Searching on Google is perhaps the single experience of the internet we all share. In the fine and flexible tradition of the English language, we turned the noun into a verb: to google (someone or something). The behemoth that is Google Inc. began over a decade ago (hint: Sarah McLachlan and Elton John won big Grammys that year) as a way to search for key terms on the net. Now it owns YouTube, has built its own social network, and created a smartphone operating system to rival the iPhone.
One of its underused developments, though, is the ability to automate and monitor specific terms or events or institutions on the internet for you. In a few simple steps, you can get an alert whenever your charity is mentioned or your plan-of-action praised.
As is true of all things Google, you must have a free email account with Google. Once you have that up-and-running, go to Google’s Alerts page to start your monitoring regimen. Please note: we are not talking about the recently-released ‘Public Alerts’ feature, which offers weather/disaster/accident alerts sorted by types and by your specified geography (to be shown on Google Maps).
The top ribbon of your Alerts page shows you the options you have to limit the feedback – and we encourage you to establish some strong limits to avoid a flood of irrelevant notices coming to your email. Let’s create one.
First off, you want to give some terms that Google is to search for regularly and automatically. We know of no limit of words you can use, but the more you provide the narrower the return will be. Note that as you design your alert, Google provides immediate feedback as to what it has found thus far for you. Thus you can gage the volume of communication you might get with your key words. By typing the name of your charity, for example, you’ll get notice each time it is mentioned in a news story or added as a link on another site – handy metrics to get a sense of what folks are saying about your organization.
Next you can demarcate where Google searches (just as you can along the left column of a traditional Google search – but remember the point is to automate this process). Is your nonprofit’s work often covered by the news? Perhaps a search for videos only will help you monitor how it is being treated on TV. Then define how often you want to be alerted to the search. This delimiter might be the best one to create different searches concerning similar topics. For example, of your organization works with community gardens, you might want to search each day for the name of your nonprofit on the web, but only every week for the term ‘community garden’ related to videos.
The alerts will arrive as a digest either to your GMail account (the default recipient) or you can have them sent to Google Reader, an RSS reader that monitors and aggregates news sources, blogs, and organizations that offer free subscriptions – a topic we shall cover later this week.
And ‘Create Alert’! You can make as many as you want (or ‘as many as you’re willing to read’) and edit or delete any that prove to be unhelpful. And for free you have just created an easy-to-gage system to monitor what digital media are saying about your work or any other interests.