Seven simple steps to more effective social media listening

I’m sure that most of us have heard the social media truism that first step to being more social is listening.  An entire industry has sprung up around listening platforms.  Before you sign up for 12 months of service from the platform of the day, here is my list of low cost/no cost ways to be a better online listener.

Identify your top influencers and/or sources of information – If you are like most people, you know your top 5 to 10 off the top of your head.  What are the sites you visit everyday?  What sites do you feel guilty about not visiting more frequently?  What does your boss read daily? You get the idea.  My suggestion is find 30-40 sources.  I know that sounds like alot but we’ll talk more later about how to deal with the deluge of content.
Setup a Google Reader account – I know there are many ways to read RSS feeds but I like the Reader’s ability to share feeds and connect with people on Google.  I also regularly use my feed reader as a convenient time waster on my new HTC Incredible. Just scrape the RSS feeds from your source and add to the reader.
Create Google Alerts – In my world, there are granular things that I want to watch daily.  I know it is vain but I watch my own name and “personal brand”.  Some other obvious things include your company, brand, or competitors.  You can decide on a comprehensive vs. blog search depending on traffic – one approach is starting with comprehensive and then refine if necessary.  I also suggest setting it up for immediate notification by RSS rather than email.   If it has more than 10 alerts per day then you are either too popular (yeah, right) or need to refine your search.  You can track these through your Google Reader like any other feed.
Setup a Twitter search – I think this is the hidden gem of Twitter’s offerings.  Just go to and create searches on your keywords (use the same keywords from your Google Alerts if you want).  The best part is you can create RSS feeds for these search and then dump them into your Reader.  More advanced tweeters can add a search column in Tweetdeck.
Create lists on Twitter – I “follow” over 1,000 people on Twitter.  In reality, I probably care about 150 of them (sorry).  The best way to keep your signal-to-noise ratio high is to build a list important friends.  For example, I have on two lists on my personal Twitter account – Fresh Followers for new followers I’d like to get to “know” better and Friends of the Slice for people I really know or have met.  On the corporate Novell account, I created lists by our focus areas to reflect our most important press and analysts.  You can also easily find all of our Novell people on Twitter through a list.
Facebook – What to do about Facebook? I don’t have any simple answers here other than log in to read or get the Facebook app for your mobile device.  You can change your notifications but there aren’t many things you can do here.
Add an appointment to your calendar daily – This is where I often fall down.  I try for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes after lunch.  This is your social time – no excuses.  If you don’t dedicate time to being social, you are not going to be social.

By now you probably noticed that I didn’t mention “go out and drop a few grand a month on a commercial social media monitoring tool”.  There are plenty of posts about these products and if I had a dollar for every cold call I get from someone trying to sell me one, I’d have enough money for a Main Event buy-in at the World Series of Poker.  I have tested a few and am about to pull the trigger on one but am not still ready for an endorsement.  The fact is that very few people need the power of these tools and the dominant design just hasn’t emerged.  Also, as I have often tweeted, I am holding out for Google Analytics adding social media monitoring.

Did I miss any other obvious ones?  What is your listening strategy?  Any tips for streamlining things?

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Author: Frank Days

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