I’ve spoken quite frequently on this blog about managing your online reputation. Brands have an array of weapons at their disposal to control and influence what is being said about them online.

But how do you find out what is being said? And when do you start to respond and get involved? To answer these questions you need a Social Media Monitoring plan.

Here’s my 8-step guide to tracking and controlling your brand on Social Media!

  1.  What are you monitoring?

An obvious start point: ask yourself what you’re doing and why. Do you want to know when your company is bad-mouthed, so you can respond? Do you want to find out what’s going on in an industry so you can offer your expert view point? Do you want to find out what’s being said about your competitors? Do you want to find out who is looking for your type of service and then sell it to them? These questions will help you set some goals for your efforts.

  1.  Where should you monitor

You need to be monitoring the places that your customer likes to visit. Are they on particular websites, getting the latest news? Do they spend time on forums, exchanging views? Are they part of the Twitterati, or do they spend a lot of time of Facebook? You’ve only got so much time in your day – spend it in the places where your customers – and potential customers – hang out.

  1.  Decide what’s the most important

You may have answered this question with your decision about what to monitor; but you need to decide which social mentions are higher priority. Is it those people looking for customer service? Those that are recommending you? Or those looking for expert advice? You can’t do everything – so list the priorities and tackle them first.

  1.  Know how to respond

Before a situation occurs, you need to plan how to respond to it. For example, if you get a customer service query, are you going to try and answer that yourself? Or are you going to pass it onto the support team? If someone gives you a compliment, are you going to retweet it, or add it to your blog, or just thank the customer. Knowing how to deal with each type of mention is the key to dealing quickly and consistently with them.

  1.  How to involve others

If you’re going to bring others into the social media conversation – such as the support team, or the wider marketing department – you need to work out how to share information and develop resources with them.

For example, let’s say you are going to push all the support tweets onto the support team: How will you notify them of the tweet? Will you let them respond through social media? How will this customer interaction go onto the customer file? Will this change how you interact with this customer in future?

These questions will help you develop a seamless and fluent response to social media mentions.

  1.  Find out who the influencers are

Every community has its more active members, those that others listen to. Spend some time in your social media environment finding out who these people are and what they’re talking about. A key way to start building relationships is by talking about the same kind of things as they are. You going to need to respond and engage with these social media leaders in order to win over the wider community.

  1.  Use good tools

Depending on where you’re monitoring, you’ve got a range of tools at your disposal. Twitter has some great in built operators [link] that will make your job a lot easier. When it comes to the wider web, many of the basics can be achieved with Google alerts. But if you want to get more advanced, and use sentiment analysis, then it might be time to look at something like Alert Rank.

  1.  Reporting what you do

It’s important that others in your organisation know what you’re doing and why, and whether or not you’re achieving your goals. Set a clear reporting template that lets you put some numbers against your activity. This might be set at the number of interactions, the number of followers, the problems solved, the retweets achieved, the links built. All these help you let others put a value on what you’re doing.

That’s it! Monitoring Social media is a straightforward task, but to extract the most value from your efforts you need a plan. Use these steps to help you define your goals and take action along the way.