In our recent Part 1 of this reputation management series, we addressed the need to have a presence before you have a problem.

Step 2 is to listen, actively and constantly, to what is being said about you or your organization on social media and blogs.

Conversations on social media platforms move very, very quickly.  It takes seconds to tweet and retweet a message or a link.  Many bloggers’ journalism tends to be rushed at best, and sometimes motivated by anger.  A day is an eternity while a harmful message spreads unanswered.  And a bad review on Yelp! or Angie’s List becomes part of the online information available about your business, whether or not it is accurate.

Staying in the conversation is critical to limiting any harm and amplifying positive PR.  Opportunities to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative are fleeting.

What can you do?  Monitor, using whatever level of time and money you choose:

• Low End – free, DIY Google Alerts

Google Alerts are free, but they can also be slow.  Setting a search once will send updated results to your email on a rolling basis.  But where hours can be enough time to amplify and spread a message by a factor of thousands, the day or two that Google Alerts can take to send “new” findings can be forever.

• Mid-Level – monthly paid service

There are a number of monthly monitoring services that allow many search variations, are very fast and complete, and are for a monthly service fee.  Examples include Trackur, Nielsen’s Buzzmetrics, or Radian6.  Prices vary, and there are many more options in the marketplace each year.  These three examples are products that have been proven over several years’ use and improvement.

• Full Service – hire someone

If you have a PR budget, find room in it for monitoring.  All of the investment in positive PR can be undermined in an afternoon if you are not doing all that you can to hear and react immediately to negative messages.  Most all PR firms offer monitoring and response services.  If yours will not, we suggest that you start interviewing new ones.

Whether you know it or not, chances are very good that people are talking, tweeting, blogging, Yelping, and Angie’s Listing about your business.  Knowing what is being said is vital to maintaining the best online reputation possible.

Next post:  Step 3, Iron While Damp – why you should (almost) always respond, quickly.  some exceptions.