How to write a better Social Listening query

Have you ever finished the query writing training from your Social Listening provider and found yourself wondering, now what?

It all sounds so simple.

But why is it so hard to find what you’re looking for?

Query writing is a skill. It needs more than an hour to develop.

It’s something that needs practise, reflection and a fair degree of imagination and creativity.

We do this day in, day out so thought we’d share a few tips.

I think there are two parts to being able to write a good query. The art and the science.

You can have a great understanding of grammar yet be a lousy poet.

The same applies to writing social listening queries.

The science is about how the platforms work.

While the art is all about understanding how people talk.

Why should you bother to hone these skills?

You’ll spend less time looking at rubbish and more time impressing your colleagues with amazing insights.

This time we’ll take a look at the Science of query writing.

1. Boolean operators

Get to know what operators your listening tool provides and exactly what they do. Note – they don’t all offer the same ones. The better tools offer a much greater degree of finesse – which means you can be more precise in your search. Make sure you’re happy with the differences between the operators and what this means for your query. For example, NEAR is usually better than AND. AND is a blunt tool that brings in everything. NEAR gives you more control.

2. Use the filters

Get to know the limits of the automatic filters. Lots of the platforms have a US bias. You’ll see this a lot when looking at geo-location. Many platforms will take ‘unknown’ location to mean the US. This skews the results towards the US. Another thing to consider is removing non-personal accounts (when you’re looking for consumers). This will take out a lot of irrelevant data. You can do this by excluding accounts or web addresses, or you can do it in the query (e.g. by excluding common call’s to action terms such as “click here!”, “order today”, “for more info”).

3. Master the brackets

Using brackets to their full potential is one of the trickier aspects of writing queries – but well worth the effort. They allow you to get even better results by linking very specific elements of a conversation together.

For example, here’s a simplified string that looks at people talking about their family and healthy eating:

((((my OR our) NEAR/2 (family)) NEAR/15 (snack)) NEAR/15 (healthy))

The brackets help ensure the right terms are linked together in the right sequence.

It uses a narrow NEAR phase (2 words apart) to capture expressions like “my family” but also terms like “my annoying family”. It then links these using wider NEAR terms (within 15 words) for two different word types (the action e.g. snacking and the modifier e.g. healthy).

4. Question the data coverage

Behind the sales pitch is a big difference in how listening platforms collect data (especially outside of the US or other English speaking markets). What we do is use Google to search for social spaces relating to our topic (e.g. healthcare). We can then check to see if these are coming up in our search results. It’s also worth checking how well the platform is collecting the data. They won’t have had time to check all of them – which means there can be errors in data collection.

5. Know the limitations

The platforms do amazing things, but they’re not perfect. Query tools have character limits which can mean you have to use simpler queries. Some don’t allow multiple, grouped NEARs (which means you have to use ANDs which means your relevancy rate will be lower. Unfortunately, these limitations are rarely talked about and you usually find them when something isn’t working… That’s why joining a community like the Social Intelligence Lab can help – it’ll put you in touch with people like you.

These are just a few tips on the science of query writing. Next time we’ll explore the art.

If you can’t wait or are stuck, let me know. We provide query writing support and training which is designed to take away the hassle. Drop me a line to find out more.

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