Media monitoring platforms rapidly moved from “nice to have” to “must have” tools since their introduction to the PR industry. The reasons for this rapid adoption are readily apparent—technology delivers more accurate information, far more quickly than traditional clip services ever could.
The issue, for some, is the price tag. Even though there are many affordable options out there, sometimes paying more for a monitoring service presents an obstacle. And much of the time, when cost is an issue, Google Alerts comes into play. Bearing in mind that there’s a reason the adage “you get what you pay for” exists, here are some situations wherein Google News alerts are a viable and acceptable alternative to paid monitoring platforms.
When you literally have no budget
For large, professional organizations, there will almost always be a monitoring budget of some sort. However, if you are running a small mom-and-pop type organization that serves a local community, you probably haven’t factored in a monitoring platform budget in your business plan—and that’s okay. Setting up a few Google News alerts with your company’s name, or even the community’s name is more than likely going to meet your needs.
If you have very simple search terms
One of the most useful features of monitoring platforms is their ability to construct fairly complex search terms so that the right material is identified for the end user. This feature helps to weed out so-called “false positives”—keywords or search terms that technically match but turn out to be irrelevant. If your search terms are common, like “First Bank” or “Springfield High School,” you need to use more granular search terms to limit your results or you’ll be quickly overwhelmed with content. Having the ability to restrict “First Bank” or “Springfield High School” to a certain state or associated with other terms will save you time (and your sanity). However, if your search term is “Zack’s Zamboni Repair” your term is narrow enough that a simple search term through Google should suffice.
If you have low volume
Related to the simple search term item above, another perfectly acceptable reason to use a free service over a paid monitoring platform is if you have extremely low volume. If the company or organization isn’t running any promotional events, doesn’t get interviewed often in the local press, and isn’t pursuing an earned media program, setting up an alert through Google will work just fine. In situations like this, setting up an alert is basically a reactive measure—it’s simply to notify in the off-chance the brand or company is mentioned.
If timeliness isn’t a concern
One of the most important reasons companies opt to purchase monitoring platform subscriptions is the desire to be alerted as soon as possible when key search terms are found in media outlets. PR firms and corporate PR departments, communications departments, and public affairs firms rest easier when they are alerted at the very first possible opportunity when coverage is identified so they can respond as soon as possible if necessary. Given the importance of this feature, they are willing to pay to ensure that content is delivered quickly.
Free services can be very quick about delivering content—or much delayed. There are probably a number of reasons for this, from technical to logistical. The thing is, if you aren’t paying for a service, you are essentially at the mercy of the system, so it’s important to know what that system’s limitations are.
Google Alerts can be an economical and useful choice for some users—but it should always be an informed decision. There’s always a cost/benefit analysis to be considered, and costs such as the risk of being notified about coverage late should be factored into the decision-making process.