This month’s Net2 Think Tank question asks, “How do you stay up-to-date online?”  There are so many blogs, news sources, and conversations happening at the same time, every day, and the chances that you’ll be able to find them all without trying is pretty unlikely.  There are hundreds of millions of blogs according to Technorati, and that’s just blogs! Think of all the places your organization’s name, staff, projects, programs or focus area could come up in the news, in campaigns, or in online conversations.

To stay on top of it all, I suggest you create a listening dashboard for your organization – and here’s how to do it!

Getting Started

To create a listening dashboad, I suggest using Netvibes.  This is a free web-based tool that is totally customizeable and can be used both privately or publicly.To get started, just visit and create an account.

Finding Feeds

Netvibes will let you track all kinds of things online, all by using RSS feeds or ready-built widgets.  Here are some of the best ways to start listening online:
Google Alerts
This free service from Google let’s you identify key words, phrases, or URLs that you want to track.  Simply visit to get started.  Here are some example searches using NetSquared as the organization.

  • “netsquared” or “net squared” – putting this in the search term area of the alert would mean that any time “NetSquared” is mentioned or “Net Squared” is mentioned, I will get alerted.
  • – putting this URL in the search term area of the alert means that if someone wrote out our URL on their blog, for example, I would get alerted.
  • “Amy Sample Ward” or “Billy Bicket” – putting this in the search term area of the alert means that any time Billy’s name (the NetSquared Director) or my own (the NetSquared Global Community Development Manager) is mentioned online, I will get alerted.

Try changing out the organization name and key staff names to match your organization’s information and give it a try!

You have a few other options when setting up the Google Alert.  You could choose to monitor only news sources, only blogs, and so on.  I would recommend choosing the “comprehensive” option as you never know where your name might pop up!

As far as the email vs feed option – we are using Netvibes so you can cut down on email!  Choose the “feed” option and then hit save on that alert.  You can then click on the linked “Feed” word that has the RSS icon next to it (the icon looks like a signal).  The URL you are given will look pretty weird (see the screen shot example below). Skip to the bottom to “Add Feeds to Netvibes” for next steps.

google alert rss example

Twitter Search
If you want to stay on top of all the conversations on Twitter about your organization or the topic of your work, using a feed from Twitter Search is really useful. To get a feed of the Twitter conversations, visit:  Similar to a Google Alert, type in some key words or phrases using the quotations, like, “netsquared” or “net squared” – it’s just like the examples above!

After you hit “search,” you will see there’s a “Feed for this query” link on the right side of the screen.  Click on that and copy the URL, then jump down to the bottom to “Add Feeds to Netvibes” for next steps.

Using the two tools above, you should get notified whenever a blogger uses your organization’s name or projects, etc.  But another great way to listen and tap into online conversations is to follow blogs about your sector or location and find opportunities where you can contribute to the conversation.  It is great to comment and be visible in the community of thinkers and doers in your sector.  There will even be instances where you can provide information or resources from your organization that may be relevant to the conversation.

Find blogs about your sector and subscribe in the same way, via RSS. A great way to find blogs relevant to your organization is to use Google Blog Search.  You can also follow one of the sector-specific blogs from

When you find a blog you want to follow, find the “subscribe to RSS” link or icon in the sidebar, or use the RSS icon in your browser’s URL bar (the icon is a square signal).  Copy the feed URL and then jump down to “Add Feeds to Netvibes” for next steps.

Add Feeds to Netvibes

Now that you have found all kids of RSS feeds you want to track, you need to add them to your Netvibes page.  With Netvibes you can create tabs to help organize all these feeds, too!

  1. Copy the full URL of the feed you’d like to add
  2. Go to your Netvibes page, and hit the green “add content” button in the upper left of the screen
  3. Select “add feed” and paste in the URL
  4. When it shows you the preview, click “add” and it will appear in a box below

To move the boxes, simply click on the top of the box (a hand icon should appear instead of your mouse arrow) and drag the box where you’d like it to sit on the page.

To add tabs, click on “add tab” and name it something useful for categorizing the feeds in that section.

Start Listening

There you go!  With your listening dashboard in place you can start monitoring what’s being said about you, your work, and your sector instantly.  You can add to it any time you find another blog or item to follow, just follow the same steps as above!

About Net2 Think Tank

Net2 Think Tank is a monthly blogging event open to anyone and is a great way to participate in an exchange of ideas.  We post a question or topic to the NetSquared community and participants submit responses either on their own blogs or on the NetSquared Community Blog.  Tag your post with “net2thinktank” and email a link to us to be included. At the end of the month, the entries get pulled together in the Net2 Think Tank Round-Up.

How To: Create a Listening Dashboard for your Organization
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  • Amy – thanks for this layout and some detailed tips on how to find more constituents online and listen to what they’re saying. I just added this resource to Gabi’s presentation on “How to Find Your Audience Online.” The slides and notes might also be helpful to those reading this post. Find, share, use and remix them at

    Thank you!

  • Hey Luise-

    Thanks so much for including the link to the slides – I agree that it’s a great resource for folks looking to better understand how to find the communities that exist online that you and your organization should join. Really appreciate it!

  • Thank you Amy, this is fantastic! I’m excited to set up dashboards for myself and my clients… the Google Alerts were great (but overwhelming via email!) and I hadn’t done any of the other things yet. See you in Atlanta!

    • Hi Margaux-

      I’m so glad to hear the dashboard how-to was helpful. I hope you’ll come back and comment (or email) to let me and the other readers know how it goes, if you have tips or ideas to share, and so on.

      Look forward to seeing you at the NTC in Atlanta!

  • Amy — thank you again! It’s going great. I love how the dashboard evolves as I find new things to follow and I can easily add them in. I don’t much care for NetVibes’s widget-view (it’s too segmented and kind of overwhelming for my eyes), but I like the list-view a lot. I’ve been making use of the different tabs with the list-view, so I have a tab for things that are interesting to me personally, and a tag for nonprofit technology etc., and so on.

    I wrote about it on GJD’s blog today:



    • Hey Margaux-

      Just saw your post, thanks! I’m so glad to hear that the dashboard is helping you out, filtering information, and saving you time (and brain power)!

      Thanks for following up

  • Amy,

    Can you talk about why you prefer Netvibes over other readers?

    I use Google Reader, but I haven’t tried importing twitter feed… can I do that in Reader also? I would be ON IT if I could…

    Thanks (and see you in a few days!)


    • Thanks for the message, Jessica! I prefer using Netvibes for the dashboards because of the easy public & private options (so you can make a dashboard that your community can see as well as one that just you can see – like and the interface in general.

      You can add twitter search feeds and anything that has an RSS feed to Google Reader as well. Just go to the user you want to follow or enter the search terms you want to follow and then take the RSS feed by clicking on the RSS icon in the browser bar (or clicking on the linked text that says “get the RSS feed”) and enter that into your Google Reader “add feed” option.

      Hope that helps!

  • Hi Amy,

    Thanks for the recommendation and lesson about using dashboards as listening tools. I haven’t tried Netvibes yet but will check it out.

    One of the things that really impresses me about companies and organizations in the social space is their ability to respond quickly at the mere mention of their name. That tells me that the organization has their ear to the ground and care about what people think. The quicker the response — the more respect I have for the organization.

    One tool I discovered recently is called Blogtrottr. It’s an immediate email alert on any RSS feed. No sign up account required. I use the Twitter search RSS feed for key words (name of company) or @companyname. Everytime someone does an @reply or uses the company name on Twitter, I get an email immediately. I log on to Twitter and respond to the person ASAP.

    Note: For the @companyname search I use “@companyname -RT” because I want to monitor questions or responses rather than Retweets

    I use Google Alerts too, but it is not as responsive as Blogtrottr.

    Another tool is FeedMyInbox. I haven’t used it but I have heard great things about it. However, you are limited to 5 feeds for free (more than 5 you have to pay a small fee).

    Thanks for sharing.

    Noland Hoshino

    • Hi Noland-

      Thanks for adding your experience here! I really appreciate your feedback about the way you feel about organizations that can respond quickly to mentions or questions online and think this is exactly why listening dashboards are so important. Whether it’s a positive comment or a negative one, a question or a story, organizations that can listen, find and respond quickly will be contributing to the creation of their brand and participating actively in the conversation about their work – far more so than those who aren’t.

      Thanks also for sharing some of the tools you use – hope other readers can check those out and share any others that they use, too!

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  • Scottc

    Hi Amy – just to say that this blog was useful when kicking off the buzz monitoring strategy for my young dads project – so cheers!

    ( . . . and here’s how I’ve used it in case you’re interested: )

    • Anonymous

      Hi Scott-

      When I saw the pingback I actually clicked through and read your post – very
      happy to have contributed to your work and wish you the best of luck! If
      there is ever anything you have questions about, please don’t hesitate to

      Thanks again,

      • Scottc

        That’s very kind, cheers Amy 🙂

  • Roger Wellington38

    Indeed a very good read! Very informative post with pretty good insight on all aspects of the topic! Will keep visiting in future too!

  • Thanks for the tips.

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  • Amy thank you for your summary of Dashboards. They are so essential and so few people cover them. I especially like your format- short and essential, Its a really great blog post.


    Stephanie Michelle of

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