5 steps to a social media listening program

Here’s how to do everything from identifying your keywords to building a listening dashboard.


It makes me sad to think about how many organizations miss opportunities to get involved in online conversations.

How many times a day do you come across a scathing review, one that discourages you from buying a product? Your decision could have gone the other way if the organization had responded to that review in some way—with an apology, an explanation, or a resolution.

The funny thing is, I bet most companies want to be involved but don’t know how.

If you’ve seen Jay Baer speak, you’ve seen his example of a motel review on TripAdvisor that’s been online for years. The reviewer talks about his fear of being murdered in the motel and getting HIV from the mattress. It’s the only review.

I’m going to demystify the idea of social listening. I’m not just talking about monitoring product reviews; I’m talking about blogs, news sites, forums, discussion boards, and social networks. Social listening requires more than Google alerts and a Twitter search, but it’s not hard. Once you create a listening dashboard, it’s even easier to monitor the Web regularly.

If anyone talks about your industry, you, or your competition in the comment sections of blogs, news articles, videos, or social networks, you now have the opportunity to decide whether to say something. Here are some guidelines to get you started:

1. Develop your keywords. Use Google Adwords to carefully determine your listening topics.

2. Monitor Twitter. You can use Hootsuite or TweetDeck to do this. First, create a search column for your keywords. Second, pay attention to who is tweeting. Start following these people, and add them to a list. My clients create my lists.

3. Follow blogs and Google search. In your RSS reader, create a folder for your listening campaign. Subscribe to the blogs you found in your Twitter search, and add them to the folder in your reader. Set up Google Alerts for your keywords, and add them to the same folder.

4. The kitchen sink. Here are some tools to help you monitor blog comments, Q&A sites, forums, and discussion boards, as well as other sites to pay attention to.

  • Boardreader scours forums and discussion boards.
  • Topsy watches blogs and news, and it shows you trackbacks from across the Web. Trackbacks are great because if you see something alarming, say, in a blog post, you can check to see how many people linked back to it. In other words, exactly how bad will the situation get? Are people paying attention?
  • Also keep an eye on Flickr, Yahoo Answers, Google blog search, video, Quora, WikiAnswers, socialmention, Facebook, and even WDYL.

5. Build the dashboard. Bring everything under one roof. Use a dashboard like your RSS reader, and build RSS feeds from each of the search methods listed above. Netvibes is a social monitoring dashboard that brings all these existing tools together. The user experience in Netvibes isn’t superb, but you can change the layout to a news feed or widget. Netvibes is helpful if you don’t understand how to set up RSS feeds, because it walks you through the process of installing various search widgets.

Follow these tips to watch the Web and be sure your company is involved when needed.

What tools do you use to monitor online conversations about your brand?

Lisa Gerber is the chief content officer of Spin Sucks, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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