People typically think of social media as a talking tool. Indeed, the word media implies creating content. However, it doesn’t have to be our content. What about their content – our customers and prospects, our employees and partners? In business, we can listen to and learn from what they’re saying using social media.

Google Alerts

My favorite listening tool is Google Alerts. I first touched on this service in Chapter 4. Remember that Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Most of are well practiced at searching Google for what we need. We might call Google search results content that is popular.

The Google Alerts service allows you to receive automatic and continuous notifications whenever Google finds your specified words or phrases on the web, as it happens. Such information may be obscure – content that you’d never find in a Google search – but it’s timely and relevant, when you can use it to adapt to a changing marketplace faster than your competition.

You can use to monitor any kind of information of potential value to your organization, including:

  • Your name and your company name (for reputation monitoring)
  • Your product names (for reputation monitoring and detecting potential intellectual property infringement)
  • Your employee names (for your HR department – Human Resources – detecting potential issues)
  • Customer names (for sales)
  • Magic terms such as RFP – Request For Proposal (for even more sales)
  • Prospect names (for marketing)
  • Competitor names (for competitive advantage)
  • Partner and supplier names (for building relationships and detecting potential problems)
  • Industry terms or phrases (for accelerating learning)

What job function in your company wouldn’t benefit from Google Alerts? It’s helpful in absolutely every department. Google Alerts service provides information advantage in a rapidly changing world.

Remember the company review site mentioned in earlier Chapters – If you set a Google Alert on your business name, any time that someone writes about your company on GlassDoor – or anywhere else – Google will proactively notify you.

How might you use that? Well, among other things, GlassDoor provides a button that says “Add Employer Response.” If somebody writes something untrue about your organization, you can set the record straight.

I also use Google Alerts to monitor my own name, Dave Nelsen. Now, you’re probably thinking that even with the unconventional spelling there are a lot of Dave Nelsen’s in the world, and you’re right, I don’t care about the rest of them.

Google provides what might be called a simple mini-programming language to properly focus your alerts. You can find all the details by clicking the “Help” link on the main Google Alerts page. As an aside, while not required, I recommend that you create an account on Google so that you can tweak your alerts over time, as needed.

I focus my alerts by monitoring:

“Dave Nelsen” +“Dialog Consulting” (my name and my company name, including quotes to make the two word pairs into two exact phrases).

That tells Google to notify me only when it sees both phrases on a given site, which eliminates most of the other Dave Nelsens.

Since this single alert won’t pick up every mention of me – for example, when I’m mentioned but not linked to my company – I also monitor:

“Dave Nelsen” +CEO

That worked well until a company called Giftango promoted some other Dave Nelsen to be their CEO. So I edited my alert to be:

“Dave Nelsen” +CEO -Giftango

That eliminated all of the information about the other guy.

Imagine the value of getting alerts on your key competitors! But if you’re in the ceiling tile business, as is Chicago-based CMC Corp., you compete against Armstrong World Industries. People typically refer to them as “Armstrong.”

If you set an alert on Armstrong, you’re going to learn a lot about a guy named… “Lance.” So you set your alert as follows:

Armstrong -Lance

Since Lance is so dominant in the world of biking and is frequently referred to by just his last name, a better alert might be:

Armstrong -Lance -biking (you can have as many excluded terms as you want)

When Neil Armstrong died and was all over the news, you might edit the alert, no offense:

Armstrong -Lance -biking -Neil

You can further narrow your alert using AND and OR (all caps) as Boolean operators (note: “AND” and the plus sign “+” are equivalent; recall that the quotes designate an exact phrase rather than either of the words):

Armstrong -Lance -biking -Neil AND “ceiling tile” OR flooring

You can even focus on Internet subdomains (e.g., the government world) or individual sites (e.g., The New York Times newspaper) as shown below, respectively:

Armstrong -Lance -biking -Neil AND “ceiling tile”

Armstrong -Lance -biking -Neil AND “ceiling tile”

Twitter Search

Google Alerts helps you monitor a tremendous swath of the World Wide Web – including and virtually every other website, 200,000,000 blogs, press releases, Facebook pages, and lots more – but not Twitter.

On Twitter, people speak their minds in up to 140 characters roughly 500,000,000 times per day, mostly using their mobile devices (80%+). Monitoring Twitter is almost like having ESP – extra sensory perception. When I was a kid, ESP was the one super power I coveted. I wanted to know exactly what people were thinking. Finally, as I was approaching 50 years old (a few years ago), with Twitter Search I acquired an ability that almost perfectly approximates ESP.

It all starts at

Recall that the location of every mobile phone – as well as every fixed computer – is recorded every 10 seconds. This is true whether or not a device has GPS capability.

Side note: Next time you commit a major felony, leave your phone with your alibi.

Twitter Search combines what people are Tweeting with their location data. Think creatively about how your business could use this. Let’s say you run an auto dealership in Mars (PA, that is – my current location). Let’s find out who wants a new car in our neighborhood right now!

In the Twitter Search box we type: “new car” (in quotes to search for the entire phrase). And since we serve a limited geographic area, we’ll add “near:16046” (without quotes). To be more specific, we’ll also specify “within: 25 miles” (without quotes) because people will drive only so far for a good deal. The actual search query looks like this:

“new car” near:16046 within:50mi

1.93 seconds later, I discover four local folks with new cars on their minds:


“Scramble and find a new car – my inspection is up and costs way too much to fix. 188k miles!”

“I wanna New Car!!!”

“It’s time for a new car!”

In each case, we could begin a conversation by offering something of value to the “tweeter” – per rule number 3 – perhaps a “secret discount code” or helpful advice such as: “I’m a car dealer. Inside info: You always get a better deal when you…” (Not being a car dealer myself, I’d love to see the next 72 characters of this advice).

One other thing: Once you’ve created a search query that works, as with Google Alerts you can set it for continuous operation. You’ll receive automatic notifications as new matches occur in real time. How cool is that?

To do so, you’ll need a fabulous Twitter tool called TweetDeck. This is what it looks like when configured to show mentions of “back pain” and “new car” in my geography:

Think about it: Knowing exactly what is on somebody’s mind is what made Google rich. Google serves relevant ads with every search; it’s a proven winner! Using ESP (AKA Twitter search) for your business, in your geography, and then engaging within the norms of social media, you can find and win new customers.

Tune into anything that’s important to you, including people with positive or negative attitudes (customer service, anyone?), people posing questions, and people “referencing” your business (or your competitors). The possibilities are limited only by your creativity.