Twitter has a wealth of information, news and opinions on every topic imaginable. Identifying and separating what is relevant, interesting or actionable is a tough task but fortunately there are numerous tools that help us navigate through the Twittersphere.
There is not a single Twitter app or tool that satisfies all research needs. Most of my Twitter use happens through the iPad Twitter app or Tweetdeck on my laptop. But there are still times when it is necessary to go beyond those platforms to find and research information or people and to engage in conversations relevant to your area of interest.
I have categorized Twitter research tools into 5 broad areas and selected tools that help analyse data and user behaviour, identify influencers, and engage with people.
1. Research into your Twitter usage
If you want to figure out how often you tweet, when you do it, and your retweet and @ reply habits then TweetStats is ideal. It does this extremely well by presenting your behaviour in simple, clear graphs. It is divided into 3 sections:
This section analyses how you use Twitter. It displays in graphs how many times you tweet per month, allowing you to zoom in on a particular month and day to analyze your total tweets, replies and retweets. It gives you a break-down of your tweet density, aggregate daily and hourly tweets, who you reply to, who you retweet and what interface you use for Twitter.
This section presents you with a cloud for both your retweeted hashtags and your most frequently used hashtags. If it is not something you have checked before the results can be a surprise.
The final section allows you to track changes to your friend and follower count over time.
Tweetstats is ideal if you are curious about your tweeting habits and if you want to research what other users tweet about by using the Tweet Cloud feature.
2. Research Twitter Trends
Twitter’s ‘trending topics’ feature helps users see what’s being talked about, but there is not much you can do with it. TweetStats Trends feature provides a nice graph of the day’s top 10 trends and what is currently trending. But if you are trying to research topics in more depth then these tools are inadequate.
Trendistic, in contrast, provides a broader range of features that allow users to track trends on Twitter through a visual graph of the number of mentions along with random tweets about that topic. This helps you keep track of conversations over time to see how often they are tweeted about. For example, it is possible to see how popular ‘icloud’ is on June 7th among Twitter users and see what people are tweeting about ‘icloud’ over the course of the day.
The feature that I like most on Trensidtic is the ability to compare up to 6 words and graphs their popularity against each other across 24 hours or up to the previous 6 months. If you want to share your chart you can either embed it or share it on Twitter. You can also receive alert emails about a topic once it starts to trend.
There is also a list of trending topics over the last 7 days with details about when each topic was hot and when the maximum number of tweets occurred. You can view a graph of its trending history and selected tweets.
3. Research domain experts
WeFollow is a great user directory with a clean and simple interface. It doesn’t stand out compared to other Twitter user directories, but what I like about is it gives a quick idea of who the most popular people in your industry or interest area are. It uses hashtags to categorize people and covers numerous popular categories such as Music, Sport, Tech, Politics, Fashion and Health. Anyone can add themselves to the directory by applying up to 5 hashtags to themselves.
When you search for your topic of interest it lists users based on who is the ‘Most Influential’ and who has the ‘Most Followers’. This is a simple and obvious way of organizing users and is effective when you want to find out whom to follow on specific topics. Often, however, the people you want to engage with are not those with the most followers or highest number of tweets (if you can even get their attention). Knowing who the influencers are in your interest area is better handled by a tool like Klout than WeFollow.
4. Research Influencers
Klout is a measurement tool that helps you focus on how messages are spread through your network. It gives an indication of a person’s reach within their network and how engaged they are with their network. It achieves this by measuring aspects of Twitter usage and focusing on how messages are spread through their network.
To calculate your total social influence Klout measures users in three categories:
This measures how effective you are at capturing the attention of influencers. It measure a user’s list inclusion, influence of followers, influence of retweeters, influence of friends, influence of people who mention you, and your follower / following ratio.
This measures how often your content is reposted or retweeted by looking at your engagement level in conversations, how often your content is reported, and if your posts result in new followers and conversations. It measures uniqueness, likes per post, comment per post, retweet percentage, inbound messages per outbound content, and how often you update.
This measures how far your influence reaches based on how engaged your audience is, how likely are they to read your content, and respond or share it. True Reach measures a user’s followers, retweets, unique commentators and likes, mentions, list counts, and mutual followers.
Klout is a great way to see how well you are building your influence especially by giving you more information about your social graph. It takes a fundamentally different approach to a tool like WeFollow. It adopts a bottom-up approach to measuring influence in contrast to looking at who has the most number of followers or tweets. Klout thus enables users to research who are the influencers that are listening and engaging with their network and so whose messages are going furthest. I see three specific benefits:
1. It allows users to research and target influential Twitter users to follow and – hopefully – engage with
2. It allows users who share a lot of content to track their online reach or influence and to see how active their followers are
3. It allows users to benchmark themselves against high influencers
5. How to Engage using Twitter
So far we have covered tools that allow you to research your or other users’ Twitter usage and analyse and benchmark your social web clout. However, Twitter is also a platform where a lot of Q&A happens, and it is crucial both for brands and individual users’ own influence to engage with people. Finding the right questions and comments to respond to, and leveraging this for businesses and users, is a task made much easier by InboxQ.
It is a web browser extension (and a plug-in on Seesmic Desktop) that enables conversations by sending a real-time stream of Twitter questions related to brands, products, or subjects of your choice to your browser. Apparently only 1% of tweets with questions marks are real questions, so InboxQ uses natural language processing software to detect real questions.
I like the fact that InboxQ is an extension – one less website to open. This means it gets more attention than other tools. It is very simple to start a campaign by just adding terms or keywords that cover your area of interest. Relevant tweets are then sent to your inbox. You can also refer questions to your Twitter followers via a direct message, set-up questions to be answered later, and track answers. Expanding InboxQ to also crawl Quora, as it plans to, will be a great additional feature.
I hope this article will help users understand how they can use Twitter for research. There are many more Twitter tools than the ones discussed here, so if you happen to know some that you think can be added in the list, please let me know. Also, I have summarized my research below in a presentation.