Social listening is a type of market research that hones in on consumer conversations around a given topic, such as a brand name. Brands gain insights into what consumers are saying on social in real time. A suite of tools is on the market today that aggregates these conversations; a savvy listener uses Boolean queries and extensive filtering to get the cleanest data set possible. The quantity (number of mentions) and quality (context, sentiment and authority of user) of the conversation provides an accurate report of how many people are talking about a brand and what they are saying. Still, the social listening process can be confusing, and we get a lot of questions about it. How do you pull a data set? What exactly is filtering and why is it important? If the tool does all the work for us, why can’t we buy the tool and run reports on our own? We’ve talked before about the science and art of social listening to create value. That being said, we think the social listening process can be described using an event in history: the California Gold Rush. The filtering process is just like sifting for gold. Step One: Stake your claim Canvass the landscape. There are a lot of social listening tools out there and it’s important to choose a user-friendly platform that allows you to gather the largest data set possible. This will better equip you to find the richest gold-bearing ground. Step Two: Gather gravel There are literally billions of pieces of online content. Taking a sample of content that you’re interested in is a lot like taking an initial gravel sample. It’s an unpredictable grab bag of rocks, dirt, sand and water. In social listening terms, the sample is full of unrelated or general content and spam mixed with the social gold—i.e. our relevant data. And so, we begin the filtering process. Step Three: Remove the sand and gravel Whether it’s an experienced shake of the pan or a deep dive to analyze the data, filtering is where the process becomes more difficult. In order to filter, we need to read through verbatims and manually determine relevancy and importance. This is the thoughtful, human analysis that you cannot get from a computer algorithm or pre-built report. There is a delicate balance between removing irrelevant terms and setting such a strict filter that you miss out on a valuable nugget. For example, if we were listening for the brand Nike, we might begin our query with the terms “Nike” and “Nike, Inc.” to take a broad sweep of brand mentions and sentiment. If we found a large volume of irrelevant mentions about the Greek goddess Nike, for example, we could add the terms “goddess” or “mythology” to our filter. We would not want to add the term “victory”, given its relevance to the brand. While it might remove some mythology references, it could also remove a slew of relevant brand conversation, thereby robbing us of important business insights and intelligence. Don’t be shy about getting dirty—dig into the data and filter as needed. Step Four: Expose the fool’s gold In terms of data, how do you separate the 24 karat insights from the pyrite? How do you distinguish between a relevant content producer and a sophisticated spam site? Talk to a social listening expert. A lot of spam sites look relevant on the surface. They are evolving every day as more advanced spammers disguise junk content in an effort to make money from Google. They lure users to their sites and make money when users click on Google ads to get back to the content they were looking for in the first place. The newest trend is to place coherent paragraphs full of junk content littered with relevant keywords. Since these spammers post frequently and receive a fair amount of traffic (albeit from confused users), social listening tools and Google often confuse them for quality sources. Manual discovery and removal is the only way to rid your cache of this pyrite. Step Five: Strike it rich! Sometimes gold nuggets are easy to find, but other times, significant filtering is required. Either way, this is the rich data that will provide useful insights into consumer conversation and shape business strategies. Whether you find key brand advocates to amplify your message, product feedback to enhance your roadmap or conversation graphs to align your marketing campaigns with consumer speak, social gold increases your company’s bottom line. If you don’t strike it rich on a particular listening topic, don’t be afraid to start the process over with a different sample set of silt. Who knows where you’ll find your next valuable insight. Step Six: Forging the metal Once the research portion of the listening engagement is complete, what do we do with the seemingly disparate puzzle pieces? Let’s call the final step “forging” for the sake of our gold analogy. Pin up all the data and insights, sit back and look for the overarching trends, gaps and opportunities. As a listening analyst, it’s my job to help smelt the gold nuggets into a cohesive final product. From discussing data findings with executives and thought leaders to aligning content marketing strategy with consumer speak, a good listener forges insights into actionable recommendations.