Companies are pretty much in control of their own brand and of the messages they communicate to the market. This might be via their website or through other channels such as news wires (press release distribution services) and blogs.

Once the carefully crafted message goes out, then you lose control. You don’t really know how your message will be syndicated, covered, commented on or blogged about.

And, within the democracy of the Web, you can gain as much bad coverage as good. News stories can be commented on directly on many news sites; people blog about new stories. In addition, consumer websites such as Trip Advisor enable people to say pretty much what they like about you, outside of your control.

It almost seems not worth putting your head above the parapets.

The key to managing your brand and message is clearly not to avoid communicating, but to manage those communications – and the key to that is to simply know what is being said about you.

With so many websites around the world, how do you do this?

One of the best ways is to use Google’s free alert service. In short, you set up alerts for specific keywords and phrases – and then Google will e-mail you when those phrases pop up on the Web. It’s all pretty simple.

If you want to be alerted for a combination of words in no specific order, then you simply enter those words into the Google Alerts text box. Google requires you to confirm your identity, so you will either need a Google account, or Google will send an e-mail for verification.

If you want to be alerted to a specific combination of words (such as, perhaps, your company’s name) then you put it in double quotes, thus: “Labrow Marketing”.

This gives you the flexibility to search on lots of words and phrases – saving you the hassle of trawling the Internet for references to you or your company. Alerts can be sent either as Google finds them or compiled into daily or weekly e-mails.

We find it essential for monitoring clients’ brands and messages – especially when we are running a campaign.

There’s another time you might want to monitor your brand – that’s to find out if someone is stealing your website content. Sadly, this happens a lot, and it’s not easy to spot or to stop. Theft can range from copying and pasting text from your site to someone making a complete copy of your site and passing it off as their work.

A great site for checking for website theft is Copyscape. You enter the address of a Web page on your site, and Copyscape (using Google’s Web index) checks to see if any sites have the same content. It’s quick and it works – and is a great way of policing your online brand.

There’s a free service for checking the odd page and a couple of premium services for heftier work – including one that sends you updates automatically. Prices are pretty reasonable and well worth it for the amount of legwork (OK finger work) that it saves you.

The majority of companies do very little to manage their online brand. Yet, it’s easy to do and can help to not only track your successes but also to manage your failures – if someone is griping about you, you can find them and offer to put it right, turning their complaint into praise if you handle it well.