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Monitoring and Listening

There are two types of conversations on social media: conversations with your brand, and conversations about your brand. In order to fully understand what your audience thinks about your brand, you need to be aware of both conversations. This is possible through monitoring and listening.


Conversations with your brand include comments on your posts, posts to your page, replies to your messages, private or direct messages, and posts that tag your account. You can monitor these conversations by enabling notifications on your accounts and regularly checking your platforms for activity. You may wish to develop a regular routine or checklist for your accounts in order to be sure that they are consistently monitored. A checklist is also a useful tool for your designated backup, when you're out of the office or on vacation and a colleague is monitoring accounts.


Monitoring only goes so far. In order to be aware of the conversations about your brand - those that don't tag your account - you need to be proactively listening. Listening involves using tools to search for keywords and phrases relevant to your brand as they appear on social media, websites, blogs, and more. There are many tools available that can help you do this. Some are free (such as Google Alerts) and some are paid (such as Sprinklr, Mention, or TweetDeck). Many services offer freemium options, where a free version is available with additional benefits for paid accounts. No matter what tool, or combination of tools, you choose to use, they almost always utilize Boolean Operators.

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are word combinations used to include or exclude words from search results. Using Boolean Operators helps to tailor the search results to the specific topic(s) you're looking for, such as your unit or program name. This is an iterative process. As search results come in through whatever tool(s) you're using, some messages will inevitably come through that are not what you're looking to find. You may be able to add words to your exclusion lists to filter these out in the future. The main Boolean Operators are AND, OR, NOT (or AND NOT), and parentheses.

Using the word AND means both search terms or phrases must appear together in order for the message to be included in your search results.

Example: Spartans AND commencement would return search results of messages including both Spartans and commencement.

Using the word OR means either search term (or both) can appear in order for the message to be included in your search results.

Example: Spartans OR MSU would return search results of messages including Spartans or MSU, or both Spartans and MSU.

Using the word NOT or the phrase AND NOT excludes terms from your search results.

Example: Spartans AND NOT football would return search results of messages including the word Spartans but not if the messages also included the word football.

Quotation Marks
Quotation marks are used to separate phrases so that you can search using multiple words together.

Example: "Michigan State University" would only return search results if they included that exact phrase.

Parentheses can be used to combine keywords and phrases for more complicated search queries.

Example: ("Michigan State University" OR Spartans) AND (commencement OR graduation) AND NOT (football OR basketball) would return search results that included either "Michigan State University" or Spartans (or both) when used along with the word commencement or graduation, but not football or basketball.

Getting Started with Listening

The first step in developing a listening system is to determine what element(s) of your brand you want to listen for. At the basic level, this is likely your college or unit name. You may also want to monitor for your "products" (majors, programs, certificates, workshops, etc. that are offered by your unit) or key individuals associated with your unit (such as your dean). The number of elements you're able to monitor will likely be determined by limitations in technology, man power and budget, so you should prioritize your list and start with whichever element is most important.

The next step is to generate a keyword list for each element for which you'll be listening. This can be done in a simple spreadsheet with columns or tabs for AND, OR, and NOT keywords and phrases. Add as many possible related terms as you can think of. You may also bring in colleagues to help you brainstorm. Use a web search or keyword tools to test searches and identify additional terms to include.

As you generate your keyword list, you should put yourself in the shoes of your audience. They're not as familiar as you are with your brand, so they may make mistakes. You should consider alternative (incorrect) spellings of your terms. Include various combinations of capitalized and lower case letters. Also keep in mind that social media users often omit punctuation, so you should include variations of words with and without appropriate punctuation marks as well.

Once you have your keyword list generated, use your listening tool(s) to build queries, combining AND, OR, and NOT terms and phrases. Don't forget to use appropriate quotation marks to group phrases and parentheses to keep sets of terms together. Enable the listening, and then monitor results and make adjustments to your keyword lists as necessary.

Using Your Findings

Listening will bring in a lot of information. What you do with this information depends on what you gather, the goals for your unit, and your available resources.

  • Engage. You may find messages from key audience members that you can engage with. Like their comment or post. Retweet their message. Respond to their question. You obviously can't retweet every message and like every post. Do what makes sense given your goals, objectives, and resources. It is all about finding a balance.
  • Track. You may discover ongoing themes or trends in your listening results. Keeping a log of what you find - whether detailed figures or general impressions - can help you track the ebbs and flows of conversational topics. These trends may help guide your future communications. For example, if you see messages indicating confusion about the same topic from multiple sources, it may indicate an issue with recent messaging or it may give you an idea for a needed communication piece.
  • Report. Depending on the content, you may need to report on what you find.
    • In instances of message(s) indicating an emergency or a threat, you should contact the MSU Police and Public Safety by calling 9-1-1.
    • If someone reports sexual assault or harassment to your page or account (via direct message, tagging your account in a post or comment, commenting or posting to your wall, etc.), you need to report the message to the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) and MSU Police and Public Safety. Send a screenshot of the message and a link to the message (if publicly viewable) to and Indicate how you received the message, which account it was sent to and the name or username of the message sender. 
    • For other issues or trends, you may need to create a summary report for individuals in your unit, such as your dean. When writing a summary, be as objective as you can. A good template is to report on the volume of conversation (include general numbers and whether the conversation levels are increasing or decreasing), sentiment (overall, are the messages negative, positive, or neutral?), and themes (are there recurring statements on the topic?). Avoid including judgements (i.e. "This is really bad.")
    • University-affiliated individuals with concerns regarding their personal accounts (i.e., "troll" attack or doxxing related to a researcher's work) can our online attack guidelines (MSU login required) for handling the situation, and may contact the MSU media relations staff ( with additional questions.  

Additional Resources

Below are links to relevant resources shared at Social @ Michigan State events. See the meetings and workshops lists on the Campus Community page for additional information regarding these events.