Social listening is a fast way to get a sense of what people are saying about your brand, your product, or your category. While the people you’re listening in on are a small proportion of the total population, they are increasingly a broad spectrum of the population and likely to include your target demographic.
Twitter is often the best choice for social listening, because it’s more general-purpose than Facebook or LinkedIn and more popular than G+. You can hop onto Twitter.com and use their search function to see what people are saying right now about a topic of interest.
However, as the results for “hiking gear” show, Twitter isn’t always the most informative place to find out what people are talking about at Twitter:
The other searches we tried featured a large paid post at the top, so they required even more scrolling to find actual results.
So you might want to use other tools to see what’s tweeting.
We checked out Topsy, a specialty search engine that sees tweets back to 2006, which is not the absolute beginning of Twitter, but it’s a good long time. We looked at a few topics that have come up in our work lately: yoga socks, #digitalhealth wearables, and hiking gear. We figured this would give us a good range of results, since we’re including a trendy item from the CPG space, a hashtag plus trendy item, and a stalwart category — all items that fitness-conscious people might be tweeting about.
You might want to look at your brand, your category, and your larger mission. Or your brand and your competitors. There are a lot of ways to dice the data.
Whatever you choose, you can check out the comparative popularity of your search terms as measured by tweets:
This graph is what you see under “Social Analytics” in the free version of Topsy. You can’t change the time depth, so you’re seeing one month’s trends — not much data. This graph is probably most valuable for “share of voice” checking, or for confirming spikes in trendiness.
There is also a “Social Trends” tab that lets you explore the top 100 to top 20,000 tweets in various languages. No screen shot because the top tweets, it turns out, are not that presentable.
On to “Social Search,” Topsy’s main offering. Topsy offers various time ranges, including “All Time” which goes back to 2006, various languages, and the following types of posts:
The first thing we found is that the various types of posts tend to look very similar:
If you’re wondering about yoga socks, it’s pretty much all about the giveaways right now. A search for hiking gear filled the screen with one poster’s spammy ad. Even when we went to brands, we saw pretty much all shameless promotion. Let’s just say that the quality of discourse about products is not going to draw the ghosts of Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde closer to the Twitter stream.
Add a hashtag mentioning the larger issue, as we did for health and fitness wearables, and you see a lot more actual conversation and useful links.
Note that Topsy summarizes the sentiment for the time range chosen and graphs the frequency of tweets for the past 30 days.
You can read through all the tweets, of course, but that’s an option with all Twitter search tools. Topsy’s sorting into different kinds of tweets is handy. We also found that it was most valuable for searches with less conversation going on around the term — something that isn’t true with all social listening tools.
We usually use Sprout Social‘s Discovery tool, since we are already using Sprout. If you don’t have a social listening channel, however, Topsy has some real advantages over Twitter’s tools.
We’d like to see a social listening tool that could filter out all promotions and sponsored tweets so we’d actually know what consumers have to say without reading through acres of tweets, but we’re not holding our breath. What’s your wish list for social listening tools?