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What are people saying about the company you work for? How do customers view the products or services you work on and the interactions they have with the organization? Don’t know? Think that this only matters for people in marketing or higher up the chain?
It matters. It matters a lot.
You need to know when customers have issues, even if they aren’t yours to fix. You need to know when a trend is forming within the company and among the public. This is your livelihood, this is how you pay the bills and pay for drinks. Who in your company is excited and who’s dejected? Who’s gone quiet all of a sudden and who’s denouncing their boss or a new project? How does all of this impact you, your job and your happiness?
While I can’t answer that last question – that’s for you to decide. I can help you with a very simple way to get on top of the game so you can spot trends before they appear on the official radar.
This post may look like a lot of work, but it isn’t. You’ll spend a little time up-front, but once everything is set up you’ll be able to skate by with a quick daily or weekly scan of headlines.
There’s a small set of tools that will provide you with all you need: Google Alerts, Twitter and RSS.
If you aren’t on Twitter by now you need to sign up. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s stupid, people are using it and they’re talking about the company you work for. They’re talking about your work. If you are on twitter but don’t check into it all that often, you’ll want to increase your attention, but don’t worry – you don’t have to participate to a high degree, though I recommend that you do jump in.
Assuming you’ve already signed up, find your coworkers’ accounts and follow them or add them to a company-specific Twitter list. If you’re lucky, at least one of those coworkers will have already created a list for your company, making life much easier. Start with people in Marketing or that you know are into Twitter as those are the most likely to have made the connections with coworkers already. You may have to be selective if you work in a large company. If that’s the case, start with a Twitter list of everyone then follow those you think provide the most value.
Pay attention to the traffic and back-and-forth discussions, especially those of people higher up the chain or in key positions. The latter group doesn’t necessarily equate to an important title; it could be a QA person or developer who’s the linchpin for a product shipping or someone who who staffs trade shows tweeting about who they just met or an interesting product in a neighboring booth.
While this isn’t required, you will gain much more from this process if you participate by answering questions and asking some of your own. I’ve connected with customers actively using our products via Twitter and my work is better for that exposure, and my view of the company is more informed.
The fastest way to gauge reaction to a new initiative or to see the ramifications of a positive or negative customer experience is to have Twitter act as your personal monitor. Setting up a saved search on Twitter is easy and provides a wealth of information and alternate viewpoints.
Go to Twitter’s Search page and type in your company’s name. If the name is more than one word, place it in quotes to reduce false-positives. The same applies if the name is a single word that may be used in common communication. Use the Advanced Search if your company name is common or is likely to be a part of a common phrase so you can weed out the useless results. You may even use the “positive” and “negative” results checkboxes, but I recommend you take everything.
You can even use the advanced Search to specifically follow tweets to, from and referencing your company’s main Twitter account as well as key people in the company.
Add the “Feed for this Query” to your RSS reader of choice. Even if you don’t check your feed reader often, it will cache the results for you so you won’t miss anything.
Bonus: Set up additional searches for alternate spellings, typos and key product names.
Google Alerts are an invaluable tool for keeping an eye on the Web. While Twitter has quickly become the fastest way to learn about trends and opinions, this service provides insight into long(er) content. Someone may mention your company in a blog post or article, but the company name may not be included in the title of the piece or the 140 characters used to tweet about it.
Go to Google Alerts and as you did with your Twitter search type in the company name, placing it in quotes if it’s more than one word or is a single word that may be used often in a different context. Set the Type to Comprehensive and E-mail Length to Up to 50 Results (you do’t want to miss something). You can choose whether you want to receive the results via e-mail or RSS feed. I recommend the latter so it’s a part of the same workflow and it doesn’t clutter your inbox.
Add the feed to your RSS reader of choice unless you opted for delivery via e-mail.
RSS & Newsletters
Assuming your company has a blog or two, make sure you’re subscribed to those RSS feeds. You may know the topics they cover backward and forward, but it’s important to see how they’re presenting the company and your work. The same goes for any company newsletters.
By now you’ve likely noticed that the RSS reader is key to this process. Beyond it providing a central location for you to gauge what’s happening on a day-to-day basis, you may be able to use it to spot general activity trends. For example, here’s a graph provided by Google Reader that shows the activity for a Twitter search feed broken down by day:
If you didn’t notice the spike the first time around, you’ll see it now and be able to do a quick search to see what caused it.
These steps can easily be applied to your competition or other groups or companies of interest. If you’re interviewing at a company this framework will help you gauge the activity, personality and culture of the organization. If you want to see how your competition is fairing, there’s no better way than to apply the same process.
I avoided large-scale social metric reporting services as this post is for people interested on a personal level as opposed to it being a key part of their job. Outside of those services, I’m sure there are many more ways to keep an eye on the trends that I didn’t cover. I’d love to know your tips and tricks if you’d be kind enough to leave a comment.