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A guest post by Jason Miller of Zoomerang.

Listening effectively to your customers can be a very insightful experience. The better you are at listening; the better you can understand your customers' wants and needs. Do you wonder what your customers are saying about your product or service across the web?

With the rise, and seemingly universal adoption, of social media among consumers, businesses can now listen in on conversations regarding their products and services---if they have the right tools. Although you cannot control these discussions, you can monitor them and respond accordingly.

Here are five free tools to include in your social media listening tool belt:
1. Social Mention: A site that offers real-time social media search and analysis. It’s very easy to use and features the most common indicators of social media activity (strength, sentiment, passion, and reach).
2. RSS Reader: Sign up for a free RSS reader, such as Google Reader. Then use the Google Blogs search option, and search blog directory sites, such as Technorati and Blog Catalog, for blogs that are relevant to your product or service. When you find what you are looking for, simply subscribe by clicking on the RSS feed and adding it to your reader.
3. Search.twitter.com: Here you can search for keywords or phrases and view those mentions (up to two weeks) as they occur on Twitter. Once you find relevant keywords you can subscribe via RSS feed, add to your reader, and stay alerted when these mentions happen in real time.
4. Online surveys and polls: Online survey tools can be an invaluable resource for listening. Embedding a survey or poll directly into your website or blog engages your audience and gives them a voice. You can also launch a survey or poll directly into Facebook and Twitter, giving your business a focused listening platform.
5. Google alerts: Google alerts allows you to set up search queries for keywords which Google will then email you whenever it indexes those keywords. A good idea to start with is to set up alerts for your company name, relevant products, and your website URL.

This may seem like a lot to jump into---so try not to get overwhelmed. It can be a real challenge to monitor everything at first so take it in strides and find what works best for you. Once you get your “listening headquarters” all set up, you will find it hard to turn off.

Listening to what people say can teach you a lot about what you are doing right, and perhaps more importantly, what you are doing wrong. In any case, your current and potential customers will likely appreciate the fact that you are indeed listening.

Jason Miller is a social media marketing manager at Zoomerang.

For more info about free online tools, check out Take 10: How to Monitor Conversations With Free Online Tools.

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