Here’s a little secret – people are talking about you. Not in the sneaky “behind your back” kind of way, but the “right in front of your face” kind of way. If you’re a savvy nonprofit professional, you understand that’s a good thing – but only if you know how to make social listening actionable.

Conversations are constantly happening on social media around issues that your supporters care deeply about. Social listening is the process of monitoring digital channels to understand the conversations around relevant topics so you can better engage those people driving  discussions. The ability to translate these chirps into engagement opportunities means increased exposure for your organization.

Fission Strategy and explore social listening in a new guide, “Your People Are Talking. Are You Listening?,” which shows nonprofits how to use a powerful tactic to dramatically increase engagement with this one idea – respond to people when they talk about your issues on social media.

In Part I of this two-part series, we share a couple of key strategies to make the most of social listening. Come back tomorrow for Part II, in which we divulge three more!

  1. Know Who Talks About You

While social media managers can track mentions of your organization’s name or any hashtag, it’s less clear how to monitor the way people talk about the overall mission. Understanding who talks about your work means listening for key terms that relate to your overarching mission, in addition to the obvious mentions. Here’s an on-the-ground example.

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) incorporates social listening into its digital communications by monitoring five key issue areas: Peace, Immigrant Rights, Prisons, Economies, and Discrimination. The committee monitors at least two phrases and keywords in each category to understand how its audience talks about these issues every week.

“It’s a feedback loop knowing there’s an issue that our people care about and putting this content in front them so they will enjoy and share.” – AFSC

Team members at AFSC use social listening to maintain a dialogue with their constituents, host online chats through Google Hangout, get ambassadors to tweet to their friends, shout out simple and heartfelt thank yous, and in general show the good human behind the computer. They also use listening to see if there’s a spike in chatter after a campaign push. To determine reach and impact, they look at which influencers retweeted their content, if journalists sourced them as experts, and if their campaign resonated with their intended audience.

  1. What and Who You Should Listen To

Listen for terms that allow you engage the talkers with calls to action. Start by creating a list of terms related to your work that’s divided into issue or program categories. For example, if you address immigration, create an immigration category with terms like “immigration, border patrol, detention,” and so on.

Finding the best terms takes time. It’s a process to refine your list of terms, because the trick is finding broad terms that capture a sizable number of mentions, yet are specific enough to reflect your intent. 
The term “health” for example, is probably too broad for most healthcare organizations, but “women’s health” or “healthy children” might work for some. The only way to know is to test these terms for yourself.

As for who you should listen to, in addition to your mother, we recommend listening to people in your CRM or email list, since you’ve already invested in these folks who are your most engaged supporters. Listening works best when you monitor a narrow audience who you have the ability to engage by email or social, which makes listening actionable.

Check out Part II of “5 Ways to Make Social Listening Actionable.”

About the Author

Jeanette is Marketing Director at, a social listening and influencer engagement platform for nonprofits, and Abila Product Partner. shows organizations what people in their CRM are saying on social media, and who is influential, so they can better target via email and social media to radically increase engagement and reach of their campaigns.