Social Listening: How to Keep Your Paw On The Pulse

Do you know what people are saying on social media and who is influential? Are you able to boost engagement and drive action when people are most excited your work?

What’s Social Listening Again?

Social listening is the process of monitoring digital channels to understand the conversations around relevant topics so you can better engage those people driving those discussions. The ability to translate these chirps into engagement opportunities means increased exposure for your organization.

Understandably, people may have reservations with social listening because until recently, it’s been:

  1. Resource prohibitive
  2. Difficult to make sense of social chatter
  3. Available with tools designed for posting content like Hootsuite
  4. Unable to integrate with leading nonprofit CRMs

What’s exciting about advances in social listening is these barriers have largely been removed, which means cause can use a tactic once reserved for the largest brands.

Why Social Listening is Powerful (and why you should care)

With the almost universal access to analytics, social listening becomes even more important. How your key stakeholders including donors, volunteers and activists talk about the issues surrounding your work is not only observable, it is measurable. Analytics, when paired with social listening, provide the context you need to understand how your most important advocates (and future donors) talk about your cause.

While social media managers can track mentions of your organization or any hashtag, it’s less clear how digital teams monitor how people talk about the overall mission of the nonprofit. Understanding who talks about your work means listening for key terms that relate to the mission, in addition to obvious mentions.

Listen For The Sound of Mentions

If a social mention happens in the forest and you’re not tracking it, did it ever happen? Music to the ears of modern digital teams is the sound of supporters talking about terms that set you up for a crisp call to action. But what are those terms?

A great place to start is creating a simple list of keywords that best describe your programs, campaigns and mission. It takes time to refine your list because you need to find accurate terms that capture a sizable number of mentions, yet are specific enough to reflect your intent. For example, the term “environment” for is too broad for most environmental organizations, but “#keepitintheground” or “public lands” would work for the right issues. The only way to know is to test these terms for yourself.

Listen to Your People, Not the World

We recommend listening to people in your CRM or email list, since you’ve already invested in these folks who are your most engaged supporters. Listening works best when you focus on a narrow audience who you have the ability to engage by email or social. By connecting your existing data with social listening, you’ll have both context and focus for the terms being monitored.

To make social listening actionable, it’s key to 1) work on issues people talk about on social, 2) know your plan of action, 3) have tools that allows you to see who in your CRM is talking about your terms.

Incorporate Social Listening with Weekly Reports

The integration social media, email and web is a complex issue many digital teams are trying to coordinate. MomsRising address this issue with a weekly team meeting called “Metrics Monday” where they talk about work from the past week, what’s trending in the news, what’s inspiring, and what campaign terms their supporters are talking about.

In addition to tracking key search terms, they also listen to what their supporters are saying “in the wild,” since what people are talking about may not be what they take action on. They determine what’s trending on social using tools like Facebook Insights, Crowdbooster for Twitter, and for their email list.

Engage Your Social Media Influencers

Influencer marketing is effective not only because of the sheer reach but because it’s based on Word of Mouth, which is the most effective type of outreach. The reason people prefer to get information from friends and family is because they are seen as a trusted source. It’s not that your organization isn’t trustworthy, it’s more about social proof. People believe people.

Infact, the Georgetown Digital Persuasion Study found that 65% of people get cause info online from family and friends. Less than 20% said they got info from the organizations themselves. In addition, 76% stated that it’s important to influence others to care about causes they care about.

Social media influencers are those who are active on one or more social network, with a modest to large following, who can drive awareness and action around your campaign. Social data like Klout scores or number of connections, allows you to observe the relative influence of the people talking about your campaigns, and when combined with social listening, can provide a huge advantage since you know the influencers, from your email list, who are talking about your campaign.

For example, “VIP” influencers can bring attention to your campaign, but there won’t be as many in your CRM. As such, it’s key to identify the 3 types of influencers including your “everyday” talkers who have a modest number of connections and Klout score, but have substantial reach when viewed as a group.

Send Personalized Content

How does social listening connect back to the trend of personalization? When we talk about personalization in the context of engagement, it’s centered on knowing your audience better, so you can send relevant content to your supporters & donors. People want to engage with organizations that get them, that understand their interests and values. They want to know that you’ll never play “We built this city on rock and roll” and will engage them with what they want to hear.

Social listening basically tells you their content playlist. For example, by sending automated emails to supporters who mentioned “Grand Canyon, American Rivers gained 2,500 new petition signers with an impressive 24% petition signature conversion rate and 40% open rate! The take away is if you’re people are talking about a campaign term (i.e. request a song), send them an email about that term (play the damn song).

As a person’s online identity becomes better defined by the things they click on, interact with, and talk about on social media, the more important it becomes to tailor your communications to get their attention.

Show Them Their Voice Matters

It’s easy to show your supporters that you are paying attention to their dialogue and value their likes, shares and comments. Spending 30 minutes per day, you can build trust, establish relationships and empower your online influencers to increase their support. Understanding what social love looks like on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter will help you support your own donors, influencers and activists who care deeply about your cause and want to do more.

Want to learn more about Social Listening?

Download the guide from Attentively.

Know what people are saying on social media and who is influential, so you’re able to boost engagement and drive action when people are most excited your work.

Jeanette is Marketing Director at who is dedicated to scaling change through technology. She served as an advisory board member of JustGive, co-founded the Montana chapter of the New Leaders Council and served on the board of the WildWest Institute.
John Haydon