Four methods and 40 free tools for listening to online conversations

All the digital media practitioners agree: listening is the starting point of any plan to harness the power of the social web.

Image credit: Hryckowian

Image credit: Hryckowian

It’s how you locate the people who are already talking online about your stuff, and how you figure out the best ways to talk to them. (And, in my experience, it’s how you get addicted).

But how do you do it?

I’ve been doing a lot of listening online recently, both professionally and personally. I’ve found that, while there are hundreds of different tools for doing it, there are – I think - only four different ways in which the tools can be consumed by the listener. (All of which I use in combination). I’ve listed those four ways below.

Do you agree with my list? How do you listen online? I’d love to hear about your experience of using the methods I’ve listed here, or other ways I have missed.

The 4 methods are:

  1. Quick searches
  2. Email alerts
  3. ‘Start page’ dashboards
  4. RSS aggregators/readers

I will cover methods 1 and 2 today, and 3 and 4 in a later post. There will also be a bonus list of the main sources I use for grabbing RSS feeds plus some commercial options for outsourcing your online monitoring.

Method 1: Quick searches

What is it? Keyword searches entered via specific websites
Advantages: Speed, ease of use, ideal for testing or refining query terms or getting an instant snapshot of the buzz about your topic
Disadvantages: Less fine-grained than other methods, can bring back irrelevant results (e.g. international or niche sources), one-time-only searching means you will need to repeat it manually

Tools I use:

Others to try:

Any big ones I’ve missed? What searches do you use and trust? Let me know via comments.

Method 2: Email alerts

What is it? Alerts sent direct to your email inbox either regularly (daily/weekly digest) or immediately on any new mentions of your search topic
Advantages: Reactive, doesn’t rely on you remembering to check, fast, easy to forward on to other people, familiar medium
Disadvantages: Limited sources, interruptive, no integration with other tools, one recipient only, can be time consuming to set up advanced alerts from multiple sources

Tools I use:

Others worth trying:

So what do you think? Do you receive email alerts from tools other than those I’ve listed? Does anyone know a better way of turning RSS feeds into email alerts than Feedburner? (I’ve tried another: RSSFwd, but it seems to be inactive).

Stay tuned (via my RSS or email subscription) for part two, where I’ll cover how you can monitor the online buzz using dashboards and RSS aggregators. If you can’t wait until then, here’s some links to other blog posts on this topic.

Further reading:

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Nice round up, have you tried Google Custom Search? Its worth a look.

Looking forward to the next round.

Great consolidation of the various tools that are out there.

[...] 4 methods and 40 free tools for listening to online conversations Good rundown of moethos and resources for online conversations. (tags: socialnetworking software) No Comments Leave a Commenttrackback addressThere was an error with your comment, please try again. name (required)email (will not be published) (required)url [...]

Great round up. Thanks for sharing.

You’re welcome, glad it’s been of some use. Part two of this post is now available here. Also, in researching part two, I came across a great Yahoo Pipe called the Social Media Firehose. It outputs as email as well as RSS, so I have added it to the email list above.

Great Post with some great links to different tools. One other I would include is Feedly, guess it fits into dashboard views for RSS feeds, works only with Firefox at present I think.

Feedly provides you with a magazine style view of all subscribed to RSS feeds, great for aggregating your FriendFeed searches.

glad you like the social media firehose! Send any feedback my way-

Feedly and Google Custom Search are both great tips, thanks.

This TechCrunch article also has some great tools for email alerts and is also well worth a look.

[...] Four methods and 40 free tools for listening to online conversations (tags: tools twitter listening socialmedia howto) [...]


thanks again, again, a great list!


[...] can listen in real time as these conversation happen in public. So we help our clients explore the many free online tools, as well as using more sophisticated listening platforms to track and analyse [...]

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