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.
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.
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.
Kelly, E. J. (2018). Content Analysis of Google Alerts for Cultural Heritage Institutions. Journal of Web Librarianship, 12(1), 28–45.
Konkiel, S., Dalmau, M., & Scherer, D. (2015). Altmetrics and analytics for digital special collections and institutional repositories. Figshare.
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.
Kelly, E., Konkiel, S. (2023). Alert services. Digital Content Reuse Assessment Framework Toolkit (D-CRAFT); Council on Library & Information Resources. https://reuse.diglib.org/toolkit/alert-services/