If you’ve been monitoring social media for mentions of … social media monitoring, you’ll likely have noticed more people discussing how to listen better on behalf of your brand.

There are tools. There are services. And there are case studies on how your organization can sift through social media static and glean out useful nuggets.

The overload of information can be a little overwhelming and after a while all the advice on sifting through the static starts to sound, ironically, like more noise.

We know we should be listening but often times it’s difficult to figure out what exactly we should be listening to and how we should be listening to it. And then once we’ve heard it, it’s difficult to figure out what we should do with the output of our eavesdropping.

So, in practical terms, how can we monitor social media without causing our ears to ring?

Bring in the Noise and Inevitably Bring in the Funk

Image: smoovey

Every day, 100 million pieces of content are shared on Facebook, 90 million Tweets are served, and nearly 50,000 new blogs are created.

And most of it doesn’t matter (to you, anyway).

So what does matter? It depends on what you’re trying to get out of your effort.

  • Are you monitoring social media for reputation management or customer service reasons?
  • Do you want to gather business intelligence and get feedback on your brand?
  • Are you looking to find conversations you can join so your organization can get exposure in front of new audiences?
  • Do you want to keep an eye on your competition?
  • Are you looking to get your ego stroked? (Warning: this is the easiest way to set yourself up for disappointment.)

As an organization, figure out exactly what you want to be monitoring and start there (and start small).

Create a Watch List

Begin with the basics and grow from there by opening up a Word document and making a list. Start with the name of your organization and any variations of the name. List out names of “important” people at your organization and any products your organization produces. Don’t include too many “stretches” or overly generic terms or you’ll end up receiving too much static.

Some examples of what you may want to include in your watch list?

  • Organization name
  • Names of products you produce
  • Names of people at your organization
  • Domain names and URLs you use
  • Handles of social media accounts
  • More (if you want to add any in the comments, that is)

After you’ve created your watch list, circulate it to key members of your organization and ask for feedback (you’d be surprised what you might forget that HR might remember).

Once you’ve compiled the edited list, go to Google Alerts and enter each term. There is an option to “preview” results for any given term. Do this and see how relevant (or irrelevant) the results are. Omit terms that are static-producing and keep terms that yield coherent results (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you try this out).

Additionally, you might want to create a list of relevant news sources and influencers within your industry. Start with the ones you already know and read and then branch out to the unknown. (Lucky for us, Jason Falls wrote a piece on finding influencers yesterday so I can spare you some words here with this link. )

Developing this watch list of branded terms and industry resources will allow you to quickly keep tabs on what is going on in your industry without having to check a bunch of sites or Google yourself and your brand (as much).

I Only Hear What I Want To

Now that you have your watch list, you’ll want to feed it in to a social media monitoring station. Plenty of companies provide this service but you should try the freeway before the toll road.

The freeway: The simplest method in the universe is to follow Chris Brogan’s advice on growing bigger ears, but it’s also a fairly manual approach.

The toll road: Other methods include using a service like Trackur (though they do have a Freemium option), Radian6, or something similar.

In other words, start with an unpaid approach free and figure out if your organization is going to require a paid approach.

For most small organizations (i.e. not Pepsi, Nike, Coke, etc.) using Google Reader will be enough. If you start to drown in noise or want more advanced control over your monitoring, you may want to invest in a tool that helps you better manage your monitoring if you’re in an organization that requires it.

For the rest of us (and especially small business owners) Google Reader will do.

F What Ya Heard?

So, we’re starting to collect data. It’s exciting. We have what feels like an email inbox of our industry’s activity. We’re done, right? Not if you want it done right.

Data without action is just a bunch of information. All the listening in the world won’t matter if you don’t act on what you’ve heard. But what are we supposed to do with it?

Should we respond? Should we ignore? Should we run it up the flagpole at our organization? David Armano provides a great flow-chart for deciding what to do. Start with that and adapt it for what makes sense for your own organization.

At the very least, when you are going through content in your monitoring station, be sure to tag and organize it in ways that make sense to you. We have the tendency to think we’ll remember something later because it was important in the moment but we’re overestimating our own capacity to remember.

Tagging and organizing content as you consume it will allow you to build an easy-to-search archive of information that anyone in your organization could comb through if needed down the line.

And while you’re at it, be sure to post content you find on Facebook, Twitter, your company blog or other social media outlets. It’s the easiest way to find and share content and enter the conversation with something other than your own stuff.

How Soon is Now?

We tend to obsess over what is happening right here and now. Having a real-time pulse on what’s happening in our industry is certainly important, but it’s not the only value social media monitoring can bring. One of the most overlooked benefits of setting up a monitoring station is the archive of information it can provide (especially when using Google Reader).

Think of your monitoring station as a personalized search engine of content relevant to our organization. It is tracking keywords relevant specifically to you and grabbing feeds from resources that you’ve hand-selected. If you’ve tagged and organized content as it comes in, you’ll have the easiest and most targeted search engine you’ll ever experience where all the content revolves around your world specifically. It’ll make finding that elusive social media stat for your next PowerPoint that much easier, trust me.

Your social media monitoring doesn’t need to be as complicated as the trading floor at the stock exchange. Keep it simple, focused, and organized and you and your organization will be able to sift through the static and hear what actually matters.

Ya heard?

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About Andrew Hanelly

Andrew Hanelly

Andrew is SVP, Strategy for McMurry/TMG and for one semester in college, was a sociology major. He writes at Brain on Digital, as @hanelly on Twitter and here on Google+.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

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  • http://www.oursocialtimes.com/ Luke Brynley-Jones

    Nice intro to monitoring. One point to note is that the lower-cost tools are getting more expensive. I think Scoutlabs (now Lithium) doubled it's price last year and Ubervu did the same. Be prepared to pay for a decent full-service solution. Two resources to point to:

    a) The Monitoring Social Media LinkedIn Group http://www.linkedin.com/groups… – a good source of info

    b) Monitoring Social Media events – In New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London and Paris, see http://www.socialmediamarketing.co.uk (Disclosure: I run these, but the're damn good ;)

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Thanks for the links, Luke. Love your confidence, my man! I'll take a look at both later on today.

      I think you're on to something with the rising prices. The social media monitoring concept is going from the margin to the mainstream very quickly and as more people realize the value, the prices, I think, will go up.

      And you're right in calling this an intro to monitoring. Actually getting into the minutiae of this would require more words (on this post) than anyone would care to read!

      • http://www.oursocialtimes.com/ Luke Brynley-Jones

        You're dead right. Marshall Sponder (webmetricsguru.com) is about to publish a huge book on monitoring. <plug> I also edit a blog specifically on social media monitoring you may find useful: http://monitoring-social-media…/ </plug>

    • Vishal

      Hi Luke,

      Not all the companies, in-fact we at Viralheat have dropped our pricing since we launched and have also made a lot of analytics data free via Social Trends.

      Regards,

      Vishal Sankhla
      CTO, Viralheat, Inc.
      http://www.viralheat.com

      • http://www.oursocialtimes.com/ Luke Brynley-Jones

        Hi Vishal – I know, you guys offer a very good, affordable solution. I'm a fan :) Would love to see you at one of my conferences this year.

  • Steve McGrath

    Great post, Andrew, thanks for the practical advice. I like Google Reader, but never knew it could do this.

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Google Reader has some amazing functionality. Just this morning I went through the archives of my reader and quickly found stats relevant to a project I'm working on. Doing that through regular Google would have taken triple the time (if not more). I'm sure I'm only scratching the surface (in terms of GR's functionality) and I'm blown away. Thanks for the comment, Steve!

  • http://www.webguide4u.com Vivek Parmar

    THnaks for this great post, getting harder for me to monitor many things. glad it comes at right time

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      I'm glad you find it to be useful, Vivek. I was in the same boat as you a while back and employing these simple techniques really helped me to calm down and stay on top of things without hyperventilating.

  • New Social Media

    Andrew,

    Thanks you for the nice “growing ears” article. Your article complements Chris Brogan's nicely.

    I have found G Alerts, Twitter Search, G Reader very helpful.

    Thanks – Theresa

    PS: Thanks for the link to 101 Social Media Stats.

  • http://flavors.me/40deuce 40deuce

    Great advice here, Andrew!
    I especially agree with you everything you hear is worthless unless you can act on/do something with that information. I've been talking with people lately and finding that lots of people are obsessing over numbers, but the fact is that those numbers are worthless unless you're learning something from them. Really listening, and not just counting, is where companies can get some of the greatest insight on their own company, their competition, their customers and their industry.
    As social media people we talk a lot about listening, but how many people are really listening?

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos (http://sysomos.com)

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Thanks Sheldon. I love how you draw a line between “listening” and “counting.” Listening means you're actively part of a conversation, and counting just sort of means you're tallying things up. The latter is more or less useless. Thanks, as always, for contributing your great insight.

  • http://www.paulylacosta.com Paul L'Acosta

    Andrew, in your own experience, have you seen a time and relevance issue with Google Alerts? I do agree that we need to monitor channels even more in the New Year, but I recently added some alerts for keywords relevant to a client's project using “as-it-happens” setting and… let me tell you, it's not good when Google sends you an alert for a tweet you sent a week ago. I believe it's a learning tool, but as a monitoring tool, I have my doubts. Or maybe it's me? What's your point of view? Thanks for this post! Cheers! ~Paul

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Paul, I know exactly what you're talking about and that's why I no longer receive Google Alerts as emails. I run everything through Google Reader and it seems to mitigate that effect. That said, it's definitely not a perfect system.

      If you're looking at Tweets specifically, you may want to go to search.twitter.com and enter your query there (just as you would with Google alerts.) Once you've done that, you'll get a search results page of any Tweet that mentions your term (you can do this with terms, or, if you'd like to monitor @mentions, you can put your Twitter handle in there, too). You can choose to subscribe to this results page by clicking on the RSS icon there, and feeding that into Google Reader as a subscription. You'll have some duplicity between that and Google Alerts, but I'd rather weed through too much then worry I missed something.

      If that totally doesn't answer your question, let me know. Thanks for the comment!

  • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

    Hey, Andrew. I like that you break monitoring down a bit here and keep the “little guys” in mind – so many discussions better fit the big brands that small companies have trouble relating and slicing off a layer that's most relevant to their business. I'd like to know more about how you see the bits and pieces coming together in an Excel spreadsheet – by chance do you have a model to share that folks could modify for their own purposes? Another thing in terms of the free-to-low-cost tools – I've used SocialSeek from Sensidea in the past (not recently) and found it to be pretty rich with outputs for keywords/phrases (org name, category, prod name, etc.) which I set parameters for. Might be useful for some others in the “dipping the toe in first” category, before diving into the big paid tools (which I know offer more functionality for their cost). Thanks!

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Heather, Thanks for the comment!

      To respond to your Excel spreadsheet question: I don't typically port any of this data into a spreadsheet because I'm not sure what I'd do with it, at least not in that form. Are you looking to report to a client how many mentions they have or something along those lines? If so, I'd recommend keeping a daily tally as part of your interaction with your monitoring station. If you want something more advanced, I think this is precisely the type of requirement that would get you shopping for vendors who take this to the next level.

  • Raj

    Hi,

    My name is Raj and I am the CEO of Viralheat. We have been mentioned many times on this blog by Jason and others as a low cost and extremely powerful solution for social media listening AND analytics. Not to mention, we are extremely cost friendly.

    Feel free to take a look at: http://www.viralheat.com

    Raj Kadam
    CEO, Viralheat, Inc.

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Let me ask you, Raj, did you find this post using Viralheat? :)

      • Vishal

        You bet, we did :)

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  • http://www.twowomenandahoe.com Jan @TWOwomenANDaHOE

    Great article! Thanks for laying it out in terms I can digest!

    May all your gardens grow,
    jan @TWOwomenANDaHOE

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Thanks, Jan. I'm glad you found it to be useful. I know that a lot of people I speak with are looking for more practical guidance as opposed to generalities, so that's what I'm trying to provide where I can.

  • http://twitter.com/ocean29 Prasant Naidu

    Thanks Andrew, you have made the word Monitoring so simple :) I use google reader but i need to organize it a bit as i am a person who is watching the social media world so google reader and google alerts come handy. one question i post my google alerts to my email do you think posting them to my reader would be a great idea.
    let me know your thoughts.
    PN.

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Prasant, thank you so much for your kind words. I appreciate your comment.

      Organization is key to using Google Reader successfully, or else it will just feel like a crowded email inbox with no meaningful structure.

      Some of my tips:

      1. Yes, send your Google Alerts to Google Reader. This will not only mitigate the risk of your alerts being lost with the rest of your day-to-day emails, but will also provide an easily-searchable archive of past alerts. Imagine for a moment that you don't have access to email for a few days (I know, right!!??), with Google Reader, you can go to your Alerts folder and quickly scan the alerts you've received in one consolidated location. This will save time and you'll be able to avoid the distraction of reading other emails while you are looking through them.

      2. Use folders that make sense for you. I have a few folders that I use in my Google Reader which make it a lot easier. I have “Must-Reads” which includes all the blogs and news sources I absolutely have to read each day. I have “Alerts” which has all the terms I'm tracking (I used to have separate Alerts for Brand Mentions, Name Mentions and Key Term mentions, but that got clumsy and I consolidated to one Alert folder). I have “Bloggers” which has all the blogs I like to scan on a regular basis, and a few others.

      3. Keep folders high-level, and use tags to get nitty-gritty. I use tags on individual pieces of content so I can have an at-a-glance archive of any one subject. As most sources tend to cover more than just one subject, you don't want to have an entire blog feeding in to a tag, you just want the occasional article, so use tags to keep it clean.

      4. Mark everything as read. Every time you go in to Google Reader you want to leave with everything marked as read (even if you didn't read every single thing). This way, you can quickly see what's new when you re-enter without having to re-read headlines.

      It occurs to me that I'm taking up way too much space in the comments. Sunday morning coffee does this to me!

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  • Foiaz

    I find Factualz very helpful in tracking all conversations about our product and competitors. One cool feature is that you could create profiles with specific questions like “Negative nutrition related discussion on McDonald’s” and it can provide with relevant buzz about it with automatics sentiment analysis.

  • Palani

    Check out Factualz, we find it very simple and it pretty much satisfies our social media tracking requirements

  • http://twitter.com/Synthesio Synthesio

    Nice post, Andrew. The only element I would add to monitor competitors or competitor brands as a way to keep up with what is going on in your market/sector.

    Great idea of including the entire organization, as well, by asking for input regarding what you're monitoring.

    See you on Twitter,
    Michelle @Synthesio

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Michelle – You're absolutely right and I can't believe I didn't put that in the post. Gathering business intelligence is one of the biggest benefits of social media monitoring and is one of the easiest ways to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing and what is being said about them. Great addition! Thanks for chiming in!

    • janetaronica

      +1 with Michelle. That's the only thing I'd add to this fantastic list! :) Great post.

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  • http://www.faqsoftwareagent.com Allie @ Faqsoftware

    Since we are on the topics of Social Media Monitoring, I would like to ask for help. I really would like to know if there are free, good services for twitter that monitors mentions and retweets separately. Mentions are important because I love engaging with others.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Since you're speaking specifically to Twitter, I would check out

      http://oneforty.com. It's an app store, of sorts, for Twitter. Their brand

      monitoring category will probably have what you're looking for:

      http://oneforty.com/category/B

    • http://twitter.com/actionly Actionly.com

      Try Actionly, Allie. If you add your Twitter account, you will be able to track Mentions, Followers etc plus have these reports scheduled to you etc. Ping me if any Q's. Thanks!
      http://www.actionly.com

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  • http://twitter.com/actionly Actionly.com

    Very well written post Andrew. Would love for you to try out Actionly, Social Media Monitoring listening dashboard. Besides being affordable and having tons of neat features like are integration into Google Analytics. We can now track your Social Media ROI on Tweets and Facebook Posts. Have a look-http://www.actionly.com
    Thanks! Sam Abraham

  • http://twitter.com/jasonarican Jason Arican

    Andrew, this is a fantastic, very easy to digest post.

    If I may add, I always recommend my clients to start with a small, focused list of keywords. Often I see people creating exhaustive lists of keywords with every possible variation of the company's name and products. This tends to be more work than it is worth.

    And while tracking industry-related keywords is great (and at some point, necessary), starting with just essentials (company and products) tends to be a better focus.

    There is inherently a lot of junk in social media… so it's so important to not set yourself up to receive tons of irrelevant stuff.

    But like I said, this is great. I'm going to be sure to bookmark and share.

    Jason Arican
    Managing Director, Client Relations
    Meltwater Buzz

    • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

      Jason, thank you for the kind words!

      I couldn't agree with you more on starting small with your list of terms you're tracking. The temptation is to list every word you could even remotely stretch into thinking is logical and then cluttering your station, defeating the very purpose you hoped to serve. Start small, see what happens, and weed and add as you deem necessary. Your point is well-taken.

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  • http://www.rachatdecredit.org renegociation de credit

    It is really works. Thanks eelco for share information.

  • http://www.rachatdecredit.org renegociation de credit

    Nice list and bundle of thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

    Jason, thank you for the kind words!

    I couldn't agree with you more on starting small with your list of terms you're tracking. The temptation is to list every word you could even remotely stretch into thinking is logical and then cluttering your station, defeating the very purpose you hoped to serve. Start small, see what happens, and weed and add as you deem necessary. Your point is well-taken.

  • Internet_Marketing_Agency

    Thanks for sharing..Makes for an easy and digestible read.

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  • http://twitter.com/Plumpman Nicolas

    Thanks for outlining some of the methods and ways for monitoring social media, especially how there are many freeware approaches to monitoring services for small startups and personal use, Awesome!

  • http://www.abercrombiefitchsale.com abercrombei

    You've made me think and helped me to be a better person. Jesus helps me everyday and I believe he brought me here just to read what you've written. Bless you.

  • http://www.ifluenze.dk steffen kirkegaard

    Social media analysis is the way to work if you want your company to have better annoruncements.

    http://www.ifluenze.dk/2011/04/03/social-media-analysis-social-network-analytics-sentiment-analysis/

  • http://www.ifluenze.dk steffen kirkegaard

    Social media analysis is the way to work if you want your company to have better annoruncements.

    http://www.ifluenze.dk/2011/04/03/social-media-analysis-social-network-analytics-sentiment-analysis/

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  • Jenny

    I wasn’t doing any social media monitoring, I just stuck the icons on my site and left them alone, until recently when I decided to start tracking. I got rid of the icons and added a link to my Socially@ (http://socially.at) profile instead, which means every click to my Facebook / Twitter / everything else was logged and I could see what was pulling in the most users. Interestingly, I was getting more clicks to my Flickr account than Facebook. Certainly useful to know! Socially@  might not be the most advanced way to track your social media users, but it’s great for those just starting out with statistics (like me!).

  • http://www.bestsocialmedia.org Best Social Media

    There is a very fine line between getting all the right information and information overload. We always stress to our clients that the goal of social media is to ultimately connect with your users and hopefully develop a better relationship. Sometimes getting all the data can cloud this to a point that communication and connection with user suffer. This is not good. Our stand on this is that being informed is good however building a long standing relatioship with users should take priority.

  • Chatmeter

    Social Media Monitoring is valuable for small companies. Thanks for breaking it down in simple easy to understand terms. This is a good place for beginners to start.

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  • Meditaciónes guiada

    thank you very much for taking the time to share your knowledge gooogle social media andI’ve been really helpful site!

  • Motivación personal

    thanks for your atachments of social media and google its great…nice work
    all the best..

    motivación personal

    http://eelsecreto.com/la-motivacion-positiva-como-fuente-confiable-de-motivacion-personal/    

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