When I first started monitoring my social media profiles I was using Google Alerts. It worked alright, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t giving me what I really wanted. Certainly, it was not providing the functional tools I was looking for, or the features I frankly needed to work effectively.

From there I began to search out paid tools. I found plenty, and I personally tried Radian6, SAS and Lithium. All three are amazing and did what they were meant to. But at a certain point, you start to learn that however good something is, something free that works just as well is always preferred. Saving cash is, after all, important.

The problem was that no matter how hard I looked, I could not seem to find an all-inclusive social media monitoring tool that would create the same effect as those paid options listed above. I started to think I would be stuck without any alternatives.

That is when I had a breakthrough: you have to make your own. Through tools, RSS feed and other alert systems you can create the perfect social media monitoring tool at no cost. All you need is to know how.

Why Should I Monitor Social Media?

This is a common question with several simple answers:

1. Seeing who is talking about you and what they are saying is important to understanding the impact your company is having on the market.

2. You can quickly address any problems that consumers have come across, eliminating negative feelings about your product. 3. Seeing the effects of your current marketing efforts in real time. 4. Network with potential and current customers fast, further personalizing your company and giving it a human face, not a bots.

These four reasons are the staples of why companies choose to adapt to social media. But they are not all of them, which should give you an idea of just how important it really is.

How Do I Create a Monitoring Tool? Utilize RSS Feeds

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a form of listing system that shows a cluster of updates through a single folder that can be subscribed to. It is an easy way to see what websites and blogs have been doing recently, without going to the site and sifting through posts and pages of content.

When you sign up for a reading service, you will be able to make organizing those feeds simpler than ever. Arguably the most popular is Google Reader, a free one that is easy to download and use. But any that you prefer will work for the purpose.

Through these feeds, you can create a full media dashboard that will help you to keep track of anything you choose. The following steps will teach you how.

Step One: Start Tracking News Sites And Blogs

You should start off with a keyword search. Go to Google News and type in as specific a query as you can manage. Make sure to try and get as much detail specific to your topic as you can, to focus and limit your results.

From there, you should have a fair amount of results to look at. If they are relevant to your initial search (even if some are not), it should be enough to get started.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page, where the copyright ©2011 Google is located. Just above you will see an orange box with two curved lines and a dot, in orange and white. It will be labeled ‘RSS’. This is the feed button.

Once you click on this it will send you to a command page with the coding of the search. Ignore the code, as you won’t need it. Instead, go up to the URL of the page. Copy this, as it will be your subscription parameter.

Once you have the code, you will be able to put it into your RSS aggregator, such as Google Reader. Click on “Add a Subscription”…on Google Reader, it is located on the left side of the page, just under the site program name.

Paste the copied URL into the subscription area that pops up and save it. From that point on, anything that meets that initial search criteria will be updated into your feed, keeping it all in one place. You can make as many of these as you like.

For a more targeted result for blogs, try the same process on Google Blog Search.

Step Two: Check Out Wikipedia For Updates

There is a seriously untapped resource for people looking to keep up with changes in their industry or company. Wikipedia is not just a site for user-generated articles and information. It is a place where discussions are regularly held by experts, editors and professionals. These sometimes turn to debate, and are often as interesting and informative as the articles they are based on.

These discussions occur on the talk pages of every article posted, which is linked in the original. If something is disputed or is being commented on, there is a link in the subsection to allow you to check. These edits can be monitored for change by subscribing to the article in question, which will also tell you about updated on the talk page.

Go to the article and look at the top. There will be a tab labeled “History”, where you will be able to see a complete listing of all changes and topics discussed since the creation of the Wikipedia page.

Select this and then look at the left side of the page.There will be a section called “Toolbox”, and in this link another called”Atom”. This is the RSS system, and it will be indicated by the same orange and white badge seen on Google News.

Click it and follow it to the page that shows the coding for the feed. Once again take the URL and copy/paste it to Google Reader. This will subscribe you to the article itself, though not the discussion page.

To get updates on the talk page, go to “Discussion”, and then “History” and “Atom” once again. Copy/paste in the same way, and create it on a separate feed.

Step Three: Track Tweets

A few months ago I made a complaint to my Twitter followers about a product I had tried and disliked. It was meant for friends, and I thought nothing of it when I commented on my experience. But within minutes it had been replied to by the company, apologizing for my experience and offering a freebie to compensate.

This is the nature (and benefit) of real-time Twitter monitoring. It gives you a chance to keep track of what people are saying about you, your product, your company or your industry. This is made even better by the fact that Google now tracks and indexes tweets, so they are archived for retroactive monitoring, as well.

Here’s a quick, very detailed guide on using Twitter search to track your brand mentions as well as on creating RSS feeds of your searches.

If you want to go a step further, you can click on “Advanced Search”, and give yourself a more strict set of criteria. That includes country of tweets, industry, search terms, secondary keywords, and negative or positive comments, among other things.

For Best Results, Use All Three

Of course, anywhere that allows RSS feeds will create another level to a dashboard for monitoring your impact on the web. But these three steps will be a great start to creating your tool.

Author Bio: Annie is a frugal blogger for Credit Card Finder, the money saving balance transfer credit card comparison app you can freely use with no registration or hidden costs.