It is important for you to know what is being said about your organization in both new and traditional media outlets. You may also want to keep track of posts and stories about candidates, issues, and legislation that your organization is interesting in. This post will give you two tips to efficiently monitor the media. These are the methods I use in compiling all the stories in my link posts.

Tip 1: Google Alerts are your friends

I love Google Alerts. They are great not only because you are sent an email every time your selected keywords show up somewhere, but also because from these you find many great new news sources and niche blogs that you may have not known about otherwise. Having effective Google Alerts depends on the same things that result in effective Google searches: it’s all about selecting your query so it only returns results that are pertinent to you.

The Google Search Guide is a good basic reference. In finding stories for my link posts, I use keywords such as “youth vote” “young voter” “young democrat” “college democrat” and “YDA.” Using quotation marks in your query will only return results that have all the words in order. In the case of the query “young democrat” not using the quotation marks would result in delivering all posts with either the word ‘young’ or ‘democrat,’ which is not specific enough to be useful.

Notice that my keyword is “young democrat” instead of “young democrats.” The former keyword will return results for both ‘young democrat’ and ‘young democrats,’ where “young democrats” would exclude ‘young democrat’ results. I would have missed out on a story that talked about “a young democrat from Arizona.”

My personal preferences for my Google Alerts is to have them Comprehensive (returning results from news, blogs, web, video, and groups) and to be sent as-it-happens (as opposed to once-a-day or weekly). This casts the widest net and returns the results to while they are still fresh.

When you are starting out write down a list of the topics that you would like to be alerted about. Obviously you will want your organization’s name, but there may be a lot more that would be useful to you. Once you have your list think about the best keywords to get you that result, add those alerts, and then adjust based on trial and error. I remember when I was setting up a Google Alert to get stories about Harry Mitchell (the best member of Congress in the United States, in my opinion) before he was elected to Congress. At first I used the keyword “Harry Mitchell,” but I noticed that most of my results had nothing to do with the Harry Mitchell I was looking for. I then tried ‘Arizona “Harry Mitchell”‘ and got better results. If you aren’t getting exactly what you want out of your alert, play with it until you do.

To learn how to really get specific searches, check out 20 Tips for More Efficient Google Searches.

Tip 2: RSS feeds will save you time and effort

RSS (Real Simple Syndication) in my opinion is the greatest thing since Firefox (which should be your default web browser). No longer must we individually visit every website we would like to read, not knowing whether or not it has been updated. No longer must we traverse the deluge of browser bookmarks, wasting time, energy, and bandwidth. Now the content comes to us, and it is a beautiful thing.

For those yet unfamiliar with the wonders of RSS, here is the basic concept. Your RSS aggregator (more popularly known as a feed reader) receives new content from the sites you subscribe to as it is published. All of the posts are aggregated in one place, so you don’t have to hop from site to site and you always know when there is new content.

The first thing you need to do is get a feed reader. You have many different options here. There are two main categories of readers: web-based and desktop application. I prefer to use a web-based reader because it enables me to read my feeds from any computer with an internet connection, as well as from my Blackberry. I use Google Reader, which is in my opinion the best option by far. The advantage of desktop application readers had been the ability to read previously downloaded feeds while you were offline, but now that many online readers include offline capabilities, that advantage has been negated. Some other online readers include Newsgator and Bloglines, as well as the Yahoo!, Google, and Live portals. Since you are probably going to be really working those feeds, I suggest the more robust online readers over the portal options, which tend to give you more of a cursory glance at a few feeds.

So you have chosen a feed reader. Now you need to find the feeds that you are interested in. Let me help you with your first few. Subscribe to Kevin Bondelli’s YD Blog. Subscribe to the YDA Blog. Subscribe to Future Majority. First let me commend you on your first three subscriptions, you have excellent taste. Now you need to subscribe to the other feeds you are interested in. Almost every newspaper offers RSS feeds for its articles segmented by topic or section. Visit the websites of your local newspapers and subscribe to those sections that you want to track. Go to leftyblogs.com and subscribe to the blogs in your state. Look at the blogrolls of blogs you currently read and check out those blogs to see if you would like to subscribe to them. If a website or blog has been coming up a lot on your Google Alerts for your keywords, it is probably a good idea to subscribe. Your subscription list will probably be changing often as you add new feeds and delete those that have not been useful. The longer you use your reader the better your subscription list will get, so keep it up.

For a huge list of RSS resources, check out the Ultimate RSS Toolbox at Mashable.

Conclusion

Between Google Alerts and tracking RSS feeds you will get pretty good coverage of the topics that interest you, as well as what is being said about your organization. There are other ways to keep track of stories and trends, but I am leaving the responsibility of sharing those ways with you. Leave a comment and share your methods, ideas, and resources.

Previous articles in the Traditional Media Strategy series:

Part 1: Media Lists and Press Releases

Part 2: Working With Reporters

Next post: Part 4: Rapid Response and LTE