To really analyze and track communities, you need to marinate in them. This means getting an account, connecting with others, and analyzing the results. Often, you’ll be rewarded with greater visibility as a result of signing up.
When you join a community, you’ll have little control over the conversations that take place and you’ll be at the mercy of the tools that the community makes available. Once you’re a part of the network, however, you can mine your own social graph and use internal tools such as groups to better understand your audience. Many of these tools are still rudimentary and are often constrained by how much data the platform owners are willing to share with users.
Unlike searching, which leaves no trace, becoming a part of the community has consequences. When you sign up, others will know you’re there. You need to decide whether you want to identify yourself as a member of your organization (we strongly recommend that you do—these things have a way of leaking out) and understand what legal ramifications your participation will have. For example, if you work for a car manufacturer, you may be subject to lemon laws that require you to respond to complaints—so tread carefully.
For groups and mailing lists that are members-only, you can join through a mailing list management portal, after which you’ll be able to read messages. Depending on how the moderator has configured the mailing list, you may have access to historical ...