Expert advice is sure inspiring. Theory is great too for getting you on the right track from day one.

But this week I want you to take action!

It’s time we get our hands dirty and build something that should be at the foundation of any startup’s PR and community management success.

As you might have already guessed, I’m talking about your Ultimate Listening Dashboard.

And not the social media kind.

Your startup needs a system that monitors the Web for any content that mentions your company, your product, or the founders.

From articles and blog posts, to videos and photos; from the largest online magazines to the most obscure personal journals, the ultimate listening dash will help you discover, track, log, and engage with every piece of content you care about.

Big Brother would be proud :).

In the end, the dashboard will help you build a much stronger and larger community, collect feedback, troubleshoot customer issues, track PR success.

Whether you have 10 million users or just 1, a listening dash is a must have.

The best part: I’ll show you how to build it from scratch and the whole thing won’t cost you a dime.

Why Your Startup Needs a Listening Dashboard

When you first start telling the world about your startup, every mention of your company matters.

And if you’re doing something remarkable, people will be happy to share your story via a tweet, an article on their blog, or in some other way.

But how do you track these mentions?

Sometimes, your friend will tell you about an article they found.
Or you may be already following the site that mentioned you.
Or you may get an automated trackback from somebody.

Most of the time, however, nothing happens. And unless you are constantly searching for mentions of your startup all over the Web, it’s easy to miss articles that matter.

The price of this can be anywhere from failing to gain a devoted fan to allowing a PR disaster to take off.

You need a tool that will tell you exactly when new content about your company surfaces online, a machine that will automatically crawl the Web for relevant stuff and deliver it to your doorstep.

You need the Ultimate Listening Dashboard.

Step-by-Step Guide to Building the Dashboard

As promised, I’m going to show you how to build this thing from scratch and for free.

In order to make this tutorial clear as day and show how you can apply it to any company, I decided to use a random startup as an example.

Gumroad allows anyone to sell products online as easily as it is to share content. You can quickly build a page, get a short link, & start collecting money.

Let's do this!

(If you can't see the video or prefer text, read on.)

1. Sign up for Netvibes.

Go to Netvibes.com, click the Get Started button, and select Go basic.

Enter your startup's name as the topic, and click Dashboard it.

You’ll be sent to a page with a variety of information from different sources.

It can be overwhelming, so let’s clean it up.

Step 2: Clean up your dash.

Delete every feed in every tab, except for these ones:

  • Google Blogs
  • Wordpress.com
  • Yahoo! News
  • Bing News
  • BoardReader
  • Flickr
  • YouTube and Vimeo
  • WikiAnswers
  • Yahoo! Answers
  • Social Mention Networks and Blogs

Note: If you've just started your company, there won’t be many (or any) results in your feeds. But don’t get discouraged; things will get better!

3. Add more feeds

Go to Google and search for your own name (e.g. Misha Abasov). Choose to only search in the News and grab the RSS feed at the bottom.

Then go back to NetVibes, click Add content → Add a feed, paste the RSS link, and click Add feed. Then drag and drop the new feed into your tab.

Repeat this step with** Google Blog Search, **Yahoo! News, Bing News, Social Mention Blogs, and any other relevant search engines.

Search for your startup’s name, common misspellings, the names of the founders, etc.

4. Organize your tabs

Now, we want to organize everything into four tabs:

  1. Blogs & media
  2. Conversations
  3. Visual content
  4. People

Delete the default “Google: CompanyName” tab and rename the others accordingly. News becomes Blogs & MediaVideos becomes Visual Content. And don't forget to add an empty tab called People.

Now move all the feeds you've set up into the appropriate tabs. It should be pretty intuitive, but here’s a quick cheat-sheet of what you should have in the end.

Matrix

Note: Some of these feeds are specific to English-speaking markets so make adjustments as needed.

5. Adjust settings

This last step. All you need to do is set up your feeds so that they are easy to use.

The most important setting is Open directly on the site. When it's off, Netvibes uses its own (weird) way of displaying content, and we don't want that.

We want the freedom to open multiple articles at once, so turn this setting on for every feed you have.

All the other settings are don't matter much, so play around to find what you like. Here’s the way I do it.

Aaaand you’re done! You now have your own Ultimate Listening Dashboard!

How to Use Your Listening Dash

Once set up, the dashboard will be informing you about any new content that needs your attention. But what’s next?

Here’s my process for every piece of content I discover.

Process

1. Reading

Read the article and take notes. Is it positive, neutral, and negative? Decide which category it falls into.

This will give you an understanding of what to do next. You may also find feedback you need to improve your product.

2. Engaging

Write a comment or email the author. For positive articles, say thanks. If the author needs help or has questions, help them publicly or direct them to where they can get help.

A quick comment can go a long way because it shows that you care and that you’re listening. It also encourages people to write about you more often.

In the case of negative posts, your responses could help prevent PR conundrums, and sometimes even turn a hater into a raging fan.

3. Logging

The next step is to save the post so you can go back to it in the future. I use Diigo bookmarking service for this, but other tools such as Delicious Bookmarks work just fine.

Bookmark the article, tag it thoroughly, and make it “private” if you don’t want random people seeing it.

The main benefit of media logging is that you can always return to any article that mentioned your company.

You can use your database of content for case studies, testimonials, user-generated tutorials, and in many other ways.

You can also use** Weekly Mentions as a simple metric** to track how successful your marketing is.

4. Sharing (Optional)

If the article is good, share it with your audience. Post it on Facebook or Twitter and give the authors some love. They deserved it!

The extra traffic and the recognition encourages people to write about you more often and makes them feel like superstars.

5. Rewarding (Optional)

Many companies have found ways to reward their fans with small, inexpensive gifts that can be mailed all over the world.

For example, the guys over at Hockey Community send hockey pucks that get photographed, Instagram’ed and shared all over the place.

If you were considering spending money on advertising, I suggest you look into such micro-rewards instead.

This tactic will get you both devoted customers and the word-of-mouth amplification your startup needs.

Your Turn

Do you track what people write about your startup online? How do you respond to / engage with them? Do you have a system? Share your tips in the comments!


Shameless Plug Section

Just wanted to let you know I’m working on an awesome ebook about startup branding essentials that is going to be exclusively shared with Marketing Before Funding’s subscribers.

So if you didn’t have a chance to subscribe yet or if you were kinda sitting on the fence, now is a good time to join our community full-time.

But hell, tomorrow’s a good time too! And pretty much any day is good for punching in your email in the box below and hitting “Subscribe.” Just saying.

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