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Listen: The Importance of Bigger Ears

The most powerful tool in social media is listening. I say this because at the same time you’re thinking about how to engage in all this new stuff, people out there are pushing commentary all over the place about what they like and don’t like about your product, your competitor’s product, their needs. They’re screaming out with opportunities for you to solve, and all you have to do is listen, process what you’ve heard, and engage with them in a reasonable way. It’s the closest thing to printing money that I can tell you about.

When we’re talking about listening, we’re talking about setting up simple monitoring of sites like blogs, Twitter, and other sources. I’ll start by talking about the free stuff, and then mention some of the paid alternatives. None of these products are current clients of mine, though I’ve done some work with some of them in the past.

A Simple Listening Station

The easiest way to listen for free is by setting up some searches and reading the results of these searches on an RSS reading application. This sounds tricky, but it requires you to do a bunch of copy-paste, and that’s about it.

Open your Web browser.

Go to Google Reader and get a free Google Reader account. Log in using your gmail account, if you have one, or set one up for free. That’s the baseline of where all your listening feeds will go. (If this is sounding like “what?” don’t worry. We’ll get you there.)

Google Reader is an RSS reader. You can use it to read blogs and things that have Really Simple Syndication built into them. This means, you can use it to mint some searches.

Setting Up A Search

Open up a second tab or new window in your browser.

Go to http://search.twitter.com and put in whatever you want to search for: your company name, your product name, your competitor name, and/or whatever you think someone would type into Twitter that would lead you to think you’re the right person for the job. (This, by the way, is a lot harder than it sounds, because you have to really get into your buyers’ minds. However, once you figure it out, it’s very rewarding.)

You should see something like the graphic to the left. Right click this and copy the LINK address. Now, run over to your Google Reader window, and find this area in the upper left:

Google Reader = add subscription

Click that. Do a paste or CTRL-V of what you copied from the other window, and then click ADD.

You’ve done it. You’ve set up the first of many searches.

Other Places to Search

You can search Google Blogsearch for similar terms. Once you put in the search query and hit enter, you’ll see this on the bottom right:

Google Blogsearch search subscription

Do the same thing you did before, right-clicking the RSS link, and copying the link results. Then, rush back to the Google Reader, select paste, and you’re good to go.

Another Place to Search

Another good place to search is by finding blogs that relate to your topic of interest. My best tool for this is Alltop. Alltop is a magazine rack for the Internet. It’s not EVERY blog out there, but there are a lot. Another similar search tool is IceRocket

Then, Process All This Information

If you start listening to what’s out there, you’ll then have to decide what to do with it. If you’re listening for sales, what do you do with customer service issues you run across? If you’re trying to see what competitors are doing, how will you notate this? Hint: The new technology doesn’t replace the old method of collecting this data. Just make sure you add these new inputs to your previous streams.

Then Act

Just reading about stuff isn’t that useful unless you do something with it. Are you seeing tweets on Twitter about your company? Go comment. Don’t be defensive if they’re negative. Just be helpful. If you’re seeing people identifying a need for something that your product or service promotes, then give them some help without coming off as a salesperson pouncing on them. It might take some practice, but you’ll get there.

The Paid Tools

The methods I listed above are very rough and guerrilla. If you want to do it like the pros, you have to pay a little bit. There are services out there like Trackur, Radian6, ScoutLabs, Sysomos, and many more that help you do a lot more, look into more places, and help you route the actions you might want to take after the fact. I highly recommend these tools, but realize that you might not always be in a position to buy. Keep this for your future consideration, because you’ll find that the results and benefits of these paid tools outweigh the method I’m showing you above.

Tricky But Not

Once you get your search terms down (and this takes a lot more effort than I’m making it seem), the results will speak for themselves. I spend about 30% of my social media time using listening tools. You’ll do the same once you get the hang of it. Let me know what you think.

Chris Brogan is the New York Times bestselling author of the NEW book, Social Media 101. He is president of New Marketing Labs, LLC, and blogs at [chrisbrogan.com].

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