Communication is 50% listening and 50% talking. Most masters of communication are often better at listening than they are at talking. There are a rare few that can equally master both. I’m certainly no rarity. I still manage to stumble over my words when I speak, but I can proudly say that I’ve become quite the master listener. Here are a few free tools I use that can help you become a master of social media listening for your company and brand.

If you Google yourself or your company as frequently as I do, set up Google Alerts. You can use this tool to track what is being said about your you, your company, services or products your company offers, competitors and names of people in your competitors’ offices. Even better, these alerts can be sent directly to you via Google Reader, now discontinued, or email.

Print journalists are no longer the only ones with all the influence. Bloggers carry quite a lot of clout, or should I say Klout. By using Technorati, which searches a blog directory of about 1.3 million blogs or Google Blog Search, you can determine bloggers that already know you exist and develop a plan of action for those that don’t. Other handy free search tools include Twitter searchFacebook search, the other Facebook search and YouTube search.

TweetDeck or HootSuite are two of my favorite engagement dashboards. Here you can view multiple conversations as they happen and respond just as quickly. We recently set up TweetDeck to stream our @GlobalHMA feed on our front computer. Engagio is another great tool to help manage your conversations across multiple social networks.

Social Mention and Topsy, now shut down by Apple, are two social search engines I use to aggregate data from over 100 social networks and news sources. Much like Google Alerts, Social Mention allows for free daily email alerts of this social data. Plus, it also offers a CSV/Excel file to export the data for easy analysis.

Review your site’s analytics on a frequent basis or have someone else do it for you. There is a wealth of information to be found using Google Analytics. While it no longer efficiently shares all the keywords used to reach your site (“not provided”), it can tell you what sites your visitors are arriving from and a lot of other important data including its new social reports.

This is only a taste of free listening tools that exist. There are numerous options, both free and paid. When deciding what tools to use, it’s important to consider your brand’s needs, in addition to what, where, how and why you are monitoring.

Even if you haven’t dipped your toes into social media, listening is an important step before you engage. What tools do you use for listening? Does it give you a better understanding of how people regard your brand and services?