Five Tools I Use for Listening

dog ears As part of the social media strategy series, I thought I’d start with listening.

Social media tools are a great way to get the word out about your passions, your interests, the company’s latest products, but we tend to rush right into the “speaking” side of the toolbox without giving much thought to the “listening” part. Knowing what people are saying about you, your competitors, and your industry as a whole are just as important as blogging and making good video.

It’s interesting to note that companies will spend anywhere from $20,000 to $150,000 on a good website design, but will fail to implement even the most rudimentary listening tools to move their capabilities to understand the impact of such a site beyond the realm of hits and clicks.

As part of our social media strategy, let’s presume that all businesses will need a way of listening to their audience, their customers, their partners, and their detractors. Let’s start with the tools, and we will talk about the strategy for dealing with what we hear in a subsequent post. By the way, the guts and tech behind most every one of these tools is RSS. Click that link to watch a quick YouTube video by Common Craft, if you want a refresher on what RSS is/does.

Five Tools I Use for Listening

  • Google Reader – I use Google Reader as my home base for collecting and reading all the various sources of information I collect. It’s web-based, fast, and easy to use. It allows me to blaze through content without thinking much about it. Use Google Reader by adding various searches to it (described in the next few bullets).
  • Technorati – Go to Technorati, put your company ( product, brand, personal) name into the search bar, and see what people are saying about you. Note the little orange RSS subscription button in the upper right. Copy that link location (Right click the link and say “Copy Link” or however your browser words that). Now, dump that into Google Reader as one of your listening searches. Repeat this for your competitor’s name, brand, individuals, and some industry terms (if you can make them succinct).
  • Google Blogsearch – Go to Google Blogsearch and do the same thing. Sure there will be some overlap, but it’s important to capture both. The subscription to searches link is on the left hand side about 1/3 down the page.
  • Summize – If you’re thinking about using social networks and social media, it’s likely that some of your customers are using Twitter. If so, go to Summize and put in your search terms there, too. Cook as many searches as you need, grabbing the RSS feeds and throwing them into Google Reader. Build a strong catalog of searches, and then remove bad or ineffective ones after you trial them out a bit.
  • Link Checker – Here’s an off-the-beaten path one. Go to SEO Pro and use their free link checker. (Note: it’s a bit slow to crawl for technical reasons, so don’t get worried if it takes a while to respond to your query). This tool checks who’s linking to your URLs, what the link text is (what’s in blue on the web page that people might click to get to you), and all kinds of stats that matter to search engine optimization experts, but might not matter to you. Why? Because it’s important to know what people are saying about you with their linking efforts.
  • BONUS ROUND: Crazy Egg – If you want to see how people are looking at your website when they’re NOT commenting and talking about you, try out Crazy Egg. The tool is chock full of visualization data, including heat maps, that show you how people are interacting with your website. Sometimes, people aren’t saying something on your blog posts because they’re being distracted by something else. Here’s your chance to figure that out.

The Pro Stuff

If you want something a little more advanced than hacking search tools and sucking the RSS feeds into readers (which isn’t that bad, you know), you might try tools like Radian6 (note: I just completed a 3 part webinar series with them that we’re airing soon. Go to for details) or BuzzLogic or a series of other tools in the same category (they’re all listening, so I’m sure they can swarm here and give links in the comments section).

There are values to the professional products, and if you’re a larger company and can afford the not-too-very-expensive splurge, you get a lot more dashboarding and reporting with such tools. But if you’re bootstrapping, stick with me, kids.

How are You Listening?

I’m curious to know who’s doing what in the world of listening. Are you doing something formal with your organization? Have you tried any of these tools for this purpose? What else might we be missing in our tool set?

Photo credit, tanakawho

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