I’m not one to openly disclose my New Year’s resolutions. In part, because I feel—as a practice—they can be a little disingenuous.
But mostly, I know when I admit my goals people can hold me accountable. In the spirit of 2017, however, I’ll share just one: to listen better. And not to friends or family or coworkers. But to the Internet. Why? Because those of us who rely on the whims of the Internet to disperse content and tell stories are forever working to better understand the oceans of data swirling around within, and how to stay afloat.
To give a sense of what you’re sifting through when listening (and what you’re competing against when posting), a GWAVA study from September 2016 looked at what happens in just one minute of Internet usage. Unsurprisingly, they’ve found that the Internet is pretty noisy these days. Every 60 seconds yields over 350,000 tweets, 3 million Facebook posts, 400 hours of YouTube video, and around 4 million Google searches. Those figures extrapolate into billions and billions of posts every day. How do you turn all that noise into anything useful? Well, that’s what I’m trying to work on this year.
Decide What You’re Listening For
This is an important place to start. The obvious answer might be “your name,” or, using social monitoring to identify who is talking about your brand, but that’s by no means where it ends. Successful listening requires significant focus on both your industry at large and your competitors. And, no, this isn’t about stealing ideas. Mostly. It’s really about understanding the conversations that are being had and the reactions surrounding them. What hashtags are popular around your industry? What outlets are producing frequently shared content? Which voices are saying things your mission aligns with? What times of day are people having these conversations?
I think of it in terms of circles of attention. The smallest circle of attention is information about me: mentions; comments; any use of my brand’s name, image, likeness, etc. This is a good place to start because it is the most immediate, but also, potentially the most damaging.
The second circle is about what I do: blogs, relevant hashtags, trends in my industry, competitors’ social accounts. This is where I try to listen to the online landscape as told by other producers and consumers.
The third circle is about what I could do: trends in other industries, new tech and developments, or tangential stories that are just cool. This is about pulling back for a broader view of the internet to identify opportunities and threats that are out there.
What Does Listening Look Like
In another article, I go into some of my favorite tools for listening; however, what I want to discuss here and grow on throughout this year is the actual practice of listening: the time it takes, the steps used, and how to get that regiment to stick.
In my experience, you can do quite a lot with just a half-hour. If you use that time quickly and effectively (do not get distracted by the cat videos and clickbait), a dedicated session of listening at the top of day and then again in the afternoon can do a world of good. Ideally, you could spend 24 hours a day listening and learning, but, hey, start small.
Thinking of my first circle of attention, I begin looking at what’s being said about or at me. If you use Hootsuite, SproutSocial, Synthesio, or a similar platform to watch your social accounts, this can be done fairly quickly. But if not, review the notifications from the various other social media platforms. Who’s tweeting at you? Did someone check in at your business on Facebook? Were you mentioned in an Instagram post? Outside of the social world, Google Alerts, Talkwalker, and IFTTT can help you identify any mentions of your brand online. For those of us who can’t afford a full-scale PR service, this is a nice alternative.
Next, I take a look at what’s happening in my world. I’ll skim a few trusted sites and blogs connected to my industry. To save time, I’ve setup a daily email rundown of best stories from a handful of these outlets. If you’re not on Medium, it’s a great resource. Then, if there’s a campaign we’re running, a hashtag I’m watching, or just a keyword connected to my industry that seems worth following, I’ll turn to Buzzsumo or Twazzup for a look at influencer writings and frequently shared content from the past 24 hours. Yes, scrolling my social newsfeeds is a great source for this info as well, but I’ll generally save that for standing in line or slow meetings.
And finally, I turn to what’s happening in the Internet that I haven’t seen in more targeted listening: what’s trending, what’s part of the day’s news cycle, and what am I missing that could impact my industry? Twitter Moments, Reddit, Snapchat Discover, and your favorite news outlets are all solid bets for this. I deliberately work from a more narrow focus out to the whole Internet—so if there’s a series of long reads that steal my attention, if I fall down a Reddit rabbit hole, or if there’s just a great video of kids falling on ice that I need to watch seven times—I’ve done the crucial listening first.
Get On With Your Life
At the end of it, dive back into your day: emails, meetings, projects, whatever. If you, like me, are obsessed with information (particularly as it relates to your brand) you’ll feel better going into the work with a stronger sense of what is going on out there. Learn from your listening. When you see a new hashtag trending, or you notice a certain type of Instagram post attracting more bots, or when your favorite writers shift to a new buzzword, embrace that information as part of your story.
The place where you talk about your brand, and where the people who care about your brand are spending much of their time, is non-stop, constantly going in a trillion directions. That’s part of the beauty of the web, but also part of the challenge. If you learn to understand your small corner of the conversation and how it relates to the Internet at large, 2017 will be a very good year for you.