There are five steps in social media we always recommend to new clients who are just beginning to branch out online.

They are listen, assess, engage, measure, and refine/improve.

The Art and Science of Listening

While each step is important, the foundation to any online effort is listening. And it’s the one step you can do without any of the others.

Before you begin, think about the historically great communicators. They ask a lot of questions. They really listen to what you have to say. They get you talking about yourself. They inquire deeply into the answers you provide. And then they provide advice, counsel, and coaching — but only after they fully understand your needs.

These master communicators are better at listening than they are at talking.

Social media is no different. It’s another way to communicate through listening and engaging in conversation — online. To be a master at social media communication you must have a strong foundation of listening.

First things first. If you don’t have Google alerts set up, do that now.

If you don’t know how to do that, this blog post will teach you how to set them up and which terms to use.

Now let’s discuss eight free tools to enhance what Google is sending you.

  1. Reputation Management. Twendz is a reputation management tool that looks at how people feel about a brand or a topic. It measures Twitter, specifically, on positive, neutral, or negative tweets. Use this tool to measure people’s sentiments in order to set your benchmark goals.Pay attention to how people are talking about the company, your leadership, key employees, your products or services, your customers, and even your competition.
  2. Blog Tracking. The media landscape has changed and print journalists are no longer the only ones with influence. some bloggers have immense influence and you cannot afford to ignore them. Learn which bloggers care about you, your products or services, and your customers.Use tools such as Technorati or Google Blog Search to determine which bloggers already are aware of you and develop a plan to target them.
  3. Social Bookmarking. Collect case studies of social media success in your industry, in your category, and from companies and people you admire.Use Delicious or Diigo to bookmark the case studies in one location so you can refer back to them while you develop your goals and plan your next steps.
  4. Twitter Search. There is nothing better for real-time search than Twitter. Even if you don’t have a Twitter account, you can still use their search application to find conversations.While we believe everyone should have a Twitter account in order to fully understand and take advantage of their wide range of services, you can subscribe to the RSS feed without an account.
  5. Website Optimization. Right now, go to Web site grader and bookmark the page. Now type in your URL. What’s your grade? Is it 100 percent? No? It tells you exactly what you need to do to fix the site so the search engines are crawling it and you are competing on the web.
  6. Blog Optimization. Do the same thing for your blog, if you have one, but visit Blog Grader instead.
  7. Competitive Analysis. Now go to Compete. Enter your URL and the URLs of two of your competitors. This site then creates a graph, comparing you to your competition.While it’s not flawless (it only tracks U.S. traffic, for instance), it gives you a good baseline of understanding where your competition is beating you (or vice versa).
  8. Web Analytics. Do you look at your web analytics at least weekly? If not, this is a must. It will help you track where people are visiting from and which accounts are home, corporate websites, or blogs.If you find visitors coming from blogs, add those sites to your RSS feeds, comment on the blog posts, and develop relationships with the bloggers.

Having an insider understanding of your visitor demographics will allow you to easily identify your demographic.

As you listen, monitor, and get smart about your web properties, as compared to competitors, you’ll begin to understand how to create your goals.

Next week I’ll give you the tools for assessing where your customers and prospects are already participating online.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich