Of all the benefits of social media for business, the greatest come from listening. Consider this: you can listen unobtrusively – no one needs to know you’re paying attention. You don’t even need to sign up for accounts to listen. This is a great place for the socially-shy business to dip its toes into social media. After you’ve observed some success from listening, it’s also easier to make the case to senior management for social engagement.
Here are some tips to help you improve your ability to monitor the online chatter:
1. Get right with Google. You might use Google and other search engines regularly, but you’re probably not making best use of advanced features. Not everyone knows the basics of Google. It’s common to do a search and get millions of results. But you’d be better off getting fewer, but more relevant, results. Your overall goal is to improve your “signal to noise” ratio. So learn these basic tips:
- Put the exact search term in quotes, such as “Bob Jones University” to eliminate spurious results when using common words
- Use the “site” operator to restrict your search to only one website, such as “Form 990 site:irs.gov”
- Use Boolean operators, such as OR, as in “Bob OR Bobby Knight”
- The exclude operator ( – ) eliminates specified words: “Bob Dylan young -forever” eliminates references to the song “Forever Young” from your results
2. Use Google Alerts. (This service requires a Google account). Use Alerts to track mentions of your name, your company or your senior executives. As your alerts come in, you may find that you need to fine-tune your mix using the techniques above. You should also be a contrarian – be sure to monitor keywords that reflect your business category and your competition. It’s best to set your alerts to show up in your RSS feed rather than via email. Then monitor the feed regularly.
3. Set up your RSS feeds. Some say RSS is in decline, in part due to “black box” technologies that don’t include RSS and in part due to the rise of social sharing. But you can’t count on social sharing when there’s a cost associated with missing important news. RSS is a powerful way to aggregate most of your listening in one place. The most common RSS listening client is Google Reader (requires a Google account). But once your feeds are running in Reader, you can monitor them using other clients by syncing the feed (on iOS devices you might try NetNewsWire or Reeder).
Some argue that it’s too much work to set up and monitor RSS feeds. But if you’re a high-volume consumer of news and information, it’s too much work NOT to use RSS.
4. Use Twitter Advanced Search. The best way to find out what’s happening now is on Twitter, the beating heart of the real-time web. The next time a popular live event is on television, see this for yourself. As you watch the show, follow the most likely hashtag (or search term) on Twitter. Note the volume of tweets. Observe the tone of the comments. People on Twitter don’t hold back – if you’re watching the Oscars, you’ll get detailed feedback on every dress and performance.
The real money comes from the advanced search page (using “advanced search” pays dividends on almost every search). With advanced search, you can specify a location, very useful, say, if you’re a local chapter of a national nonprofit. Or, you could track response to a political speech in different regions. You can also search multiple keywords in one search and use other tools for a more tailored search.
Unfortunately, Twitter no longer publishes RSS as part of its API, so you’ll have to do this manually or use a workaround unless you subscribe to a premium service such as Salesforce Radian6.
5. Remember, you are the analyst. It’s your job to process a mountain of data, sift it, and then find the few insights that are worthy of action. Sometimes there’s no substitute for intelligence and experience. Some terms don’t search cleanly, so you’ll have to find ways to throw out the irrelevant results. Sentiment filters are notoriously unreliable. So never forget: you’re in charge.
Remember also that the Internet never sleeps. If you’re working for a national brand, or for a smaller brand in the news, you need to monitor constantly. Online, a crisis can blow up in minutes. And when something good happens, you’ll want to capitalize on it.
6. Listening doesn’t always require action. It’s good to remember that you can’t please everybody. Some critics fall below the noise floor. But when an influencer is talking about your brand, good or bad, you need to pay attention. These tools will help you get started. If the scope of listening or budget allows, you might graduate to a paid service, such as Sprout Social or Salesforce Radian6. These tools are not only more powerful, they also include dashboards so a manager can delegate jobs and create activity reports.