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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  1. Frank,
    Lots to take in here, and all good stuff. A few reactions…

    I whole-heartedly agree that the first step is listening. This is an echo-chamber comment for those “in” social media, but for those that are not: take heed. This is a salient point.

    I love me my Google Reader (and RSS in general). Some sy that RSS is sunsetting because links are shared on Twitter. Bull. RSS can be used for lots of things, including aggregating content, and, well, anything that has an RSS feed – like Twitter updates.

    Aside from commenting on the remainder of the specific points, I want to comment on the execution of this all. Yes, cobbling together a system of tools can rival what the big boys offer. But what this system lacks is the following:

    One: The ability to manage it all in one place. I champion RSS, but that’s not where all of this can really live. Having a central dashboard is attractive.
    Two: Contagiousness. Google Reader makes it easy (press ‘e’) to share an RSS feed as an e-mail. But if you’re like Frank or me or someone else inside a larger organization, you want to share with people (plural) on a daily basis an automated report of some sort (side note: I’ve got a post about that queued up). It’s not easy to do that with these tools.
    Three: Pretty graphs. Who doesn’t like graphs? We all do. Most of the big boys produce graphs, and that – frankly – is the language that some people speak (bonus points if it’s a graph inside a .ppt).

    I like the big boys (like the Radian 6 ‘s and the rest), but I’ve also submitted feature requests and called them out on their limitations. So, if you’re an upstart or a smaller firm or don’t need to manage/track many brands, then Frank’s outline is a great one. If you need to move into a more detailed listening exercise, then one of the paid services may be what you’re looking for.

  2. Great post. One thing I’d add to the Very beginning is “Figure out why you’re there.” If you’re a person interested in meeting new people your interaction is going to be very different than if you’re a blogger looking to build a following or a business trying to understand what people are saying about your brand.
    What about TweetAdder for auto following people who are talking about your search terms? You can follow from Tweetdeck’s search stream but it’s very manual and you have to actually see the tweets.

  3. I totally agree that there is a time and a place for the “big boys”. The intention of this post was to give people a simple place to start. Also, the dirty little secret of the listen business is that there are very few people who need the horsepower of a “real” product.

    I agree with your point about pretty graphs. Sadly, that is a major driver of my testing more products.

    Thanks and I look forward to your post.


  4. I like the idea of tweetadder but in practice automated following tools seem too non-specific to me. I kind of feel like I can spot those followers a mile away in my new followers list.

    I agree with your point about Tweetdeck. It is immediate but manual.

    Have you tried any of the other tools like Viral heat?

    Thanks for the comment.

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