The importance of “listening” on the web

[Cross posted from the Third Sector Foresight website and updated from a previous post on this blog].

For many organisations, making the best use of the most basic ICT can be a struggle, let alone starting to think about how they might use social media tools.  The reality is that with more and more information and discussions online, those that don’t engage are likely to miss out.

Government departments are already posting their new policies and initiatives online, local CVS are keeping their websites up to date with the latest funding opportunities and people are discussing the work that you do online.

Can you afford to not receive this information?  Should you be letting these conversations happen without your input?  Using information in this way is only going to increase so getting to grips with it is vital.

Getting started with social media needn’t be a big step, in fact organisations should probably start small until they get the hang of it.  Even if you’re not confident in (or even interested in) setting up a blog or joining a social networking site there is a mass of information out there that could help you to do your job more effectively.

You can broadly categorise five stages of engaging with social media, each subsequent step requiring more time per week to maintain:

  • Listening
  • Participating
  • Generating a buzz
  • Sharing content
  • Building communities

Getting started with listening is easy, the initial steps are:

Set up an RSS feed reader account

The key tool behind listening is RSS, sending any new web based information straight to you, saving you time from both searching for information and only seeing what’s relevant.  To use RSS you’ll need to set up a feed reader, either something web based like Bloglines or if you use an internet browser like IE7 or Firefox, it’s already built in.

Sign up to RSS news feeds

RSS logo

The square orange RSS logo indicates that a website it set up to enable RSS feeds.  You might choose to get started with some key news sites like BBC, Communities and Local Government, NCVO or Third Sector Foresight.  In no time at all you will identify other sites you want to follow and you simply add them.


Read blogs

Blogs are free and easy to set up and allow people to talk about what they’re interested in.  If people are using blogs to talk about your area, your field of work or even your organisation, don’t you want to know about it?

The easiest way to find blogs is to start with one and then see who they link to.  If you want somewhere to start then why not try NCVO’s Public Service Delivery Network blog.

You can also search for blogs specifically within Google.

Set up key word searches

Searching for keywords can often throw up useful information on the internet, especially if your keyword is fairly unique (such as “NCVO” or “foresight”).

You can save a Google blog search to continually look for your keyword and email you with the result.

Twitter is increasingly hosting conversations that we should be listening to, you can set up your own Twitter search and even feed the results into your RSS feed reader.

Do all of these at once!

A really useful comment from Dave Briggs below pointed out the Addict-o-matic website which does a lot of this “listening” all at once.

Go to and put in your keyword, it might be your organisation’s name or something about the work you do … and see the results come in.

Further information

There are loads more excellent resources to help you listen on the web and I’ve saved them at  You might also want to download a copy of the “How to use new media” guide.

6 thoughts on “The importance of “listening” on the web

  1. Pingback: Google Alerts for charities | Louise Brown

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