For all the knocks on Twitter’s superficiality and 140-character limit, it’s hard to dispute the social network’s ability to capture public opinion. Breaking news often originates from Twitter and spreads like wildfire through the network as millions of users record their opinions in real time.

Whether or not you post on Twitter, you can use the social network to your advantage by monitoring keywords related to the markets, the economy, politics — even your own name and practice.

Step 1: Conduct a keyword search

Go to twitter.com/search and type in a topic of interest to you. Depending on the topic, you’ll find dozens — if not thousands — of current opinions on the subject, including many from organizations with Twitter accounts. Be sure to click through to any links; Twitter posts are very often references to a specific article or piece of content the user wishes to share.

Step 2: Create a private Twitter list

Twitter “lists” are categories of Twitter users that you set up and monitor. They could be centers of influence, potential clients, even competitors. You must have a Twitter account to set up a list, but once you do, you can create a list under the “Me” tab. By making your list private, you can listen to the opinions of others without your list showing up on other Twitter profiles.

Step 3: Monitor trending topics

Twitter monitoring sites like Twitscoop and Trendsmap provide graphical displays, maps, and tag clouds of how your search terms are trending on Twitter. You can see how topics vary in frequency over time, what’s hot now, and drill down to what people are talking about in your region of the world.