I am sure Nstein and Brandimensions have fine, expensive public image monitoring products but for most small to medium businesses you are better off doing the following:

  1. Buy FeedDemon (Windows), NetNewsWire (Mac) - these programs cost less than $US 30!)
  2. Subscribe to PubSub, Technorati and Google RSS feeds about your keywords of interest (company name, competitors name, etc) in FeedDemon/NetNewsWire (here's my HowTo specific to PubSub but generally applicable to Technorati, Google, etc.)
  3. Check FeedDemon and NetNewsWire once a day for people talking about you, your competitor and your domain
  4. Reply and/or blog as appropriate once a day

FROM Do you know what they're saying about you? - globeandmail.com : Globe TQ:

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Initially involving the analysis of customer information contained on corporate databases, BI has spread to the Web. Using public image monitoring (PIM) or search-driven BI to stay abreast of consumer-generated media, two Canadian companiesNstein Technologies Inc. of Montreal, and Brandimensions Inc. of Torontoare gaining attention in the business world.

Putting a stamp of validation on Nstein, IBM recently started selling Nstein-based PIM applications that track content on blogs and websites. And Brandimensions counts major corporations such as Daimler-Chrysler, CBS and ABC among its clients. "The volume of information out there requires powerful analytics to find trends, patterns and relationships," says Mario Girard, Nstein president. "Our technology uses concept extraction to determine if content is positive, negative, or neutral." PIM can also track "the velocity of a story" in terms of how many web links are connected to it and how fast the story is spreading, says Bradley Silver, Brandimension's chief executive.

Nstein's PIM tools can gather data in 15 different languages and automatically contextualize the data. Brandimensions gathers data in English and Spanish and funnels information to more than 400 analysts who add context based on colloquialisms. For instance, the context of comparing a car to an animal can change. Calling a Ferrari a fox likely indicates a positive comment, while calling it a dog is probably negative. Using PIM reports, companies can monitor their image, react to what is being written, and take action to counter misinformation. "The Web is so important to sales and brand protection that it has to be monitored all the time," Silver says. "If a crisis emerges, you want an early warning system in place so your advocates can engage in the conversation."

But advocates of the brand are not necessarily paid employees of the company. They can be bloggers who like a certain brand or it could be web users who spend time discussing the product or service on review forums. However, there is a fear that companies are doing more than merely correcting misinformation that's out in cyberspace. There are those that engage in stealth marketing by paying marketers to pose as consumers to influence on-line discussions. In one of the better-known cases, a great deal of pre-release buzz for the independent movie The Blair Witch Project was created on-line using stealth marketing techniques.

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