Find Leads Online With a Robust Listening Station

Written by Alex Standiford on February 9, 2016

In 2009, I ran a small blog called Gimped! Gimp Tutorials.  This blog was an online resource for people who wanted to learn how to edit photos with the free photo editing program G.I.M.P.  I sank my teeth into many of the fundamentals of marketing with this blog.  The best things I learned were How to generate blog content ideas, how to generate traffic, and my favorite, how to find leads online.  At the time, I didn’t know how to do any of these things, but knew that it started with going where my audience was.

I’ll go to the forums! I thought.

And that worked very well.  I answered people’s questions on the forums, and kept a few of my top “gateway” blog posts (that is, the posts that everyone will probably want to read first) in my signature.  This built links for my site, while simultaneously gave me opportunities to listen to what my audience struggled with.  More important though, was that people were very happy with the time I put into helping them out.  Once I recognized the power of answering questions directly, I began to hunger for more.

I’ll go to Yahoo Answers! I thought.

And again, that worked very well.  There was a topic specifically for Gimp users, and even though all of the links were nofollow links, I still got a significant amount of long-term traffic from these sources.  I wrote a lot of my blog content as direct answers to these questions, and linked to that content directly when the time came.  Sometimes, I’d spend as long as a full hour just to answer that one question, but that reader was blown away when they saw the time and effort I put into creating that tutorial for them.

Things were great.  I built a lot of quality traffic to my blog with a wide net of questions answered, and community served.  I earned many leads with raving, happy users who trusted my input in all things Gimp.  The trouble was I spent way too much time sifting through all of the questions on Answers and the forums.  This blog was a side hustle of mine, and I could hardly justify the extensive time I spent on it.  I needed a better system that could help me find these answers on-the-fly.  With the help of some free online tools, I built a listening station that is tailored to alert me when someone asks a question that I can answer.  This listening station changed things. Suddenly, 10 30 minutes in the waiting room at the doctor’s office turned into a Gimp Tutorial Answering extravaganza, where I would open my phone, check my listening station for questions tailored to me, and answer them one by one.  I would find these pockets of time throughout my day, every day, and as a result answered more questions than I ever could have otherwise.  The power was in the efficiency of the listening station.  It did all of the question hunting for me, and placed them neatly in a list that I could access directly from my phone.  Sort of like my own personal cyber concierge.

That was in 2009, and many of the tools I used back then no longer exist.  Times have changed, and I now use the listening station to generate leads online by doing the same things I did with my Gimp tutorials, only instead I help them with marketing and web design.  This article was written to teach you how I build this listening station in 2016.


  1. A listening station is a private dashboard that searches the internet for people who are asking questions that you want to answer. If used properly, it can generate leads, traffic, blog content ideas, and market research insight that you need to run a successful blog.
  2. Find where your readers are asking questions, like Quora, Yahoo Answers, Forums, and Reddit.
  3. Collect the connectors (RSS feeds, email, or direct integration) from these locations, or create RSS feeds via FeedBurner
  4. Create Google Alerts that hunt down sources you haven’t yet found, save them as RSS feeds
  5. Create a Trello board called “listening station”. I actually have several, for each niche I serve.
  6. Use (If This Then That) to create a if RSS then Trello statements, which will automatically add all of the RSS feeds to your Trello board when something new comes up.
    1. If the feed doesn’t exist, sometimes IFTTT can handle direct integration.  It depends on the service you’re pulling from.
  7. I have included a Google Alerts Cheat Sheet to help you better-filter your listening station

What Is a Listening Station, and How Can it Help Me Find Leads Online?

A listening station is a single go-to place where all of your niche-specific content is automatically curated so you can view it at your leisure.  This strategy has helped me in many, many ways.  You will find use from a listening station if you want to:

  1. Find key players in a niche (thought-leaders, eligible business partners)
  2. Learn the questions your prospects want to know (and be there to answer them, too!)
  3. Find good blog content to share with your network
  4. Find opportunities to converse with your prospects where they are having conversations
  5. Research a market to see if they want what you have to offer

So yeah, pretty much everyone.

When I target a niche, I take the time to build a listening station that targets that niche as well as I can.  A few times a day, I’ll check this listening station for the kind-of content I’m looking for.

Step 0 – Learn About The Tools

This system relies on several tools, including If This Then That, Trello, Google Alerts, and many content websites.  The Listening station is actually curated and displayed with a combination of two tools, Trello and If This Than That (IFTTT, for short).  If you aren’t at least a little familiar with both of those tools, you’ll need to learn more about how they work but here’s a quick rundown on what the role of each tool does:

  1. IFTTT watches services for a specific event, and when that event happens it triggers another event.  For example, “If I post a Tweet on Twitter, share that same post on Facebook”, or “If I publish a post on my blog, share that blog on Tumblr.”.  The possibilities are endless, really.  I configure IFTTT to listen for updates on specified websites, and when it finds an update, it shoots a notification to my Trello board, where I can easily read it.
  2. Trello is my my go-to tool for creating super-organized lists.  Each list item is an expandable card that can have collaborative comments with other members of the board, labels, assigned members, checklists, attachments, and more.  I use Trello for a lot of things, but one of the many uses come as a place to organize the content IFTTT gathers up.

Step 1 – Find Content to Curate

This can be tricky if you aren’t already engrossed in your niche.  Take time to find all of the communities that you can contribute to.  This is not the place to just subscribe to the one core topic and skip the rest, get creative!  When I did this for my photo editing program, I started with nothing but core GIMP forums and groups, but later found that all of the content I wanted to answer could be found on photography forums, web design forums, and even Minecraft forums.  Think hard about your content.  Who would benefit from it?  Narrow that down, and then find where they hang out.  Find out where they write their own content, and then find out who writes about them.  Look for communities who need the solutions you offer, and dive in.  When you find a source like this, bookmark it.  We’ll refer back to your list of bookmarked pages later, when we build the listening station.  Here’s a list of places you can go to find content.  All of these sources can be added to a listening station, where they will automatically populate for you to check quickly.  I’ve bolded the ones that have worked best for me in the past.

Forums have mostly gone to the wayside, but there are still vibrant niche communities out there that use the platform. Plus, they’re very easy to pull RSS feeds from for curation.  The biggest benefit of a forum is twofold: long-term traffic, and easy SEO backlinks.  If you publish high-quality answers, that forum post may get ranked at the top of the search engines, and could push a lot of traffic to your site as a result. This won’t happen every time, but there’s no telling what content will, or won’t rank, so answer every question you can contribute to.
In many ways, the subreddit has replaced the functionality of the forum. Just like forums, you can find vibrant niche communities here.  I love reddit, because it is an easy way to connect with the most passionate professionals in a niche, and if you provide value to the community they will give you tons of information that will help your understanding of the market.  Want to learn more about what your ideal client struggles with?  Get in a Reddit community, earn some rapport with the subreddit, and then send a few of them a direct message to get the conversation started.
Self-Hosted niche blogs
Yes, most blogs have nofollow links in their comment section.  No, that doesn’t mean that your time is wasted in posting on these places.  A writer spends a lot of time on their self-hosted blog, and pour a lot of energy into publishing quality content on their site.  If you take the time to not only read what they posted, but also comment on that post afterward they’ll take notice.  If you’re trying to get the attention of someone with a blog, start by reading and discussing the topics they’re writing about.  Even if you don’t get free SEO juice, you’ll earn some great networking opportunities that can lead to a lot more.  I love to use self-hosted niche blogs when I’m looking to find people to write content for companies I serve, because they have a vested interest in writing good content on other locations that goes beyond a paycheck, and are almost always good writers who know a lot about their niche.
Like the self-hosted niche blog, this is an excellent place to find opportunities to connect with writers who are talking about your niche.  The primary difference is most of these platforms offer ways to connect with the writer beyond adding a comment on their post.  If you have an account on these self-hosted blogs, you can reblog a lot of the content to share with your network, which provides value to your network and gets the writer’s attention.  This is a total win-win-win for everyone.
Flickr Groups
Linkedin Groups
Facebook Groups
Google+ Groups
Each of these groups could get their own blog post, but the purpose and goal is mostly the same. These groups are great places to meet other people in your niche, but you have to figure out which network your audience hangs out.  What’s interesting, is each group could cover the same subject matter, but will house entirely different groups of people.  Explore all of these options and see which group you’re most comfortable with, and go there.  Don’t try to force yourself into all of them, instead listen to each group and get to know their collective personality before jumping in.  Fortunately, the listening station makes this easy to do.
Yahoo! Answers
If you aren’t already on these sites, get on it!  The easiest form of information you can parse is the question.  Think about it.  What is more telling of what a person is struggling with than a person who is asking questions?  These sites are nothing but people with a problem, asking questions on how to solve them.  Q&A websites like Yahoo Answers and Quora are among the best places to learn what your ideal clients struggle with.  This is because Q&A sites are full of people who couldn’t find the answer to their question on Google, which means that they may be speaking about a niche that is in-need of attention.  Not only can you benefit from these sites from a market research angle, but you can also answer the questions on-the-spot.  If you knock the answer out of the park (and even add a relevant link to a blog post), your answer may climb to the top.  Of course, that means more traffic from people who have also asked that same question.
Google Alerts
Google Alerts is a free tool that allows you to take a Google Search, and turn it into an RSS feed whenever a new piece of content appears in that search.  This tool is powerful, if you know how to do an effective Google search.  Want to find someone on the internet who is asking a very specific question, but have no idea where they’re asking it?  Put the question in a google alert.  Want to know when someone is talking about your business online?  Create a Google Alert for it.  If your “Google Foo” is strong, this can be by far the most powerful tool on this list.  In fact, this tool is so powerful, that I decided to make a cheat sheet to help users use it more effectively in their listening stations.

Step 2 – Set Up Trello

After you have all of your connectors accounted for, create a new Trello board, give it a name, and create lists that you want your content to go to.  I have many listening stations, so my name is more specific (such as “Craft Brewing Industry LS”).  Organize this however you want, but I like to break it down into 3 lists; “Blog Content” “Questions”, and “Forums”.  When we connect IFTTT to the board, I will direct the content in one of those 3 lists.  I also like to create a 4’th list called “Boneyard”, where I drop all of the cards that I no-longer want to keep.

Step 3 – Connect IFTTT to Trello

Once you have your content sources curated, get these pages in a format that can connect to our listening station.  Some channels can connect directly to IFTTT, but not all.  When there isn’t a direct integration option available, try an RSS feed. If that doesn’t work, try to burn a new feed at feedburner.  If all else fails, create a Google Alert that specifically targets that page.  Use this format for the search:site:YOUR/SITE/URL/HERE *. This will give you any new updates on a specific page as soon as Google crawls it.  Create a new recipe for each content source you’ve curated.  When the step to add the Trello board comes around, be sure to type the name of the list you wish to add the content to correctly.  If you want to add any labels to the cards that are added, be sure to create the label in Trello before the content begins to come in, or else the label won’t get added.

Conclusion (and Bonus Tip!)

This is going to take time, and you will spend more time fine-tuning the content that comes to your listening station, however, the amount of content that you will be able to take in will help you immensely.  The beauty of this system is in its mobility.  It effectively converts all of the content on the web that matters to you to a single, consistent format that can be easily read on any device.  This empowers you to find leads online, understand your niche, and come up with blog post ideas with very little effort on your part.  It’s worth it in the long run.

One topic that I feel was under-discussed in this post is how incredibly powerful, and flexible google alerts is.  I went ahead and made a Google Alerts Cheat Sheet to download.  It’s loaded with all of the different ways you can use Google Alerts to fine-tune your listening station to find all of the content in the harder-to-find nooks of the internet, such as forums you haven’t yet found, and other sources where pockets of your community hang out that you don’t know about.  In fact, my original listening station relied solely on this tool, and I had it fine-tuned to the point to where I received nothing but questions I wanted to answer.  Get your free copy here.

About Alex Standiford

WordPress fanatic, front-end design nerd, Beer lover, family guy, and content marketer.

Learn more about Alex Standiford

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  • Nathan Pierce

    Step 2 and 3 seem to be revolutionary!
    Alas, I don’t fully grasp it… more explanation please…

    • Alex Standiford

      Yeah, it’s a lot to take in, and is fairly difficult to grasp if you aren’t familiar with Trello or IFTTT. Once you learn a bit about those tools (they offer plenty of great documentation and video lessons on their respective websites) I think this blog post will really click.