By Brody Dorland published November 1, 2011

Tips and Tools for Better Listening for Content Marketing

A recent post from Joe Pulizzi got me thinking about an important role within marketing teams that too many companies are overlooking these days. Joe calls this role a Chief Listening Officer or the “air traffic controller for your social media and other content channels.” Titles aside, having someone who dedicates time to regular online listening/ monitoring is an extremely valuable role that every company needs.

For this post, here are some insights into how we use online listening tools (and what tools we use) for ongoing monitoring as well as for up-front strategy development and post-campaign analysis of the overall success of our content marketing efforts.

Before you plan

Prior to developing the online marketing, content, and website strategies for any of our clients, we initiate a “listening” (research) effort with an online monitoring tool called Spiral16 that helps us get a better feel for four distinct things:

  1. Who is having online conversations surrounding their industry, product, or service categories (influencer identification)
  2. What they are saying — the topics that are being discussed and the words/ phrases being used
  3. Where they are saying it — types of sites, social networks, blogs, forums, etc., that are housing these conversations and content
  4. Benchmarks for brand mentions — how to set an overall baseline volume of current brand mentions

Getting this lay of the land gives us a better understanding of current online/ social conversations and provides a data-backed foundation that helps to guide our strategy development process.

For example, prior to developing an online marketing strategy for a client that manufactures women’s legwear (tights, leggings, novelty socks, etc.), we initiated our listening effort and found that 69 percent of online conversations surrounding those product categories were happening on blogs. Specifically, the majority of those blogs were “fashionista” bloggers who post daily on new fashion trends and the outfits they’re wearing that day. Many of these fashionistas support their blogging habit through sponsorships and the affiliate programs provided by apparel manufacturers. We were amazed to find that many of these fashionistas have significant followings (3000 to 5000 subscribers).

(Spiral16 Site Types Distribution Graph)

With this data it became glaringly obvious that a fashionista blogger outreach program was needed. We proceeded to create that program along with a monthly blog feature, “Fashionista of the Month,” and a new fashionista affiliate program.

Without this initial listening effort, we would have never realized the influence of the fashionista community. Not to say that we wouldn’t have figured it out eventually, but this research allowed us to hone in on the best strategy right from the get-go.

During your campaigns

An ongoing listening effort during your content marketing campaign is definitely a must and can be accomplished easily with both free and paid listening tools.

  • For larger clients, we continue to use Spiral16 to monitor brand mentions, campaign performance, and filter the web’s fire hose for relevant content and conversations that may be worthy of engagement (response, comments, retweets, curation, etc.).
  • Free tools like Google Alerts,, and Twitter Search may not do as good of a job delivering the most relevant results, but they can still get the job done if you can spare the time to manually sift through their results.

Setting up your RSS reader is also a vital part of this equation. As you come across influencers, blogs, forums, and social networks that are consistently talking about your product/ service categories, you should:

  • Subscribing to those sites via RSS
  • Subscribe to any feeds that your competitors are providing
  • Pull in feeds from other industry vendors or partners that are providing auxiliary products or services.

Think of this as creating a dashboard that allows you to keep tabs on all the new content that is being created within your industry. (For more on how to set this up, here’s a video that walks you through it.)

If you’re finding too many feeds to monitor individually, you can use Yahoo Pipes to aggregate (group) them and create single, filtered feeds that fit together. For example, there might be several forums and Ning-based social networks that you want to monitor. Most forum or discussion board platforms allow you to grab (copy) RSS feeds, which can then be plugged (pasted) into Yahoo Pipes and filtered for the specific keywords or phrases that are relevant to your business. Yahoo Pipes will then provide you with one filtered feed URL that you can plug into your RSS reader. (For more on how to set this up, check out the video on the Yahoo Pipes homepage.)

After you’ve launched your efforts

I don’t know about you, but my goal for almost any marketing campaign is that we’ve done enough work to help the product or service grow organic legs of its own. How are you going to know if that happened if you’re not monitoring after the fact? Depending on the goals of your campaigns, listening after the fact can help you uncover some of the most juicy nuggets:

  • Viral, organic spread of your campaign’s messaging
  • User/ customer reviews and testimonials
  • User-generated ideas for new features (send these to R&D)
  • Any drop in mentions/ activity when the campaign stops, which normally indicates the need for a more sustained marketing effort.

No matter which tools you’re using to get this done, it needs to be done regularly. Larger organizations will probably have the ability to hire that Chief Listening Officer or analyst who has a nose for digging into data; but even small organizations can benefit from dedicating a little time each week. At the end of the day, we need to be using all of this data to help us make better, smarter decisions.

What other tools are you using to find relevant content and conversations surrounding your industry, product or service categories? How are you using them to make smart decisions?

Author: Brody Dorland

Brody is an online marketing consultant, blogger, podcaster, and co-creator of DivvyHQ, a cloud-based editorial calendar application that helps you manage your content, ideas, editorial teams and production schedules all in one place. Follow Brody on Twitter @brodydorland.

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  • Carl Friesen

    I keep telling my clients, “You are not your market.”  They may assume that their clients have the same worldview, the same information-gathering habits and the same motivations as they do. One of the strengths of Brody’s approach is that it helps educate a company about its customers and their interests. His legwear example is a good one. Few men would have close personal experience with using this company’s products (or would at least admit to it) and as a result, almost certainly have inaccurate ideas about what motivates choices in this category. This might lead to bad decisions regarding styles, colors, and other factors. The feedback provided by a Chief Listening Officer, of either or no gender, could go a long way to closing this knowledge gap, and also act as an advocate for the customer’s interests.

    • Brody Dorland

      Thanks Carl! We are no longer surprised to find that the perceptions held by our clients are often off the mark. A thorough listening effort has played a vital role in defining the marketing roadmap to success for many of our clients. 

    • Peter

      Great point! That mindset is one of the problems that often fuels the mistake of creating online content that is too self-reflective and self-serving. You see it when almost every sentence starts with “ABC, Inc believes…” or “Here at ABC, we strive to…,” etc. Clients want to know what’s in it for them. Talking about  yourself leads to them just tuning out.

  • Peter

    Great post, Brody! Your findings regarding fashionista bloggers is no surprise. I understand their influence in fashion marketing has begun to eclipse even the influence of the big name designers. My guess is some of the bloggers in other industries are equally influential.

  • Adam Clarke

    Lots of excellent tips. Its always good to have a plan.

  • Paideia

    As someone who’s written five books on the challenges of listening as a dedicated daily practice, I can tell you that the need for companies to have a Chief Listening Officer has never been greater!  ~ Mark Brady, Ph.D.

  • Christina Damiano

    Great article! Listening is definitely a skill that is lacking yet essential to just about any profession. You make a great case for why this skill needs to be honed from a marketing standpoint. Thank you.