As the recession continues, so do cutbacks. So, we’ve listed 20 of the better (and free) online reputation monitoring tools in order to help you engage with the onslaught of social media. 

With social media continuing to increase in importance for online marketers, the problem arises of measuring both metric and sentiment results. While keeping a close eye on the volume of engagement is fairly important, it comes second to understanding what users are saying about your brand or products.

As such, earmarking a chunk of budget for professional monitoring companies and technology has enormous benefits, but it can be costly, especially for smaller businesses. Thankfully there are some great free tools out there to help you make sense of things.

We suggest you check out the following if you’re looking for a free buzz monitoring solution:

1. Addict-o-matic – Allows you to create a custom-made page to display search results.

2. Bloglines – A web-based personal news aggregator that can be used in place of a desktop client.

3. Blogpulse – A service of Nielsen BuzzMetrics. It analyzes and reports on daily trends within the blogosphere. 

4. BoardTracker – A useful tool for scanning and tracking within forums.

5. Commentful – This service watches comments/follow-ups on Blog posts and similar content such as Flickr or Digg.

6. FriendFeed Search – Scans all FriendFeed activity. 

7. Google Alerts –Daily or real-time alerts emailed to you whenever a specific keyword (chosen by you) is mentioned.

8. HowSociable? – A simple way for you to begin measuring your brand’s visibility on the social web.

9. Icerocket – Searches a variety of online services, including Twitter, blogs, videos and MySpace.

10. Keotag – Keyword searches across the internet landscape.

11. MonitorThis – Subscribes you to up to 20 different RSS feeds through one stream. 

12. Samepoint – A conversation search engine.

13. Surchur – An interactive dashboard covering search engines and most social media sites. 

14. Technorati – Search engine and monitoring tool for user-generated media and blogs

15. Tinker – Real-time conversations from social media sources such as Twitter and Facebook.

16. TweetDeck – Not only a great way to manage your Twitter account, but the keyword search means you can see what people are saying about you.

17. Twitter Search – Twitter’s very own search tool is a great resource. Can be subscribed to as an RSS ffed. 

18. UberVU – Track and engage with user sentiment across the likes of, FriendFeed, Digg, Picasa, Twitter and Flickr.

19. wikiAlarm – Alerts you to when a Wikipedia entry has been changed. 

20. Yahoo! Sideline – A TweetDeck-esque tool from Yahoo. Monitor, search and engage with the Twittersphere. 

As always, if you think anything is missing off this list, let us know! And since this article is about FREE tools you’d have to be a real loser to add a paid product below…