keyword wordleKeywords are the core, and the first step in your social media listening program. They define the Topics & Monitors you are interested in. When creating your keywords, make sure to keep consistent with the title of your Topic/Monitor and your keywords. You don’t want to set an expectation regarding the information you are collecting by creating a title that is inconsistent with the information you are actually capturing. That would be like me naming this blog post ‘Pancakes’.

Without the correct tuning of your keywords, you are either missing too much content that you should be seeing, or you are collecting too much off-topic material that is not relevant to the conversation that you are interested in. Fine tuning keywords so you loose as little relevant information as possible while not picking up too much noise is the key to good tuning. The level that you can get to will be different for each topic you are interested in and is a constant game of cat and mouse as the conversation changes over time.

Each social media monitoring / listening tool has a different set of capabilities regarding its flexibility in setting up keywords. Depending on the type of conversations you are interested in, you may be able to get away with some of the more simplistic keyword structures. When you start to really dig into the weeds you are going to want a system that allows you to get very specific about what you are looking for, and just as much, for those things that you don’t want.

Before ever talking about the keywords themselves, it is best to understand just what you are looking to accomplish with a group of keywords. The easiest way that I have found for accomplishing this is to ask yourself “What questions do I want this set of keywords to answer?’ If you know the goal that you have in mind going in, you’re going to have a much better result. If you’re just picking out keywords to see what the conversation is all about, you should pause for a moment and reflect on just what you are looking to accomplish.

You don’t want to capture everything that exists on the Internet as this will do you no good. You need to capture enough valid and relevant content that it is viable to make decisions from. I’ve had clients who wanted to capture every single mention of their company. I don’t find that this is a useful exercise and it generally doesn’t address any stated goal.

So, back to keywords. There are lots of different ways to string a set of words together, and Boolean logic is the primary approach to doing this. A combination of “I need this” OR “that” AND “this”, but NOT “that”. Each of your ‘this and thats’ can either be a single word or a collection of words.

I’ve heard it said that a specific 6 word combination is equivalent to a fingerprint on the Internet. This may not be as true as it one was, but you can get probably get very close to a specific article if you can string 6 exact words together. However, for your keywords, you are not looking for a single post, you are looking for a collection of posts that are part of an overall conversation.

Each tool can be vastly different, but some of the common functions that are helpful in finding the content you are looking for are:

1) Separated Boolean – Some tools provide Boolean logic that is a bit easier to work with than others. They provide separate and distinct areas for your AND/OR/NOT words, which can keep you from needing to type all of your keywords into the system over and over. In some systems, if you have 20 keywords you need to combine together, you may need to type in 100 terms (10 x 10 combinations) while in other systems you may only need to enter the 20 words once.
2) Wildcards – These can be extremely useful when entering keywords into the system, but they can also be a curse if used wrong. A wildcard can open up the options for the beginning of a word, end of a work, the case of a word or a character, and even the middle of a word. If you are interested in drums, you can look for drum* and find drum, drums drummer, drumming, etc. It certainly can make life easier but you need to know what you are doing.
3) Proximity – You can identify how close two words (or more) need to be to each other in order for them to be considered a match. This is best for longer form content where the conversation can change over the course of the post. If ‘Playing Drums’ is relevant only if they are close together, this will keep you from collecting posts that include ‘playing baseball’, where Playing has no context with Drums.
4) Action words – In some cases you will be interested in how things (generally products) are used. Setting up specific topics that listen for these types of words help you gather just the content you need to answer questions like “How are people using our product?” Seems like this would be a great topic for WD40 or Duct tape.
5) Case Sensitive – If you are interested in conversations that reference (P)at, your CEO, and not the ‘(p)at on the back’ you’ll get for creating a great social media monitoring report, using case sensitivity will help you find the right content. But keep in mind that someone could start a sentence with ‘(P)at on the back’ and you’re going to get that content.

Some tools allow you to create subtopics, and the collection of subtopics will all role up into a single master topic. This keeps you from needing to create a separate master topic if you are looking to see all of your collected conversations in one place. It also allows you to more accurately tune your topics for each individual channel (Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, etc.). I find many times that the keywords that I use for capturing on-topic twitter posts are different than would I would use to find longer form content.

Crazy words
Many times the easiest way to find the conversation you are looking for is to hope that there is a unique word or phrase that is key to the conversation. Hashtags can be great for this, if you know that they are going to be used consistently. Otherwise you have to cross your fingers that the conversation has a unique element to it that you can leverage for collecting the conversations you want.

Developing a set of keywords for a topic is both a science and an art. Each topic has its own quirks that need to be addressed to maximize the amount of on-topic content you will get and minimize the noise. If you need any help with your keywords, drop us a line.