Guest post: how to be a better listener by becoming a Power Google Reader

picture-12Many of my colleagues ask me how to get started in social media. I always say “listen”.

Set up a Twitter profile, but do not Tweet. Read blogs, but do not comment. Listen to the conversation, before you dare to participate.

To become a good listener, you need to know what to read and where to find it.

Mike Fruchter boasts his own blog Social Media Marketing Strategies, a lively and useful Twitter/FriendFeed and seminal Google Shared Items. He also subscribes to over a 1000 blogs by RSS feeds through his Google Reader.

Here he tells you how you can become a Power Google Reader so that you can really listen to the conversation.

Last month I wrote a guest post for my friend and fellow blogger, Louis Gray, titled “RSS Overload: Don’t Complain, Do Something About It.” It touched upon some people’s growing frustrations with Google Reader. The frustrations are mainly due to RSS mismanagement and being overwhelmed with massive amounts of feeds. The post outlined some productivity tips on better feed management.

This post will touch upon a few key areas of better feed management, and feed discovery. Follow my tips, and you will be on the road to becoming a Power Google Reader, I assure you.

If your Google Reader is overwhelmed, start with a clean slate immediately.
If your Google Reader is not efficient anymore, it’s probably due to subscribing to the wrong blogs, blogs with no update frequency, or feed clutter. Feed clutter will turn your Google Reader into a deserted wasteland of RSS feeds.

First make sure you have a backup of your mainstay feeds, the feeds you simply can’t live without. Once you have done that, go to the settings tab in your Google Reader, select all and press the unsubscribe button. If your Google Reader is currently in a manageable state, then proceed to the next step.

I use a holding tank for RSS feeds first, before I subscribe to them in Google Reader:
Being a Power Google Reader, I simply don’t just add anything to my feed reader. In the old days I would add anything and everything. All that did was clutter my feed reader into an unmanageable state. While I follow over 1,000 + feeds currently, these are feeds that met my criteria for being added into Google Reader. I will go over my criteria further down the post.

I use a holding tank for feeds. To accomplish this I use a site called Toluu. Toluu is a powerful feed discovery service, but it’s also a good tool for storing rss feeds. When I come across new feeds, I enter them into my Toluu account first. By doing this, it serves two purposes, the first its it lets me evaluate a feed over a period of time, usually a week or so before I add it into Google Reader. The second, is that it also serves as a backup for feeds, because it gives you the ability to download an OPML file of your stored feeds, which you can then import into your Google Reader. Think of it as an approved handpicked feed reader list. This method works rather well for me. I suggest you all try it out, if you need an invite to Toluu, leave a comment on the post with your email address and I will shoot you a beta invite.

So basically, if the feed is a must read, I enter it into Toluu first then into Google Reader. If I’m unsure about the feed because of a lack of updates and so forth, it stays in Toluu for an evaluation period. Toluu also has a handy tool that lets you add an RSS feed into their system and simultaneously into Google Reader with one mouse click. Remember it’s all about working smarter not harder. This system eliminates what I call “garbage in equals garbage out.”

How I discover new voices and their RSS feeds?
I consume information perhaps at a quicker pace than some. I’m discovering new blogs every day. I use a variety of tools to accomplish this. What works best for me is blogrolls, believe it or not. When I discover a new blog, I always glance over to their blogrolls and follow the links. The majority of time, specifically in the social media realm, I will see the same links to the same blogs repeated. That’s a good sign as that tells me this blog is worth paying attention to, and in most cases it is. When a specific blog is constantly repeated, it has the earmarkings of a mainstay feed in my Google Reader. Bloggers already know what the quality blogs are therefore they link to them for that reason. Along with the usual suspects ( the mainstay blogs ) I will always find new voices among them. When I click over to a new blog that has caught my eye for a specific reason, I look at their blogroll. I rinse and repeat this process over and over again. That’s one way I discover new blogs. 

I follow many blogs covering different subjects. The majority of blogs I follow are social media related, but I also follow blogs about PR and marketing along with technology blogs. I find these blogs mainly through a Google Blog Search. I use blog searches daily to track specific keywords that I use for marketing and research. This has become the second best discovery tool for me. I also have set up different Google Alerts for the various keywords that I track on a daily basis. These alerts often aid in the discovery process of new blogs. For instance, I have an alert setup for my name, Mike Fruchter, that’s how I found These Digital Times, John Welsh’s blog. John mentioned my name and blog url in a previous post. Had it not been for the alert I have setup, I would have never found his blog. Do you see the power in linking out to people? Always link out to fellow bloggers every chance you get. This will help in you getting discovered and most of all establishing relationships with fellow bloggers. That’s another post for another day perhaps John or I will write about.

I use Twitter and Twitter search for discovery, it’s great for keyword tracking. If I need to find out something, I resort to Twitter first to see if people are talking about it. This always leads me to find new blogs. I will also check in on my Twitter stream from time to time to see what people are talking about and retweeting. The majority of social media blogs that I read, I also follow on Twitter. I have an expressed interest and in some cases friendships with these bloggers. They are like human filters for me. They aid in the discovery process of new blog tremendously. Make it a point to follow the bloggers you read on Twitter.

I also use FriendFeed, a site that I have been active on for close to a year now. FriendFeed serves a multitude of purposes, the first being a content aggregator. The second is as a power social media search engine. FriendFeed acts as my secondary RSS filter, whatever I may miss in Google Reader, I most likely will find on FriendFeed through the people I’m subscribed to, or via FriendFeeds advanced search function. As you can see, my main theme of discovery relies heavily on search and social search engines.
If you want to get a good idea on what feeds I subscribe to, you can follow me on FriendFeed or follow my Google Reader .
If you don’t have time to search, I suggest checking out the Ad Age Power 150 list. It lists the most popular and active social media and marketing blogs on the web. I follow approx 100 of the blogs on their list. That’s a great starting point. You can also download the OPML file of all 150 blogs on the list, then simply import the OPML file into your Google Reader.

What is the criteria for adding an RSS feed to my Google Reader?
Simply put any blog that has quality content and that updates with some amount of frequency. I often look for the smaller and less known voices, it’s often the smaller blogs that add more value, share different aspects, and are passionate about the story they are telling compared to the bigger publications.

How many RSS feeds do I currently subscribe to?
At the time of this post, I have 1,125 RSS feeds in my Google Reader. On a daily basis I probably skim through about 250 + of these feeds. The high priority ones are my must reads, these are often the ones that update with a daily or bi daily frequency. The rest of the feeds that I still take an interest in with less updating frequency are stored in “low frequency folders.” This allows me to come back through the course of the week and check on them. There is always something to read in my Google Reader, it’s never at any given point empty.
Having over 1,000 RSS feeds is excessive, but they not all on a particular subject matter. I also organize my feeds into folders, which allows me to streamline my RSS consumption rather easily.
Every 3-6 months I spend a day and prune my Google Reader. Clearing out feeds that no longer interest me, and feeds that have not been updated in some time or at all. 

How many blogs should you subscribe to?
The question is how much can you handle?  If you are the type that gets overwhelmed by the unread feed count, I would say no more then 100 RSS feeds. My Google Reader at any given time has a few thousands unread RSS feeds, this does not bother me, or intimidate me as it does other people. Remember you can always hide the “unread count.” Never let the feed reader get the best of you! 

The key to becoming a Power Google Reader is productivity and organization:
To make the most out of your Google Reader you need to be using two of the built in features. The first is folders. Set up folders for your must reads, or folders based on topical interest. You could create a folder system for “daily”, “important”, and “other”. My system is similar to the one I  mentioned. This is crucial if you are going to follow more than 100 RSS feeds. Simply having over 1,000 + RSS Google Reader is a major distraction and clutter. Keep the clutter contained to folders. 
The second feature I use is keyboard shortcuts. I’m all about productivity, the less mouse clicks and hand gestures I need to use, is more time spent reading my feeds. Get familiar with the keyboard shortcuts, you will be amazed how much more productive your feed reader will become.

By Mike Fruchter of (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Photo credit:ky_olsen

This entry was posted in Guest post, RSS feeds, Search and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Guest post: how to be a better listener by becoming a Power Google Reader

  1. Hi Mike. Can you send me a beta invite to Toluu…thanks.

  2. Michael,

    Post your email address. I will get one sent out to you.

  3. Hey,

    Excellent post. As someone who fancies himself an early RSS advocate and Google Reader user (although I probably wasn’t compared to a lot of people out there), I’m still figuring out how to optimally use my feeds.

    For example, I just decided to try and push all the standard news stories off Reader on to Twitter (via TwitterFeed), and read them on TwitKit, so I’m not clogging up Reader with standard news stories.

    I’m not particularly looking for new blogs to read, because I have enough to read for each day, but Toluu sounds interesting and I’m always up for a new way to embrace the internet.

    If you could send an invite, at rohan.venkat (at) I’d be grateful, thanks.

  4. patricklantz says:

    one other site i’ve found to be extremely helpful is socialmedian. it allows you to follow countless topics and only get the articles/posts that others have clipped and found helpful…think of it as a targeted digg…very helpful for finding new blogs of interest as well

  5. Rohan,

    Thanks for the comment. Invite has been sent.

  6. Jason says:

    Really great article. You’ve inspired me to go through my feeds and maybe even do a purge and start fresh.

    Btw:could I gets toluu invite, please.

  7. Jason,

    Post your email address. I will get one sent out to you.

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