If you run marketing campaigns, manage a product or service, or develop policy, you’d probably like to know what people are saying about the thing you work on in real time.

There are many ways to do this but my preferred tool is TweetDeck (above). I like TweetDeck because it’s free, it focuses purely on Twitter (still the go-to channel for breaking news) and its desktop alerts enable you to keep on top of what’s happening – with minimum disruption to your workflow.

In this blog post I’ll show you how to track brand mentions by setting up a simple keyword alert using TweetDeck. The whole process shouldn’t take you more than five minutes.

1. Go to Tweetdeck and log in with your Twitter account. It does’t matter how regularly you use Twitter, or how many people you follow – TweetDeck simply needs your log-in to access the Twitter firehose. (If you don’t already have a Twitter account, you can set one up here).

2. When you log in for the first time, you’ll see the default TweetDeck setting showing four columns: home, notifications, messages and activity. (These columns are similar to the ones you’ll see on your Twitter home page).

3. You can either keep these columns as they are, or delete them. To delete a column, click on the slider icon to the top right of the column. A drop-down menu will appear. Click “Remove” at bottom left of the menu to delete.  When I’m tracking public conversations around any particular thing, I usually just keep the “Notifications” column and delete the rest.

4. To add a keyword search column, click the magnifying glass icon in the navigation to the far left of your screen (just under the “new tweet” icon). Type your keyword into the search box. This keyword can be a single word, a series of words or a hashtag. Hit enter. A new column will appear containing latest results for your keyword search.

Add a search column by clicking on the magnifying glass icon and typing in your keyword
Add a search column by clicking on the magnifying glass icon and typing in your keyword

5. To track mentions in real time, click on the “menu” icon at the top of your new keyword search column (the two lines with circles at the top right of the column). The drop down menu will appear. Click the arrow next to “preferences” to view all your notification options.

6. Check the box next to “enable desktop notifications” to set up a desktop alert. Customise your notifications to the size you prefer (small, medium or large – hidden means the notification will appear behind any work you’re doing). Check or uncheck the “sound” box depending on whether or not you’d like to hear a noise when your notification appears. To close this drop down menu, click on the “slider” icon again.

Enabling desktop notifications by setting preferences on the column menu
Enabling desktop notifications by setting preferences on the column menu

7. Add further keyword search columns to ensure you don’t miss any bit of the conversation around your brand/ service/ thing. TweetDeck only searches the exact keyword as you’ve entered it. So if, for example, people frequently spell your keyword wrong, or your “keyword” is actually a term containing two or more words, you will need to add additional columns covering these mentions. You can also add columns for any related brands or projects.

8. Continue working in the happy knowledge that if anyone mentions your brand/ service/ idea/ project on Twitter, good or bad, you’ll be among the first to know. IMPORTANT: remember to make sure you are online and logged in to TweetDeck at the start of your working day, otherwise you won’t get the notifications.

When it gets to the point that you want to turn these alerts off, simply go back into TweetDeck, click on the menu icon for the relevant column, and uncheck the “enable desktop notifications” box.

I find these TweetDeck desktop alerts really useful as a way of keeping in touch with what’s happening in real time throughout the day – especially while you’re busy working on other stuff. Ideally you’d use them in conjunction with Google Alerts (via email – cover general web mentions) and – if you have budget – a paid social listening tool such as Brandwatch.

But in terms of potential crisis management and instant notification of any breaking issues, TweetDeck alerts are great.