The Social Web: Just Start Listening. Today.

If you’re selling or marketing a product or service and you’re not paying some attention to the so-called social media…you’re crazy.

There are many, many occupations that don’t require you to keep your ear to the ground, to understand what’s going on outside your four walls. Or to learn what’s important to the people you’re trying to sell whatever to. Those of us that need somebody to buy something directly from us need to understand that somebody. In the 2nd half of 2011, that somebody is on the social web. It doesn’t matter what your business is. Your business is not an exception. That is premise #1. Secondly, all of us market-facing professionals have nodded in quick agreement at some point as somebody at a lectern preached about doing more listening that talking in our attempts to satisfy customers. Put that nod to work. Premise #2: start listening to the social web right now. I’m not a social media expert, but I do know how to solve my problems efficiently. I’ve found some tools and methods for listening to the social web that work for me and my business. I imagine the methods would work for many, and thus was born this post. I don’t know all the social media channels, tools and methodologies out there. I know which social channels matter for me and how to find others in a basic way. I know how to use a few tools (after listening to others on the social web!). They work for me. They work for many others. It’s easy and it’s efficient. The only reason not to do it is because it’s new. Not a good reason! Check it out…

In order of importance, I listen to:

  1. Blogs relevant to my business.
  2. Activity feeds from the major social media outlets. For me, this means Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook is not relevant for me. No other social media brand is really worth much consideration for me right now. Google+ is the one with a chance to move into the picture. I’m in no rush.
  3. Discussions in LinkedIn groups.

Pretty manageable list, yes?

Blogs

There is one software tool I use to plug into the blogosphere. To me, blogs should not be visited one by one unless you have plenty of extra time to kill. Real Simple Syndication (known as RSS—you’ll never see it spelled out) is the answer. Spend no more than two minutes reading this and you’ll know what you need to know about the theory of RSS. Set up an RSS reader for yourself, and every time you come across an interesting blog, simply subscribe to it. The vast majority of the time it’s a simple as clicking on the RSS icon or some other very obvious link at the top of the blog. For me the RSS reader of choice is iGoogle. If you already have a Gmail account…or pretty much any login to a Google product…then iGoogle is a no-brainer. Here’s how to spend the next 180 seconds of your life setting it up. There are other readers. I don’t know anything about them. When a blog is updated, it updates your reader page with the new headline. No time wasted.

Blogs are generally discovered by “word of mouth”. By this I mean blogs, activity feeds, and LinkedIn groups lead me to new blogs. When I like them, I subscribe. When they get boring, I disconnect. I spend the first part of my day taking a look at any new headlines. Most days, there’s nothing new that interests, and I’m done in 10 minutes.

Activity Feeds

This blog post made Twitter instantly useful to me. It mentions TweetDeck near the top, and that tool has been my complete answer for monitoring activity feeds. I’ve been a heavy LinkedIn user for years, but the activity feeds of my network were always secondary. I bounce from screen to screen during my day, and I don’t linger on my home page on LinkedIn long enough to take any note of what my direct connections are up to. No time. I never had much use at all for Twitter timelines, because I wasn’t willing to put in much effort to see what was being tweeted. TweetDeck is the listening answer for both my laptop and my iPhone—though I don’t use it on my iPhone too much. TweetDeck is easily configured to give you a full dashboard in multiple columns of all the people you’re following on Twitter (as many accounts as you have), your LinkedIn activity feed (who changed profile, jobs, etc.), and your Facebook news feed. As mentioned above, I personally ignore Facebook. On my laptop, I can see 5 feeds simultaneously without scrolling to the right. I have an additional 2 feeds. As far as I know, you can have as many feeds and as many columns as you want.

LinkedIn Groups

I have a B2B service business in digital media in California. My marketplace uses LinkedIn extensively. The groups on LinkedIn allow useful discussion about specific industry topics. I find most of the discussions useless, but the occasional gem makes it worth the effort to be able to monitor efficiently. My answer is to subscribe to a daily digest email. This digest email has been made a bit more attractive and more readable by the folks at LinkedIn in just the last few weeks. Of course, that doesn’t improve the quality of the discussion. At the top of these emails is a listing of the active discussions and popular discussions. Quite convenient for scanning in a few minutes to see what’s going on.

Note the theme throughout? Your business world on social media can be monitored fast, fast, fast without spending a bit of money or more than several minutes a day. Don’t want to do it? Your competitors are glad to hear it.