In my previous post, we discussed how to build a social media strategy for your business in five steps. The first step every company needs to do is start listening.
Of course, this is a process that can be outsourced, but even if you choose to hire someone to assist with this task, it's important that the people who will actually be participating as brand ambassadors are reading the blogs and are familiar with the bloggers, vloggers, tweeters and commenters as well.
The biggest challenge in this, of course, is time, whether it's time to participate or time to listen. You can actually monitor hundreds of blogs and conversations with little effort so long as you're efficient. We've created this simple guide to maximize the number of conversations that you can listen to using the smallest amount of company time.
Step 1: Set Up Google Reader
There are a myriad of RSS aggregators out there that you can use as your information hub. Many large companies use Attensa for its enterprise level tools and integration. For our purposes Google Reader works best. It's free, it has easy-to-use keyboard shortcuts and, being a Google product, it naturally features strong search capabilities.
If you don't have an account, set one up and then we'll move on to step 2.
BONUS: New users unfamiliar with RSS should first watch this video, “RSS in Plain English.”
Step 2: Set Up Folders
Actually, you're only going to set up two folders. Google Reader allows you to create folders and then designate in to which folder you drop each new feed.
Label one folder “Daily.” You will use this for only the top 10 blogs that you must read every day. These should be blogs that have the most relevant posts for your company on a regular basis.
Label the second folder“Archive.” This contains all of the other blogs that you subscribe to. Make sure to assign every single blog that you subscribe to one of these two folders. You can always change these designations as your blog list evolves.
Step 3: Populate Your Reader
This tactic is only as effective as the content you've subscribed to, so this step will take some time. Now that you've got a place to read all of the content you subscribe to across the social Web, you've got to make sure that relevant content is finding its way in to your reader.
Let's assume that you currently don't have an RSS reader or subscribe to any business related blogs. The idea here is to identify as many relevant blogs as you can find and add them to your reader. You want to find content related to your industry, your company or your competitors. Keep all of these in mind as you decide which search terms will help you find the most relevant results.
The blogosphere alone consists of hundreds of millions of blogs. In addition, there are millions of videos added to YouTube daily, not to mention the millions of tweets, forum posts and shared photographs that make up the evolving social media community. You won't be able to follow it all, and frankly, you don't need to. Depending on your business, there are probably less than 20 blogs that generate the majority of conversations in your niche. Our goal here is to find and follow the biggest blogs in our community and also try to catch pockets of conversations from other sources as well. There are a few tools that will help you get started:
For discussion boards, you can use Boardtracker or Omgili to conduct a search of conversations about your brand, your competitor, or your niche across several different forums and then subscribe to ithe results via RSS. Put the resulting feeds in the archive folder.
Summize is the best Twitter search engine available. Twitter is a great tool for monitoring general chatter. Type in your search term (industry buzzwords, your brand or your competitors), conduct the search (making sure to limit your language parameters as appropriate), and then subscribe to the RSS feed for the results. Place the keyword results in your daily folder and archive the other searches.
Google Blog Search helps you to capture some of the conversations happening in the blogosphere about your brand. The only problem is that this search will generally include a lot of splog results (spam blogs automatically generated by keyword searches). You can use Twingly, Icerocket or Yacktrack as three additional alternative blog search engines here. Also, if you already subscribe to Google News Alerts, you can have those results sent to you via RSS instead of in email as well. Search terms should include your company's name, products, key executives, competitors and buzzwords in your niche. All of these should be put in the archive except the one with your company's name.
As mentioned in the previous post, the social media firehose, latest blog mentions pipe and Alltop are also great resources for finding the most relevant content.
You're probably not going to catch everything the first time around, and that's okay. Again, we're just trying to capture as many diverse types of conversations as possible.
Step 4: Search… Smartly
The hard work is behind you. You've subscribed to a bunch of blogs, you've determined which 10 feeds are the most important, and you're ready to invest your 10 minutes a day. Here's what you do:
Spend 5 minutes skimming the blogs in your Daily folder. Use the “J” and “K” keys to quickly cycle back and forth between posts. For a list of other Google Reader keyboard commands. check this out. Click on the most important posts. If you don't subscribe to the blog, then do so.
Next, go to the search bar at the top of Reader. Conduct a search for the keywords you used to determine the blogs you found in the beginning of step 3. Instead of searching the entire blogosphere every day, all you have to do is a quick keyword search in your RSS reader to see if any of the blogs in your archive folder are mentioning your company, your industry your competitor. Using the Google Reader keyboard shortcuts, you should be able to cycle through and skim these posts pretty quickly, only stopping to read the most relevant content.
Step 5: Share
Now that you have a sense of the conversations, you can do two things with the posts you find. First, you can email them to your colleagues using the bar at the bottom of each post. Second, to empower your team, you can ask other staff to set up a Google Reader account. But instead of having them go through the process outlined in Step three, you can export your list of blogs (called an OPML file) and share it with your colleagues.
Listening is the first, and perhaps most important part of a social media program. By monitoring the most important conversations about your brand, you'll be better positioned to identify the most influential people in your niche, determine what topics are most important to them and then figure out the best way to bring your own company into these conversations.
If you have any further tips for how to best find monitor social media conversations using Google Reader, please add them in the comments.