Here are 5 free, easy-to-use social listening tools to enhance brand engagement.

How many articles or blog posts have you read that advocate social listening, but then fail to tell you how to begin? Have you ever attended a social media conference where you were reminded of the importance of attentiveness when engaging with customers, but never shown how to do some basic listening?

Social listening can be an enlightening experience, since marketers and brand managers (along with their agency partner, of course) believe they define their brands. After all, much time, energy and money are devoted to crafting and testing concepts and key messages.

Groundswell authors Charlene Li and Bernard Bernoff believe differently.

They say that “your brand is whatever your customers say it is,” which can be quite different from your perspective. If your brand is being defined by your customers, then it is critical that you know what is being said in today’s social world where customers influence one another.

Comments left on your company’s Facebook page or blog probably are defining your brand to a greater degree than your promotional materials are.

Several companies, such as Radian6, Sysomos, and Lithium, provide excellent programs for listening and analyzing the data—all at a substantial cost. Once you implement a social media strategy, you’ll most likely need to engage one of these companies.

In the meantime, if you want to get a feel for what is being said about your brand or company, several free tools are available that will help you to start listening more closely to your customers.

Here are 5 of my favorites:   

1. Social Mention  

Social Mention defines itself as a search and analysis platform that aggregates user-generated content from across the universe into a single stream of information. Social Mention monitors 80+ social media properties directly, including Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, Digg, and Google, and provides bar charts of the top keywords, users, and hashtags.

Social Mention also gives brand managers valuable data such as information on whether their brand is being discussed in social media (strength), the ratio of mentions that are positive vs the ratio that are negative (sentiment), the likelihood that the individuals talking about their brand will do so repeatedly (passion), and the range of influence (reach).

Here is what the social world, according to Social Mention, said about our company:

  • Twice as many of the comments were positive as were negative (there weren’t many comments, however)
  • Of the people who were talking about Dudnyk, most would be inclined to keep talking about us

2. Topsy

Topsy, according to its website, provides deep, comprehensive analyses of Tweets and web pages that have been gathered from countless websites, blogs, and social media services. Topsy includes only those tweets that have been retweeted or that contain a link.

Topsy lets you search and compare up to 3 queries. When I asked about Dudnyk (@DudnykHealth and @Fxpowers), Topsy generated the following chart. Both our blog and our Twitter account generate retweets that are reflected in the peaks shown in the chart.

3. Google Advanced Search 

This tool enables brand managers to determine the number of positive and/or negative comments about their brand that appeared during a designated time (ranging from 24 hours to “anytime”). You search by combining the company name or brand name with selected positive keywords such as awesome, great, thank you, etc., or you can view negative comments by focusing on negative keywords. When I searched on Dudnyk and our tagline “Inciteful Healthcare Marketing®,” Google Advanced Search identified 37 positive entries and no negative comments.

One drawback of using this type of automated search in social listening is that nuances aren’t considered. If a blog post contains the expression “My bad,” then the post will appear as a negative comment in Google Advanced Search when the post might actually be very favorable.

4. Google Trends 

Google Trends helps brand managers determine the number of people searching for their company and/or brand(s). We found that search activity greatly increased when we launched the Dudnyk blog in January 2011, and that trend has remained consistent.

5. Google Alerts 

Brand managers can be notified by email when new content is added to Google (via web, blogs, news, video or discussion groups) that matches a set of specified search terms. Several years ago, I set up alerts to monitor the FDA’s social media efforts. These alerts generate weekly emails that ensure I am seeing all industry sentiment regarding social media.

So, what are your customers saying about your brand?

Whether or not brand managers want to participate in social media, customers are using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other vehicles to comment on your brand(s). Engage in some simple listening by using these 5 tools and find out what’s being said about your brand. You’ll be glad you did!