8 Free Tools for Listening to Conversations in Social Media

Imagine the last party you went to. Think about who you were with, how you presented yourself, who you spoke with and what you talked about. Now imagine a complete stranger walking up to you, opening his coat, and shouting, “Hey! Wanna buy some of our COOL watches? They’re buy one get one free if you act NOW!”

How quickly would you run away from this strange person?

It may seem like an exaggeration, but I assure you, that’s how awkward a sales pitch can come across in social media. If you approach people like the weird, watch-selling-trenchcoat-guy no one will want to talk to you. Even worse, you could potentially alienate yourself from the very people you hope to interact with.

Social media is about conversation, engagement, providing good content and above all else — listening.

As with “real life” it’s best to enter a conversation after first listening. Listening tools can help you:

  • Know the context of the conversation online and pinpoint what is being said.
  • Determine the things your potential audience likes to discuss.
  • Identify and understand the people within the social landscape (i.e. Who they are and what they want).
  • Create content (conversation) that is geared towards the people you’d like to connect with.

8 Free Tools

There are many Social Media listening tools at your disposal. Some of the best get quite expensive, but if you’re operating on a small budget, these 8 free tools can help you listen in on the conversation before and while you participate:

  1. Google Alerts – Get email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, blogs, etc.) based on your keywords and terms. Google Alerts will monitor the web for you while you’re doing other things.
  2. Google Reader  – Google Reader is a tool for gathering, reading, and sharing all the interesting blogs and websites you read on the web. Collect relevant industry blogs in your reader and check them often.
  3. Social Mention – Social Mention provides real-time search of “100+ social media properties directly including: Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, Digg, Google etc.” You can sort and filter your results (alerts to come).
  4. Topsy  – Similar to Social Mention, you can use Topsy to perform real-time searches of Google Plus and Twitter. Per Topsy, “Topsy is a realtime search engine powered by the Social Web. Unlike traditional web search engines, Topsy indexes and ranks search results based upon the most influential conversations millions of people are having every day about each specific term, topic, page or domain queried.”
  5. Hootsuite &/Or Tweetdeck: Organize your search with the help of columns. You can search keywords, phrases, hashtags, twitter lists, etc. Nik Hewitt wrote a great post about optimizing your Hootsuite searches.
  6. Twitter Trends Map  – Trendsmap is a great way to monitor what is being said on Twitter in your area.
  7. What the Trend  – Find out what topics are trending on twitter, what they mean, and how they might be relevant to your audience.

BONUS: Wondering what terms and keywords to help you listen? Adamn Holdenbache from Social Fresh has your answer.

Which tools do you use to listen in on social media conversations? Did I miss any good ones?

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