Try This: Strategic Listening

Our blogs are expressions of us, informed by a community. It’s part of why we write blogs instead of handwritten journals.

Listening in on other conversations before you draft and publish clarifies your thinking and inspires more post ideas. While staying on top of topics you care about might be a more obvious move for a topical blogger than a purely personal one, taking the time to listen gives any blogger a lift.

You’re probably already engaged in the larger community, and you can focus some of that engagement to benefit your blog. It’s time to try some strategic listening. With free tools to simplify it, it’s an easy way to give your blog a big boost.

What is “strategic listening” anyway?


Thanks to the internet, we no longer have to carry oversized handbags to accommodate our carved wooden ear-horns.

“Strategic Listening” is the first step in a social media plan for organizations starting their online presence. Before jumping into the internet fray, you listen to what’s being said about the topics you care about — and about you.

If I’ve got a non-profit organization combating child hunger in Dallas and I’m about to join Twitter, I’d want to know what people are saying about the other organizations working in that space, what they’re tweeting about, what people think of the policies and programs that exist, and what’s already being said about my organization.

Once I have a sense of that, I can start tweeting (or blogging, or Facebooking) to move the conversation forward. I know who I should follow and who my allies are. I can use Twitter for a purpose other than getting my name out, because I understand the broader context.

How does this apply to bloggers? Listening:

  • Keeps you at the leading edge of your subject. Even if your blog is a place for personal musings on mental health, it’s useful to know what others are writing about. No man is an island, bloggers even less so.
  • Gives you inspiration for posts. You may be moved to respond to something you find that resonates — or with which you vehemently disagree. Ideas need fertilizer. For a blogger, that fertilizer can come from both your life and the community.
  • Lets you know who the players are in your area, so you can follow and connect with them. Becoming part of a larger community has traffic benefits, but also provides everything from a support system to a place to get ideas for what to make for tomorrow’s dinner.
  • Helps you avoid the trap of tone-deafness (and the backlash that accompanies it). No one wants to be like Spaghetti-Os: if there’s an important event or conversation happening and you blog on blithely unaware, you can appear callous and risk turning readers off. Listen to ensure your tone and topics are aligned with what’s going on in the world and on the web.

There are some smaller benefits, too. You’ll find great links to share with your Twitter followers or Facebook fans. You’ll learn what hashtags to follow, or get some new reads to add to your blogroll.

At the very least, listening is informative and inspirational. At best, it forges connections that up your traffic, bring you other opportunities, and create meaningful relationships with people all over the world.


This tool is NOT recommended unless you’ve received professional training.

The Tools

Strategic listening in organizations involves dedicated software developed for that purpose (read: fancy and expensive). Luckily, anyone can listen in using a variety of freely available tools. In fact, you probably already do a lot of this as you surf the web each day — this just gives that sometimes random clicking a bit more shape. Tools

  • The Reader. You can search for any topic under the sun; use it to find bloggers you’ll love and to keep your finger on the pulse. Now that you can read full posts without leaving the Reader, it’s even easier. (No worries; the blogger still gets credit for the traffic.) Follow the blogs you find most interesting, and leave relevant topics in your Reader sidebar for quick access.
  • Blogrolls. Use the blogrolls of sites you already love to find other great blogs that have been pre-vetted for your reading enjoyment.

Social networks

  • Twitter. Follow bloggers you love, and explore their feeds and followers. When you see a hashtag that seems relevant, check it out and join in. Search for key terms that are central to your blogging. Lots of Twitter clients, like Tweetdeck (free), HootSuite (free), and Tweetbot (paid) make searching and following hashtags or topics even easier.
  • Facebook. Lots of bloggers and organizations have fan pages; often they’re sites of secondary discussions that aren’t making it to their blogs. Now that Facebook allows hashtags, you’ve also got another way to explore content.
  • LinkedIn. LinkedIn has thousands of groups, and they’re not all strictly professional — there are WordPress groups, food blogging groups, mommyblogger groups, photography groups, and more, also housing secondary conversations. The “Pulse” feature also lets you follow channels on topics you care about; it’s under “Interests” in the main navigation menu.

Depending on what you blog about, there may also be other networks you’ll want to use –like Instagram or Pressgram for photographers, or Food52 and Tasty Kitchen for foodies. (If you’ve got a subject-specific community you love, share it in the comments.)

The interweb at large

  • Search engines. Google, Bing, and the like are always there, waiting for you with open arms and empty search box. You can filter those searches to focus only on blogs, although keeping an eye on the news never hurts.
  • Alerts. The big search engines will let you create alerts for terms that are important to you. When something comes up, it’ll end up in your inbox.

Get listening!

You’re all denizens of the internet, and are already consuming lots of information every day. Spending a little time doing that in a more strategic way can enhance your content and your readership.

How much time should you spend listening? A bit more in the beginning and less later on, although listening isn’t something that ever really stops. Just remember: you’re a blogger first, so make sure listening is in the service of that.

We’d love to hear about the tools you use to help you manage the endless flow of online content (it’s overwhelming for everyone!), and any stories about how your blog is informed by the wider world.

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  1. I love the term ‘strategic listening’ – it reminds me of ‘selective hearing’ something my nan was quite an expert in, however i think if i’d have given her the task of strategically listening to the internet she would have chosen to ignore it!

    Personally as a blogger I believe in learning. This encompasses S.L. as well as ‘Strategic Searching’ and ‘Strategic Passion’ where-by you focus intensely at the task in front of you.

    Tim Minchin once said ‘You don’t need to have a goal’ he went on to explain how it’s more then ok to jump from one passion to the next, fleet between dreams and put 100% of yourself into the moment you’re in.

    Theres one i’ve left out…

    ‘Strategically commenting’ where you give insights on posts with high traffic to encourage new people to look at your own site… but at least I’m honest about it!


    1. Yes, “strategic listening” is a great term, isn’t it?

      I like the tips in the post. I wouldn’t have thought of using LinkedIn as a tool to develop my blog and join the conversation. I’m going to check it out!


      1. Linkwdln is an odd one isn’t it? it seems to have popped up out of no-where and suddenly is rather influential. Who knows what the next social media step will take us to.

        Personally i hope its like this.. an amazing short film explores how far social media will go.


    2. There’s nothing wrong with “strategic commenting,” as long as you’re adding to the conversation. If your comment is honest and helpful, it adds to the discussion *and* gives you traffic a boost.


      1. Honest and Helpful. Two things people fall short of in day-to-day routine, yet our online alias’s thrive in. Strange isn’t it how an avatar can allow us to change our personality… Maybe thats why we’re all Bloggers and not Politicians.


    3. Agree with you, strategic commenting can be both intentional and unintentional. It’s an inevitable part of contributing your own perspective to a topic that you care deeply about.


  2. I love the term. Some of my inspiration does come from reading other blogs; sometimes a word or phrase will stick in my head, and I will feel the need to expand on it. The inspiration for some of my fiction comes from the same place – an image; a word; a concept – all can be expended into a blog post or a piece of fiction. Inspiration can strike at the oddest times. 🙂


  3. Thank you, I have been struggling with ideas to boost my traffic. There must be something that I did right, because of my blog A&E contacted me and on a new pilot my story will be featured. Thank you WP community!!


    1. Funny, opportunities come in all sorts of places.. Imagine all the opportunities we might have left unnoticed… or better yet imagine the entire series of tiny events that led to this opportunity being given to you. You might be a success now due to a taiwanese laptop machinist being early for work on November 5th 1992!


      1. I havent gone back as far as taiwan in 1995.. But i know for a fact I wouldn’t be living in India right now if i hadn’t sat on a park bench alone at 11.52pm June 2010.

        That event led me to Fiji, which led me to Teaching, Which led me to my Girlfriend who led me around the world which placed me in Goa for 6 months…


      2. But then don’t i owe it all to the man who built that bench?

        Or the life he lived, that led him up to getting the job to build that bench?

        Or his fathers passion for carpentry founded by his grandmothers woodwork shop?

        Or the industrial revolution which allowed normal people to start using machinery to carve the wood?


  4. Twitter is a marketing platform and not really a social media platform at all.

    California is the hearsay capital of the world so the concept behind good listening strategies also it about never to repeat anything in case it might be slanderous and also wondering about what was heard anyway. See also my profiling of a photograph of a pet alligator that surveys future meals.


  5. Very good information. I have been reading other blogs. I also try to add comments when possible when I check other daily prompts. They help me with the topics and with writing. I also set up my google to email when certain topics a published. I am hoping I do not get overloaded with emails.


  6. This is all very helpful advice for new bloggers and bloggers that have been blogging for years. It’s so easy to fall into a “bloggers block”. Mainly b/c you dont want your post to always sounding the same. Social media is a powerful weapon to get your ideas out there and to make things happen. What I like about wordpress, is the Reader section. Like the blogger stated in the post you can look up in anything and find a post about that topic.

    The best way to really get our point across is to get out there in social media world and connect with bloggers and vloggers on topics that concern us all. Cause your comments are valued and the owners do read them. Happy blogging to all!!!


  7. I’m not sure I like the term “strategic listening” – so often at academic conferences and in publications, the listening is solely strategic. People don’t listen so that they can learn, they listen so that they can come up with some way of making themselves sound smart – either through critique or by showing how well0read they are. So little of the conversation is authentic.

    That said, I like what you’re saying here, generally! I just try to make sure that when I read and comment on blogs, I’m doing so from a generous place, really listening and participating in their conversations – not just trying to reorient attention back to mine. I find that the ideas I get form this kind of listening are better than the ideas I get when I’m trolling for ideas. My best ideas are surprises that come after I’ve commented on a post, and am like, hey! I have a ton more to say on this topic, and not all of it exactly related, and thus, a blog post is born.


  8. I really enjoyed this especially as it encouraged me to keep finding people who blog similarly to I and to motivate them and engage with them more often. It is so true that no man is an island and the only way to ensure what you are writing is not just speculation and subjective opinion is to find others who agree, affirm and affect what you are writing. Cheers


  9. I had absolutely no idea that facebook now allowed hashtags. AND I have just discovered that I have not been using categories at all or tags properly. Perhaps once I sort that, people might be able to find me in order to listen to me, strategically or otherwise!
    Thanks for the tips – what a lovely few minutes of learning lots.


  10. I love this article!
    Even though a blog is personal, it shouldn’t be too egocentric. One has to keep in mind that the more relatable postings are, the more interesting they become.

    Since there are millions of blogs in the online community, it can be really hard to find people who are actually listening to what you have to say/ reading what you write.

    Hence, I started distributing small cards with little catchphrases and my URL on them.

    Did my strategy work out? I can’t really tell. Did I enjoy distributing the cards? Yes! Because I met a couple of people who were interested in what I’m doing… who listened to me.


    1. I can totally relate to you! I feel like blogs are both personal and impersonal, in the way that no one wants to read 100% about one person’s life, but rather maybe special anecdotes that are relatable.
      The small cards idea is pretty intriguing. Do you have a professional blog? Do you think it’d work for me? I’m an amateur and my blog is very informal…


      1. Check out my blog and you’ll see that it’s informal too. Also, the cards I used are these cheap index cards and I scribbled down the catchphrases and my URL by hand. (If you wanna know more about the issue: I published a post about my strategy about it)

        So, I’d totally encourage you to – at least – give it a shot. Since index cards are really cheap, there’s nothing to lose!

        Good luck!

        – selfmadejournalist


    2. Nice! Moo Cards are great for this — small, affordable, and easy to customize. In my experience, the quality’s nice as well. In my food blogging days (a fun blog, not necessarily professional), I always had cards on hand.


      1. The only difference is that I used these cheap index cards and scribbled everything by hand because my blog is really young and I still try to find the right path. If, for example, I change my theme, the design of business cards might not match anymore.
        Does your food blog still exist?


  11. I really enjoyed this article, it seems that now and days people are blogging a lot more than they used to and I think that this is a helpful tool with learning new things. This is helping me to look at my own blog and rethink and making me want to write more interesting and inspiring posts.


  12. Hi there Michelle,
    I liked this comprehensive article. Thanks for publishing it.

    I set up Google alerts for subjects I am researching. I use Similar Site Search and I do keyword searches using niche search engines, blog directories, Twitter, Google + and online forums. I don’t have a blogroll and I never enter any reciprocal link exchanges. Instead I have a Links page where I provide resource links only to high quality related content sites for my readers.


  13. You posted a rhetorical question: How much time should you spend listening? Every blogger ought to spend far more time on strategic listening than they do looking at their stats. 😉

    I have blogged for many years and I was over-extended and drowning in a sea of “information”, most of which I did not have time to skim, let alone, read, consider and comment on.

    My first step was to unfollow and unsubscribe form many blogs and from many people I followed on Twitter. I did that so I could spend quality time on the blogs I benefit most of all from. Then I proceeded to do what’s found in this post 12 Time Management Tips for Top Blogging Performance That program is working for me and I am sure it will work for others too. Sadly, there are many experts who advise bloggers to be focused on upping their friend/followers counts and if we listen to them then we get sucked into the vortex of over-subscribing and under-achieving.


      1. @Michelle
        Oh great. Now I’m on this computer and my app is working so I can see my typos I made on the other computer where the app was was not working. Taking a fall, recovering from a head injury and ending up visually challenged is humbling experience. Can’t say I’m digging it much. teaching me humility. At first I was so humbled I didn’t comment at all anywhere. However, I do comment now and I’d tickled pink if you corrected my errors please, so I don’t appear to be barely literate.


  14. A lovely and insightful article on the value of listening. After all, effective communications consists of both conveying and receiving. As a blogger, there have been more instances than I can count where someone else’s work has inspired me to delve into a topic or a story I would have never thought of on my own. Those unpredictable connections are the spice of life. 🙂

    Timethief, that’s the tricky aspect isn’t it, how much effort expended to listen and what to listen to. For me, I think I’ve learned to trust my senses in sussing out what’s good to read and what isn’t worth my time. I hate to admit it, but good first impressions are so important because of the deluge out there. An interesting title, an intriguing image, and a promising beginning counts for a lot.


  15. Don’t get it, Michelle: The ‘larger community’ is WordPress, at least for me. So far, it has been a safe place. I think it is an amazing tool for letting at least the younger generation talk across national borders. Am I missing something? Of course it is always good to listen closely before opening your mouth. There are always certain ‘key words.’ Whoever thinks of the single word prompts for photographer is a genius. One word and a flood of responses, and from all over the world. Bloody brilliant.


  16. Hi Michelle
    this is a really helpful article specially for a newbie blogger like me. Most of the time I actually find it more easier to write when I know what I’m writing about. Reading ‘listening’ is a really good point, and referencing blogs, not just to copy someone’s work but to actually see other corners of the picture. Excellent. I will absorb these tips!


  17. Thank you Michelle whether it be passion for writing about certain subjects or dreaming about certain events , it all comes together when expressing feelings and sharing experiences. I am a newbie at this,i have 4 journals that i have written but having a blog is a little easier than putting pen to paper.


  18. Really useful article, I’ve already thought of linking to Pinterest, Twitter and even You Tube but not to Linked In which has been something I’ve never really given that much attention to. I had no idea such groups existed on it so thank you for that.

    I like the term strategic listening and feel some might confuse it with selective listening, strategic implies it is part of a greater or other plan, it indicates a desire to learn and hopefully when he learn we apply. Selective reading then might be more appropriate for those who read with the intention of only finding what they want to find and not what there actually is to be learned.


    1. Take a look at the “Traffic and Growth” category for lots of tips on growing your readership — scroll down to access a list of all the categories in the sidebar.


  19. As a reader, I look for the rare, forgotten and lately discovered, both new and historical. If you are not completely aligned with the world’s most popular ideas, I may read your blog with even more enjoyment. As a writer, I may not impress the world with my agreement, but hopefully, I can contribute creativity. I strive for a personal tone with respect and reflection, not necessarily one of a smiley head-nodder looking for approval. Read to develop yourself, not to advertise yourself. It will improve your writing. And yes, listen, but also choose carefully, for listening material impacts you and your writing.


  20. I use hashtags from twitter to inform my topics, sometimes. Especially when I am blank for a topic, it can be like a gentle nudge. Although I enjoy reading, usually the list of hashtags, alone, is better for me, since I write more freely or creatively without so much input. Try combining two hashtags for a humorous piece. It’s fun.
    I do use alerts to help me find and fight piracy, but will think about also using for inspiration. Thanks for these tips!
    One other listening device I use is the collection of previous comments I’ve made (on the dashboard). This snippet (which I wish were longer!) gives amazing insight to my thinking and the context of my inspiration when merely being myself. It’s like a summary of how I’m doing, if you will, that shows me my soul as in a mirror, as I relate to the more moving content I’ve encountered.
    Really helps.


  21. This is helpful for those who have not made any social networking accounts yet. You should really get to know how if you post something on the internet, its going to be everywhere. People these days just post everything they are going through and everything they are doing not thinking of the consequences. The idea of “Strategic Commenting” is important for everyone to understand when it comes to the internet now-a-days.


  22. i liked how you refer to it as strategic listening and strategic commenting. For all we know a good teacher was once a good listener. Indeed, a good writer does not write all their content by themselves, it involves researching and reading other articles as well..So if you can keep up with the current topic by strategic listening, you may be able to come up with good materials 🙂