Social Media Monitoring and Listening for the Public Sector

The other day I was at the local outdoor market and I walked passed a man impeccably dressed in a white suit and tie, standing on a wooden crate. The man, from his makeshift pulpit, was sermoning passersby on the need to repent their sins given the imminent end of days. While many looked on briefly, some even taking selfies in front of the man, no one really paid any attention to what he was saying, other than to for the occasional giggle.

Why do I mention this? Because sadly, this is the attitude that many organizations take when approaching social media. They are not interested in a conversation, they only want a pulpit from which to shout their message. I would go so far as to say this is the number one mistake PSOs make when venturing out onto social media – they forget the number one rule: listen first, talk after. This is where social media monitoring and social media listening comes in. The question is no longer “if” we should be monitoring/listening on social media but rather “how” to do it strategically.

Before we get into the weeds, we need to define two basic concepts that are unfortunately often used interchangeably: Social media monitoring, and social media listening. Here is how I differentiate these two in the simplest way possible.

Social Media Monitoring is the act of tracking:

  • your own output on social media

  • other people’s output directly related to your organization

Social Media Listening is the act of tracking:

  • other people’s output on social media that is not directly related to your organization but that is of interest to you

With this in mind, let’s have a look at how public sector organizations (PSOs) can go about doing this.

Social Media Monitoring

If done right, you can expect to reap any and all of these benefits:

  • To be able to follow the growth of your social media following.

  • To gauge the response to your messaging.

  • To be alerted immediately when people are saying good or bad things about your brand.

  • To understand what your audience wants the most and the least from what you offer.

  • To identify issues, concerns, questions, and interests in your organization or your offerings.

Brand Monitoring: What you want to do in plug-in keywords that relate to your organization

  • Your organization’s name/Brand

  • Names of the different services/programs you offer

  • Keywords associated with specific campaigns

  • Names of key representatives in your organization, high ranking officers

  • Your organizational experts or spokesperson speaking on your behalf

  • Your main priorities

  • Local or international events that your organization is organizing or participating in

  • Planned locations for official visits

  • Nicknames, abbreviations, or misspellings of any of the above

Issues Monitoring: You want to be on the lookout for

  • Complaints

  • Compliments

  • Questions

  • Leads and Inquiries

  • Opportunity Conversations

  • Incorrect Information

Social Media Listening

If done right, you can expect to reap any and all of these benefits:

  • To see who is talking about your industry sector and join the conversation to bring more credibility to your brand.

  • To see where they are talking. (on your organization’s social media sites or on other social media properties (so that you can interact with them on their platform of choice). In what geographic areas are the conversations happening?

  • To keep your finger on the pulse of the industry so that you can figure out what your clients need and how they need it.

  • To identify influencers and key stakeholders in your industry.

  • To find valuable data/intelligence being posted on and off of official platforms.

  • To Identify emerging trends.

  • To identify key audiences for social media marketing.

  • Identify and track industry hashtags.

  • Identifying valuable potential contacts for your network.

  • Identifying companies/brands active on social media in your industry

Data Mining: Input keywords and key phrases relating to

  • The names of key clients, counterparts, and stakeholders.

  • Common industry topics, buzzwords.

  • High-level events, conferences, hangouts, etc.

Trendspotting: This is the equivalent of casting the wide net for social media. When trying to identify emerging trends, you are usually looking for keywords that are trending in a geographic or demographic area. Use keyword combinations, for example:

  • Potential issue + geographic area.

  • Program objective + key demographic.

Hint: Some platforms will show you what topics are trending on their site and some will even give you a geographic breakdown. Review these regularly for anything relating to your organization.

Also, follow known social media account of:

  • Journalists and bloggers covering your industry.

  • Known influencers, stakeholders, parent organizations, NGOs, etc.

  • Relevant local, municipal, state/provincial, regional, federal organizations.

O.K. so who should do it in my organization?

Social Media Monitoring should not be the sole responsibility of an individual or group within an organization. Different types of monitoring should be done by different groups depending on their needs and goals.


Social Media Monitoring should ideally be done by account managers or close team members. Information is then relayed to the appropriate instance within the organization


Social Media Listening should ideally be done by subject matter experts, program managers, etc

It is easier to teach social media monitoring to a subject matter expert than to teach every subject matter to a social media specialist!

Tools of the Trade

You will notice that I haven’t mentioned any tools. That is because there are so many, paid and free, and they range in capacity from the pellet gun to the elephant gun. My advice to you is to first define your needs, your budget, then go shopping for a tool. Which ever tool you choose, it will be useless if you don’t have a good plan in place first!

Alain Lemay is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Profile Photo David B. Grinberg

Awesome post with excellent tips, Alain!

I note, however, that some — if not most — public sectors agencies confine responsibility for all social media activities to only a few employees. These are usually those whose specific job title involve “social media” or “digital engagement” and/or various officials in the public affairs/press office.

Thus the question then becomes how to convince agency leadership to be open minded, rather than close minded, about which employees can and can’t engage in any social media activity — whether it’s monitoring, listening, posting, etc.?

I would appreciate your feedback on this observation and question, Alain. Many thanks.

Profile Photo Alain Lemay

David, you are unfortunately right. If I may refer to one of my previous posts on empowerment vs control, most public service organizations are still in the control model. A year ago, I would have said the same about my own organization. Luckily we have evolved and our minister is now openly advocating for the use of social media at all levels. I don’t have the magic pill but I can tell you what worked for us. Basically, it involved some willing guinea pigs and some brave senior managers. We were able to “sell” senior management on a few pilot projects with a limited number of officers. Social media analytics allowed us to show how exponentially greater our reach was with social media and that the rewards were indeed much greater than the risks.

So this would be my advice to any organization out there. Pilot projects are easyer to get the green light for than full blown social media use across the organization. It gives senior management more control and a way out if things go bad. Once Then just do your thing and show the results. When you can demonstrate amplification into the hundreds of thousands, millions even, the convincing takes care of itself.

The other angle you can pitch is that organization wide use of social media actually gives you more control on your messaging. In the days of press releases, you had to rely on journalists to spread your message and you were never sure of the slant they would take on it. Now you can control (to some measure) the distribution and the message itself. Who wouldn’t want that?