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After mastering the technical tools of social media, the next step is to focus on outcomes. Here’s how to find out what are people saying about you and your brand online.

Social media is a modern relationship management tool. As a prospecting platform, social media make it easy to communicate to your sphere of influence in seconds. And as we’ve said here before, sharing helpful content is a great way to multiply your audience’s knowledge, teach them a new skill, or just make their day with a little humor.

But are they paying attention?

Reaching out is easy. It takes just a few clicks to share some comments, links or video clips with your sphere of influence. Determining if they are doing anything with those contributions is a bit harder. Other than a  “thumbs up” or a direct comment, how can you tell if your sphere of influence finds your social participation helpful?

That’s where social monitoring tools come into play. From simple searches to sophisticated software to monitor your social presence, monitoring your brand buzz is easy. And in many ways, just as important, if not more, than just interacting online.

Here are some ways to get started monitoring your personal or brand buzz online. Within minutes you’ll know what your sphere thinks – and possibly more – about your social media presence.

Search and find. The easiest way to tell if anyone’s talking about you is to search, starting within the social network itself. For example, if you type your own name/company name into the Facebook search box, then click where it says “See more results for…” at the bottom of the real-time search box, you’ll be presented with a “full” search of your name within the entire network. Scroll down to see if any of your friends have used your name in their wall postings. Better still, see if they have shared your comments or posting to their sphere of influence. You might not have otherwise known they liked your stuff – if they hadn’t commented but simply shared it on their wall – without doing a simple search. Searches work on most platforms – especially Facebook and Twitter – and you can quickly see who’s talking about you and re-sharing your content. Try this every day.

Check the built in monitoring tool and reports. Some social media sites have built-in activity monitoring tools that help you keep an eye on how people are interacting with your online presence. In some networks, these features are available to all users; in others, they might only be available to “business” users. For example, LinkedIn users can use the “Company Buzz” feature to keep an eye on key words or people – including themselves. The saved-search feature speeds up repeat monitoring throughout the day, and a trending graph puts the “buzz” along a weekly timeline. For business accounts in Facebook, the “Insights” report monitors a variety of social presence metrics: new friends, visits, interactions, and even lost friends. Plus, demographic-style monitoring of visitors tells you the gender, age group, country and language of your social visitors.

Websites and software. After using the search tools and built-in reporting functions of most social media sites, brand buzz monitoring might require some third-party help. A variety of free and pay options are available. For example, the website SocialMention offers a no-cost search of your presence across a variety of social formats, from blogs and networks to comments and social bookmark sites (like Digg). Simply type in your name or phrase and SocialMention scans the universe for anyone talking about you. It even offers some ranking and ratings to help gauge your presence. If you need deep data about your brand buzz, then a pay tool like SWIX analytics might be just the thing. With different “pods” that can monitor your presence across multiple sites, the software-as-service website also tracks online advertising campaigns and creates trendlines.

While social media doesn’t offer the same kinds of metrics as classic website traffic measurement provides, it’s still possible to analyze if you’re having an effect on people’s lives. Whether it’s a simple comment or they’re re-sharing your content with others, your sphere of influence is having a reaction to your efforts online. Make it a habit to check as often as you post, so you’ll know what they’re saying and how to keep stirring your brand’s online buzz.