Most nonprofit communicators I know invariably begin their work day by consuming copious amounts of news and information related to their organization and its issues. I typically start with a gaggle of Google Alerts, head over to news clips sent by our media monitoring service before a quick foray into social media for recent mentions, pertinent keywords and hashtags.

This early morning routine doesn’t happen simply because we love reading. Rather, the exercise is the foundation of our media monitoring programs, which is an essential ingredient in a nonprofit’s comprehensive public relations strategy. The nuggets we pick up help us learn what’s trending, identify important media influencers, get ahead of potential crises, formulate response pieces and curate content for social media, newsletters and our websites.

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Media monitoring is all about getting plugged in to what people are saying about your organization. It is a process for reading, watching and listening to content from various media sources and analyzing that content in light of your organization’s goals, which could include raising awareness of an issue, positioning it as a thought leader, raising funds or rebutting widely held misconceptions. In addition, finding positive media coverage can help demonstrate the value of a nonprofit’s communicator’s work.

There are a host of listening devices to help a nonprofit monitor the media. Because nonprofit communications shops tend to have varying budget sizes and capacities, this piece is intended to provide an overview of free and paid resources, offer insights on what you should monitor, and make suggestions on what to do with all that information.

Five Free Media Monitoring Tools

Though paid media monitoring services offer a number of attractive features, free web-based news monitoring tools are extremely powerful and provide solid data for your media monitoring work. Many small nonprofits get by just fine using only free services. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it covers some of the most popular and widely used free services.

Google Alerts 

If you only want to manage a single service, Google Alerts is your best bet. It boasts the range and sophistication of Google’s powerful search algorithm and emails you updates based on the search criteria you provide. It monitors websites, news, blogs, discussion boards, books and videos. It monitors by region and language and will send alerts daily, weekly, or as often as they happen—your choice.

Talkwalker Alerts 

I’ve heard my colleagues refer to Talkwalker Alerts as “Google Alerts, but better.” The service is very similar, quite robust and now includes searches of Twitter in your results. Talkwalker offers a handy service that allows you to download your results into a spreadsheet, which is useful for reporting. You can also import your Google Alerts into the Talkwalker dashboard so you can do your analysis in one place.

Pro Tip: Not all results will be useful. You’ll have to tweak your search criteria over time to avoid crowding your inbox.


Hootsuite is another standard bearer, this one for monitoring what’s happening in the world of social media and blogs with RSS feeds. Its main claim to fame is its social media management dashboard, which allows you to watch your profiles, schedule posts and manage graphics and videos.

But Hootsuite is also an excellent listening device. You can set up “streams,” or columns that aggregate content based on your search criteria. I use it to monitor keywords relevant to my organization, hashtags related to any campaigns I’m watching or running and even the feeds of partner organizations (and “competitors”) so that I can interact with them and learn from their content.


Consider TweetDeck the Hootsuite exclusively for Twitter. Twitter has undeniably evolved into an important news media outlet for practically the entire globe. This is a good reason to keep our ears perched to this particular social media platform. As with Hootsuite, TweetDeck’s main claim to fame is allowing you to watch and schedule posts for your own Twitter profile, but you can set up listening columns to watch other content based on your search criteria.

Pro Tip: In my personal Hootsuite and TweetDeck accounts, I keep tabs on reporters I follow on Twitter and several services that list queries from reporters seeking expert sources. This helps to streamline media monitoring and media relations work.


I fear this free tool may not be with us for much longer, but I include it because I have found it catches social media posts that Hootsuite and TweetDeck miss. SocialMention bills itself as a real-time social media search and analysis system. Like the other tools, it searches the major social media platforms, but also blogs, videos and images. I also like it because of its depth. It provides results that posted minutes ago and results that posted 88 months ago.  In addition, SocialMention provides analytics that help you judge how important your results are. The main search feature is still working as of this writing, but many add-on features have been going offline for a while now. No official word about the site’s status. Stay tuned though. It’s quite a valuable service.

Expert Tip — To get the most out of these free tools, it’s helpful to be versed in Boolean search tactics. This involves adding “operators” to your search terms to narrow down your results to those that are most relevant to you. Using these techniques will save you lots of time and energy. Here’s a handy guide to get you started.

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Five Paid Media Monitoring Tools

A subscription to a robust media monitoring service can be a nonprofit communicator’s secret superpower. Through automation, these tools cut down on the amount of time and energy you have to expend to manage your organization’s reputation and advance your communications goals. And they provide, by far, more and better results than free tools.

They come with a lot of bells and whistles. For example, many of these services are hitched up with databases of contact information for journalists, as well as detailed reporting tools that help you explain the value of your investment and efforts.

Some of these tools are pricey, and they often come with high-pressure sales tactics and iron-clad contracts that might be off-putting for some, but worth it for others. Again, this is by far not an exhaustive list, but an overview of some of the most popular paid tools that are sure to cover most of your needs.


Cision is probably the most best-known PR solution on the market. It’s the granddaddy of them all, having bought out several competitors and related services over the past few years. It is best known for its media contact database, but it also has outstanding tracking ability so that you are likely to never miss a mention of your organization’s name or key issues in major media and on social media.


Meltwater had the opposite evolution. It started as a news aggregator specifically to help organizations track media mentions and has branched out into the contact database game. It’s a smaller but weighty competitor to Cision that provides a similar set of services.

Pro Tip: These tools cost a lot. Often, price is negotiated based on the needs and customization of the particular user, so price estimates aren’t helpful to most. Many nonprofits band together to get a joint subscription and keep costs low. Even individual communicators have been known to share subscription costs when organizations don’t cover it. If you’re friendly with a communications peer at a partner organization or three, it may be worthwhile going in together.


BurrellesLuce once cornered the market on media monitoring, so it’s an important inclusion in this list. It was for a time the only news clipping service that would send scanned copies of your mentions in print publications from all over the country. It still bills itself as a leader in media monitoring that will provide you “behind-the-paywall” and copyright-compliant results from media outlets.

Muck Rack

Muck Rack is a relative newcomer to the media monitoring game. It came to life in the age of social media, so it has been built as a platform to help communicators find journalists in the Twitterverse who are covering and talking about our issues. It monitors for publications, beats, and recent articles, so it’s a contender in the paid media monitoring space.


TYEyes’ main claim to fame is that it does for broadcast media what the others do mostly for print and online media. It’s a search engine for broadcast, so if your organization needs to track coverage on television and radio, it could be a good investment. It briefly held a monopoly, but others like Critical Mention and the traditional services are getting in on the game. TVEyes maintains an online video and audio clip editor that many find helpful for reporting coverage.

Expert Tip: Even with all their features, no nonprofit communicator I know trusts them blindly. Most of us still supplement these paid tools with the free tools listed earlier. Search engines often catch placements that the PR tools miss.

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What to Search For

The best tools are of no help if you aren’t strategic about what you are searching for. Most of these tools are designed for you to set up and search various keywords and terms. At a minimum, you want to search for every variant of your organization’s name. But that’s only half the battle. Media monitoring can provide intelligence that ups your public relations game to the next level.  To take it a step further:

  • Compile a list of topics that are important to your organization
  • Include important people like your senior leaders and flagship publications or services your organization offers
  • Monitor your partners, competitors and government agencies connected to your work – get a glimpse of what they are talking about, products they are releasing and journalists they are talking to.
  • Find your prospects – donors you want to interest, potential partners you’d like to work with and well-known figures and celebrities who care about your issues
  • Watch how these same factors work in an unrelated area. For example, watch how nonprofits in public health work to inform how you communicate about public education.

Pro Tip: Monitor for tone and sentiment of your brand. Try Googling your organization’s name plus the word “sucks,” “reviews” or “scam” behind it. You might be surprised to learn what some people have said about your organization.  The intent here is to monitor not just what people are saying but how they are saying it. You want to detect any recent changes to public perception of your organization and its issues. Your goal, of course, is to have the most positive coverage prevail. In addition, you want to have mentions of your name to be on credible sources that lend their gravitas to your name. Your monitoring may suggest tactics you need to undertake to improve your results.

'Effective media monitoring is a continuous loop of planning, doing, engagement and refining.' #NPMC Share on X

What to Do with All that Information

So you’ve been monitoring. Now what? You may be suffering from overload, but you’ve also got a wealth of information that should inform what you do. Data should lead to decisions. Never forget that media mentions are a means to an end. The best use of media monitoring is to help you tie those mentions to the success factors that really drive your organization toward its goals. Media monitoring results are best leveraged if you:

  • Use it to begin building relationships with media professionals. Read and respond to their work. Learn who they trust as sources. Offer tips and share information with them.
  • Build your rapid-response communications muscle. Be prepared to fire off a letter to the editor, op-ed or call a media outlet to respond to late-breaking news that’s relevant to your organization—or to put out a fire.
  • Develop content for your owned media: your website, newsletters, and social media based on your monitoring results.
  • Tailor your search engine optimization based on trends you pick up on.
  • Analyze your organization’s unique value proposition to the marketplace of ideas, spot threats to your position and define areas for improvement.

Effective media monitoring is a continuous loop of planning, doing, engagement and refining. Remember it’s one piece of the public relations strategy puzzle. As your organization’s brand manager, it’s your job to embed monitoring in a host of other activities that propel your organization forward.

DeQuendre Neeley-Bertrand

DeQuendre Neeley-Bertrand

Director of Communications at Schott Foundation for Public Education
DeQuendre Neeley-Bertrand is a 20-year veteran of the nonprofit communications field. She is director of communications for the Schott Foundation for Public Education. A typical day is about 30 hours of writing, editing, media relations, website management, social media, video editing, graphic design and other duties as assigned.
DeQuendre Neeley-Bertrand
DeQuendre Neeley-Bertrand

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