Social Listening: Think Outside Your Brand


Guest Post by Peter Genuardi

Don’t Have Time for Market Research?  Think Again! – Use search and social media to get better ideas for engagement


I’ve seen a bunch of presentations and survey research in the last couple of there’s been a lot of
talk about social listening and search optimization in the NPO space for the last
few years.  Search and social media are two realms in which there is a lot
of activity by constituents (call them what you want) – service beneficiaries,
donors, activists, event participants.  When I say “a lot of
activity” I mean a ton.  All of these constituents are out there
talking about things, sharing photos and videos, and looking for thing through
search engines.  As of this moment, I think most of us have been missing
massive untouched potential for what this activity can do to help us engage constituents.

So What?

In this post, I’ll quickly point out where we’re missing the boat and
present some new ideas for how to leverage social to help you come
up with better ideas for constituent engagement.

Our Current (Limited) View of Search and Social

We’re limiting social listening to public relations think about how people
are using social listening today.  Most that I know monitor the blogs,
Facebook, and Twitter for people talking about their brand or
organization.  This is a great way to support public relations
activity.  By listening for the name of your organization you’re likely to
pick up on someone mentioning that they love it or hate it.  Then you can
participate in the discussion – growing the positive sentiment or countering
the negative. This approach is for the most part a reactive one.

Where we SHOULD be Looking

We should be exploring social and search data for new ideas broadening your social listening program can help you develop new ideas for
your organization’s programs and services as well as marketing
activities.  Think about how you might monitor the landscape for
discussion about things adjacent to your organization or programs.

Get More from a Widely Cast Net

Here’s a quick example.  Imagine you work for an organization that
provides services to prisoners transitioning from prison back to the
community.  Your considers developing a new pen pal program to help people
in the community connect with prisoners prior to their release.  This seems
like a dicey proposition to some – corresponding with people convicted of
crimes is likely to scare some people or turn them off to an
organization.  Would a program like this turn people in the community
off?  Investing time and energy in the program only to have it fail would
be a failure in terms of opportunity cost.

So, your organization wants to figure out whether a program like this
would be successful.  Would people be receptive to it? How would you
normally do this kind of research?  Web survey, interviews, maybe focus
groups?  You can complement these traditional research methods by
monitoring the social landscape for conversations about things like “pen pal
programs,” “writing to prisoners.”  What people are saying about how these
things, what they like, and how they feel will help you develop a better
program out of the gate.  This is an oversimplified example, but you get
the picture.

Social Listening: Try it now

There are lots of tools available to help you monitor conversation across
the social landscape.  Besides looking through standard web site content,
they comb through peoples’ conversations on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon,
and Youtube, and the list goes on.  The better, more expensive tools –
like Radian6 and BuzzMetrics – do a great job at filtering in the
conversations you’re really after and filtering out noise.  If you’re an
organization that gets people to donate to support breast cancer research, you
can imagine how tough it might be to filter in people talking about breast
cancer research and filter out people looking for or discussing unsavory

Create a Guerilla Social Listening Platform

If you don’t have money to spend on a social listening platform now, try
this approach to doing it for free.  I first read about this approach to guerilla social listening here.
Basically boils down to this.

1.   Develop a list of terms that you want to monitor.
This is probably the hardest and most important part because you want to be
sure you’re searching for things using the terms your constituents use to
describe them.  Too often we describe things in the terms that our
organization or company uses.  A great example of this tension can be
observed in the airline industry.  Airlines want to know what people are
saying about “low fares” (their term).  In reality we’re all looking for
“cheap tickets.”

2.   Create your listening platform using Google reader. 
Google reader will allow you to consolidate content from all over the web and
let you organize it reasonably well.

3.   Set up monitors on different social networks and web
  You can create RSS feeds from search parameters on lots of
sites (like Twitter and Craig’s list for instance).  Try it.  Go to and
search for some term.  Then, grab the link to the RSS feed (“Feed for this
Query”) that will contain all of these results on an ongoing basis.  You
can do this all over the place, like YouTube, Flickr, etc.  Create
monitors on the sites relevant to the type of social activity and constituents
you’re targeting.

4.   Plug your monitors into Google reader.  Add each
of these RSS feeds to Google reader, which will now pull of the content into a
dashboard on a regular basis.

5.   Filter your content for useful ideas.  You can
now use the tools on Google reader to find people talking about the things
you’re monitoring.

6.   Fine tune your listening. Depending on the terms and
social sites you’re monitoring, you’re likely to corral a ton of content.
You’ll quickly see which return the most valuable content.  Go back and
tune the terms you’re monitoring and places you’re searching for


Stay tuned for Wednesday’s Part II on “Search: Don’t Just Get Found, Find New Ideas”.

Peter is Vice President ofSoapbxx,an online marketing firm serving mission driven people. Follow him on Twitter @petergenuardi