Keeping Your Ear to the Ground
So how does an organization listen to social media? The method can be as simple as using the search function built in to free social media monitoring tools. Certainly for the very small business or for those with a very narrow focus, this will usually suffice, at least early on. For the larger organization and especially those that intend to use social media for more than one purpose, the investment in a more robust social media monitoring tool or service is essential. There are many such tools to choose from, and ultimately budget and importance of social media to the organization will be deciding factors.
It is possible to build free listening tools fairly easily using RSS readers such as Google Reader and the output of the search function from platforms such as Twitter. What differentiates this approach and makes it unsuitable for most organizations of any size is the lack of filters and contextualization. Although the free option is appealing because of its free nature, it can prove quite costly in the amount of time that is required to weed through all the results—especially at first, when the terms being used in the search are not as focused as they might be or if the user doesn't understand how to utilize logic operators (AND, OR, NOT) in search terms.
This is where investing in a service or tool can pay big dividends. Also, most third-party services or tools provide some form of "sentiment" analysis, which allows for quick parsing of feedback into groups, such as good, bad, and indifferent. This sentiment analysis saves time, but does have a steeper learning curve than what you'll find with free monitoring tools. However, after you have mastered these more advanced tools, you'll be able to turn data into actionable information. A good strategic plan will include the use of one of these tools.