Alert Services


Alert services, also known as “social listening,” “social monitoring,” “news alerts,” or “change detection and notification services,” automate the detection of keywords and URLs shared on websites and social media. These services typically alert users of changes via email, in-app notifications, or other methods. Alert services may be considered a subset of altmetrics as they may be used to measure discussion and sharing of scholarly content outside of “traditional” scholarly publications.

Applications for assessing use/reuse

Though typically used by companies and brands to inform their social media strategy, alert services can be leveraged by digital libraries for assessment purposes. Alert services search across the social web for user-provided keywords and URL strings to identify and aggregate references to digital collections and digital objects. In limited cases, alert services may also be used to locate instances of image reuse online if the reused images include captions that contain keywords used in the alert. 

Alerts may come in the form of emails and in-app messages containing links to websites that reuse digital objects and/or excerpts from these websites in which a predefined keyword, phrase, or URL is mentioned. 

Alerts are qualitative the data collected will need to be analyzed, interpreted for meaning, and integrated into case studies or narratives that explain a digital collection’s impact. Though institutions can try and collect quantitative data from alert services like how many times a digital object was mentioned, typically the content of an alert that explains the nature of engagement with the digital object is most useful.


Commonly used tools include:

Ethical guidelines

Practitioners should follow the practices laid out in the “Ethical considerations and guidelines for the assessment of use and reuse of digital content.” The Guidelines are meant both to inform practitioners in their decision-making, and to model for users what they can expect from those who steward digital collections.

Most alert services search publicly available social media data, as well as other public content from across the web. While this means that alert services typically comply with the privacy policies of social media companies and the European Union internet privacy regulation GDPR, users whose use/reuse is indexed may be unaware of how and to what extent their data may be shared.


  • May show the impact of digital resources more quickly than citation analysis because they can include results from blogs, social media, journalism and mass media, and other frequently-updated and published sources.

  • Can demonstrate public and non-traditional scholarly engagement with digital resources, which is especially useful for institutions with a public service mandate.

  • Institutions that stage exhibits and events surrounding their digital collections may benefit from using alert services, as outreach activities such as these seem to lend themselves well to news features and social media mentions.

  • Alert services are more flexible than altmetrics services, allowing users to monitor the social web for keywords and mentions of scholarly content that may not have persistent identifiers.


  • Alert services may not be able to identify embedded links; webometric software would be a better choice for institutions looking for links to their resources.
  • Citation-focused alert services like Google Scholar Alerts rely on accurate and well formatted citations. These services also primarily search scholarly publications, missing public engagement with scholarly objects. Some types of digital library objects, like datasets, may be more likely to be formally cited in scholarly research than others.
  • May return many expired, invalid, or spammy results. Practitioners may need to dedicate time to filtering and cleaning results. Some services will allow the practitioner to “flag” unwanted results; this might reduce the amount of data cleaning required.
  • Many free-to-use alert services lack the ability to compile reports or export data, requiring manual review and collation of use/reuse evidence.
  • Alert services may return image reuse results, but only if the reused image contains a caption that references an institution, collection name, or digital object name that an alert exists for. Reverse image search may be more accurate for finding image reuse.

Learn how practitioners have used this method

  • Google Alerts for cultural heritage institutions
    Case study on creating Google Alerts for repository names, websites, and finding aid websites for 66 institutions randomly selected from the Archive Grid database. Provides best-practices on creating Google Alerts for cultural heritage institutions and highlights strengths and weaknesses of the service for different types of institutions.

    Kelly, E. J. (2018). Content Analysis of Google Alerts for Cultural Heritage InstitutionsJournal of Web Librarianship12(1), 28–45. 

  • Alternative assessment tools and techniques for digital collections
    Whitepaper outlining alternatives to citation metrics and how they can be used to assess use/reuse of digitized special collections and institutional repositories. Includes an overview of Google Alerts and Mention.

    Konkiel, S., Dalmau, M., & Scherer, D. (2015). Altmetrics and analytics for digital special collections and institutional repositories. Figshare. 

Additional resources

Documenting the Now develops tools and builds community practices that support the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content. 

“What is Social Listening, Why it Matters, and 10 Tools to Make it Easier” by Christina Newberry (Hootsuite) provides a guide to using common alert service tools to monitor engagement with your organization online. Though written for businesses, many of the concepts discussed can help inform assessment and engagement strategy for those managing digital collections, as well.


Contributors to this page include Elizabeth Kelly and Stacy Konkiel.

Cite this page

Kelly, E., Konkiel, S. (2023). Alert services. Digital Content Reuse Assessment Framework Toolkit (D-CRAFT); Council on Library & Information Resources.

Alert Services: Tutorial
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