social listening

Free social listening solution for beginners & advanced users

Professional social listening solutions usually cost several hundred euros per month. Today, I'll show you how to create a free alternative that lets you keep an eye on the important topics and discussions even without a budget.

A few weeks ago I read about the Headwa Themesy case at WP Tavern. The Theme manufacturer was in financial trouble and had stopped supporting its customers. This led to all kinds of rumors on social networks, blogs and forums about a bankruptcy of Headway Themes.

So far, so bad for the manufacturer. What came next, however, blew me away: The manufacturer didn't respond to the rumors for months, didn't provide an explanation, and didn't even inform its existing customers. While I don't know why Headway Themes didn't respond, the example illustrates how important it is for companies whose customers discuss and share a lot to keep all eyes and ears open. Only then can they find relevant discussions, rumors and posts and respond to them quickly and authentically.

This is exactly the purpose of social listening solutions. They are supposed to monitor the social networks, blogs and forums for certain topics and keywords. But there's more to social listening than that. Because you can also identify new relevant topics and subject areas and get involved in the discussion at an early stage. This can go so far that business decisions, product development or your corporate design are influenced by the results of these analyses.


Social Listening describes the process of identifying, analysing, evaluating and observing media-led discussions and statements in social networks, forums and blogs about a topic, a company, a brand, a product or a person.

(We have added some points to the definition of )

Unfortunately, profit tools are very expensive: you can easily spend between 250 and 650 euros per month. And that's in the cheapest tariffs. Especially young and small companies usually don't have that much budget, but benefit especially strongly from effective social listening.

That's why I'll show you today how you can build a veritable social listening solution without any extra budget. This way you stay up to date and can react quickly to moods and discussions. However, advanced functions such as analyses and forecasts remain closed to you and manual work is required in many places.

Excerpt from Talkwalker's pricing table as an example of the high cost of social listening services
Talkwalker's pricing table exemplifies the high prices of paid social listening solutions.

Social Listening vs. Social Monitoring

First of all, it is important to understand that social listening does not serve the same purpose as monitoring. With the latter, you measure how individual posts, accounts, topics, etc. develop in the social networks, on blogs and in forums. For example, you can measure the number of followers of your important multipliers on Twitter.

Social listening is about discovering new, unknown things and staying up to date with old familiar things. You listen to social networks, blogs and forums and get discussions about certain topics and key terms. But social listening also includes analyzing and evaluating the knowledge you gain through listening and monitoring.

Or in other words: social monitoring is the measurement of certain characteristics. For example, recording the number of followers of a Twitter account. Social listening, on the other hand, refers to the interpretation of these numbers. Social Listening combines your quantitative knowledge about certain topics, accounts etc. with the qualitative aspect of information. A discussion initiated by a Twitter account with a particularly large number of particularly valuable followers can therefore be particularly important for your company.

Social listening helps with this:

  • identify new topics (which can then be measured by social monitoring)
  • to stay up to date with known topics
  • fill the social monitoring figures with life
  • Formulate statements and possible actions for your own company (e.g. "I should try to turn this user into an affiliate", "I should communicate more transparently during the next product rollout" or "I should invest more in solution-oriented support").
  • to be able to help shape topics and discussions at an early stage

So the subheading to this section is not quite correct. It should rather be called Social Monitoring AND Social Listening. Because you can't have one without the other.

For starters, however, it is crucial to become aware of relevant discussions in the first place. This is exactly the purpose of the solution I'm presenting to you today.

Social networks, forums AND blogs

With social listening, it's important that you cover as many relevant channels as possible with one solution. That means social networks, blogs and forums. In other words, all channels where there is a lot of discussion. By the way, you should also pay attention to this with paid tools, because even these do not always cover all relevant channels.

For example, Hootsuite offers the ability to monitor social mentions - mentions of one's account - but not sites outside of the networks served.

A mixture of Talkwalker and Google Alerts ensures basic coverage

At Raidboxes we use two tools: Google Alerts and Talkwalker. Google's in-house service is free, user-friendly and has no limit on the number of alerts that can be set.

Excerpt from Google Alerts. The tool can be used to implement a rudimentary social listening solution.
The user interface of Google Alerts is uncluttered and limited to the essentials: The keywords.

The setup is quite simple:

  • Call
  • Type the keyword you want to monitor into the input field, e.g. WordPress
  • Configure your alert
  • Add your alert
  • Done! Now you receive alerts for the keyword by mail

However, the individual alarms can be configured even further.

Google gives you the following options:

  • Notification frequency: Here you can choose between a daily, weekly or real-time notification.
  • Sources: You can either leave the selection of relevant sources to Google, or you can choose yourself between blogs, web, videos and other categories.
  • Language filter: With this you can display results in a certain language only.
  • Region filter: With this you only get results from a certain region.
Another excerpt from Google Alerts, showing which social listening options can be selected with the tools.
The detailed settings of Google Alerts are also clear.

Finally, you can choose whether to display all results or only those that Google considers particularly valuable, and to which email address the alert should be sent.

Google Alerts does not track social networks and does not have an analytics function

Google Alerts has two major drawbacks: First, the service doesn't capture discussions on social networks, and second, Google Alerts doesn't offer an analytics feature. That means Google doesn't show you an overview of the most discussed topics, keywords used, most influential individuals and companies or similar insights.

Once created, Google does give you an overview of your alerts, but it can't be filtered or sorted, and you can't set much more than the delivery times of the notification emails.

To use Google Alerts, you need a Google account. Although the service is very easy and intuitive to use, it offers hardly any configuration options. As is often the case, you are at the mercy of Google's logic.

Talkwalker: The basic version is an alternative for Google, the paid version is extremely extensive

Talkwalker basically offers the same features as Google Alerts, except that the service is also able to track mentions from social networks. We therefore use Talkwalker as a complement to Google. Talkwalker also promotes its free version as such.

The service allows very similar settings as Google, i.e. the choice of a language, a geographical area, a notification frequency and a quality filter. You also have the option to import and export search terms. And Talkwalker shows when an alert was last triggered. So you can at least make a rudimentary assessment of the frequency of a keyword.

Here's how social listening works with the free version of Talkwalker.
This excerpt from Talkwalker shows the basic information about the alerts. However, you don't get much more insight in the free variant.

In addition to Talkwalker and Google Alerts, we still use the notification service of our social media management tool, Buffer. That's because we've come to the following conclusion: In the free version, Talkwalker's social media coverage is not very good. It often happened that mentions were not reported at all or with a long delay.

Our conclusion is that the best way to monitor your social media channels is to use the channels' own notification features (or those of your social media tool, if you use one). While these need to be looked up individually, they are sufficient to get you started. We also recommend using a service like Zapier or IFTTT to sync your social media channels with, for example, Slack .

None of the tools have forecasting capabilities

Really good social listening tools have forecasting functions that allow you to discover new topics in addition to the set keywords. However, the services charge several hundred euros per month for such functions. As far as we know, analysis functions can only be found behind the paywall.

For example, Talkwalker takes at least €500 per month - for up to 10,000 results, an unlimited number of users and search queries, an analysis tool and an introductory training. In the more expensive tariffs and via add-on, time series analyses, image recognition and consideration of print and moving image data are then also available. For your orientation: We receive a few hundred results from our social listing every month.

Especially important in social listening is that you are able to make predictions about future important topics. This way, you can set alerts for important keywords at an early stage. In the free version, the only thing that helps here is: read, read, read. Blog posts, forum entries, discussions on Twitter, etc. are important sources of information. And of course the latest industry news. To get news from a specific industry you can use a service like Feedly to bundle all your information sources.

Conclusion: far from perfect, but a free solution

We've done quite well so far with the combination of Google Alerts, the free version of Talkwalker, the built-in notification and statistics functions of the social networks and curation services such as Feedly. Of course, this setup is not yet a perfect solution, but we cover blogs, forums and social networks with it and have thus always been able to react quickly to relevant cases.

However, it must be said at this point that of course I don't know what discussions and topics we may have missed that a paid social listening solution might have alerted us to.

Especially in view of the high prices of the professional tools (between 250 and 650 euros in the entry-level variant), there is hardly any way around a multi-member solution with extra effort without a budget. At least not if you want to stay up to date with what your community, the public, your competitors and your role models are currently doing.

Do you know of any alternatives to our setup? Do you have any tips on how to optimize social listening? Then I look forward to your input!

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