easy to use. Sign up in a few short clicks for an account and you can take any link and shorten it before tweeting it, using it in your status update, or including it in a blog or e-mail, not just because they are shorter (an absolute necessity on Twitter), but because there are some great metrics that you can get off of these services. See how many people actually clicked on that link (you can embed the link with a bit.ly URL, too) and you’ll get a much better idea if people are really interested in that amazing tiramisu recipe or just sad salads. It’s also great when you want to track an individual or small group. So, for example, let’s say you want to send an important URL to the boss or your online portfolio to a prospective employer. If you send him or her a bit.ly link instead of the normal “long url address” version, you’ll know when he or she’s clicked on it–or, indeed, if they never did. (While checking your bit.ly stats, it’s best if you also slowly tap your fingertips together while saying, “Exxxxcellent.” You can almost feel yourself getting more omniscient while you watch the clicks come in…or even if they don’t.)

Google alerts are another great way to listen. You can set up one, or many, at http://www.google.com/alerts and I can’t overemphasize how many times I’ve gotten a Google alert on something interesting that I never would have come across otherwise. You can set the terms as broad or as specific as you want, but I try to go specific because you can end up with a lot of alerts in your e-mail inbox (though, thankfully, you can set them to be daily, once a week, etc. and also by type, i.e. only searching blogs, etc.). The amount of energy used by people in the U.S. in googling themselves is probably enough to shock Walt Disney out of his cryogenic chamber and back to life, but think beyond yourself and set alerts also for family members and loved ones (“Dear Aunt Betsy, I was so proud to see you were promoted last week…”) or for items you just want to learn more about over time (“Indian cookery,” anyone?)

Whostalkin.com is another great site for searching social media. Use whatever terms you are interested in to track the online discussion on a particular subject or about a specific person. Interestingly, you pronounce it “Whos Talkin” not “Who Stalkin’,” as I originally had thought. Oh, well. Too bad, would’ve been a great name. 

Finally, how do you know which bloggers have “geek cred” in your industry or on a particular topic–and what are they typing up on their iPad while they slurp lattes in their parents basement? Check out http://technorati.com to help pinpoint influencers on a variety of topics. The higher their technorati score (on the far right, 1,000 being the maximum), the more “major” they are in terms of that particular topic. Please note: you can search for blog “posts” or blogs themselves. I usually search on the blogs (not posts) setting, myself, since I’m often trying to find people who consistently talk about a certain topic. Keep in mind that technorati lists (and therefore ranks) only a very small portion of bloggers by design (they would say the cream of the crop), so if you aren’t on there yourself (after joining the club), see what the people who ARE on there are doing for some interesting insight.

Finally, don’t discount flat-out asking people what they think. Get them to take an online poll, or ask questions on Twitter or Facebook of your current network. I’m often amazed at how much people are willing to share.

Finally, listen to one another. We all have a lot to learn. In fact, if you have any suggestions for ways to listen, please share them in the comments!

So, what do you think?