While many have proclaimed the demise of Twitter in recent months, the platform is still the leading source of real-time news and updates, with no other provider able to match the immediacy, scale and insight of Twitter and its fast-flowing stream. This is partly why Twitter's shift to an algorithm-based feed triggers comes with some concerns - Twitter's strength is in the now, in what's happening right at this very moment. And while the algorithm doesn't necessarily upset that - it's focus is on highlighting the best content that was posted while you were away before getting back into the real-time stream - at the same time, there is a risk it could distract from that core strength.
But something has to be done, user growth has stalled, people are less enamored with their 140-character missives than they once were. Or, at least, that's the way it seems.
However there are plenty of bright spots in Twitter's outlook; Twitter's full-year revenue in 2015 was $2.2 billion, up 48% year-on-year; The number of active advertisers on the platform rose 90%, reaching 130,000 in Q4; And last year's MTV Video Music Awards were the most tweeted about, non-sports event in the platform's history, highlighting that there's still significant user engagement with the platform.
User growth is slowing, but the platform still has much to work with, but part of the problem seems to be in the company's failure to communicate the true value of their real-time stream. I've written about this before, that Twitter is more important and valuable than most people realize, but that didn't go into the more practical elements of the platform, how to make Twitter data work for you.
As such, here are three examples of ways in which Twitter data can be used to garner genuine, valuable insight, for anyone. It takes some work, in regards to identification of the relevant tweets and keywords to track, but Twitter's real-time stream can become an amazing source of insight - even foresight - when used correctly.
1. Locating Relevant Mentions
These days, Twitter data is used to predict a wide range of events - from the stock market to the impact of natural disasters to election outcomes. And generally, it's quite accurate, or at the least, Twitter serves as a solid indicator of relevant trends, which can enable relevant organizations to act quickly and maximize their efforts. But most of those applications can seem out of reach for the common person, beyond the capacity of a small business with a limited budget.
But the truth is that utilizing big data all comes down to context - if you can identify the relevant context, then the size of the dataset itself is irrelevant, as you're only looking for very specific mentions. Yes, there are over 500 million tweets sent every day, but in that stream you're only looking for a few of them, and that is where you find the true power of social monitoring and analytics.
It's not the breadth of mentions you want, it's specificity, and identifying those core messages that you need to find will simplify your search use down to a manageable level.
For example, social analytics companies like Dataminr use tweets as a key indicator to detect and alert stock traders to likely market fluctuations and movements. As noted in this post on Fast Company:
"On March 8, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship arrived in Port Everglades, Florida, with 105 passengers and three crew members sick with norovirus. When that news broke, it sent Royal Carribean Cruises Ltd. Share prices tumbling by 2.9%. But Dataminr clients had the news 48 minutes earlier."
Through clever utilization of Twitter data, Dataminr, and other analytics providers, are able to locate such insights by correlating Twitter happenings with specific stocks, in real-time. But what's more, those insights are not nearly as complex as you might have imagined - the linkage between a disease outbreak on a Royal Caribbean ship and a subsequent decline in their stock price makes perfect, logical sense. It's only the fact that these analytics providers are listening in to the right keywords that they've been able to tap into that insight - again, it's not the breadth of data they can access, it's the specific mentions that yield true insight.
Here's another - the U.S. Geological Survey uses Twitter to track earthquakes around the world - and they've found that using tweets for this purpose is faster and more accurate than many previously existing methods. But how they do this is surprisingly simple - first, they worked out that people who are actually in earthquake hit regions tend to post shorter tweets (because who has time for hashtags when your life is in danger?). This allowed them to narrow down their detection with their first rule:
1.No tweets of more than seven words
Secondly, the team also recognized that people sharing links or the size of the earthquake (as in '4.5 on the Richter scale') were less likely to be offering first-hand reports, so they filtered those out too:
2.Eliminate any tweets which include a link or a number
And that's it - those are the only two qualifiers that USGS uses in detecting earthquake activity via tweet. Tweets are then filtered based on velocity (how many tweets are sent in any given amount of time) and, obviously, location. It only takes around 14 tweets to trigger an alert and the system is surprisingly accurate.
What these examples highlight is that while there are billions of tweets to sift through, actually sorting through that stream and locating relevant insight is not as complex as it may, initially, seem. Because despite that vast deluge of tweets, the ones you're looking for - the ones that are of value to you and/or your business - are very few. The more you can narrow down your search scope, the easier it is to use Twitter to gather insight, and once you've formulated those key elements of interest, you can use that same formula again and again to find the content you need.
Here's a basic brand example - let's say you run a store which sells chocolate. Which tweets would you need to look out for? You could start with a basic Twitter search for the term 'chocolate'.
Now that's too vague, right? There's a lot of matches for 'chocolate' by itself that are not relevant for our purposes. So let's narrow it down - based on the most common, likely queries in that initial search, let's change our search to "chocolate" AND "need".
Those mentions are more aligned with what we're interested in, locating users with purchase intent or interest. Using the qualifier of "need" captures more of the common language people use when using Twitter to discuss their chocolate fandom - you could also use "want" or "eat", but based on my basic research here, "need" was the most common.
But of course, that search stream is still too broad and it's not filtered by any location. But Twitter does have location qualifiers built in - this time we'll type in our query:
"chocolate" AND "need"
Then we'll qualify it with a location:
"chocolate" AND "need" near:Melbourne within:50km
(note: you can use 'km' or 'mi' depending on your regional measurements)
Now this is just a random, quickly thrown-together example - and of course, the results will vary based on how much of your target audience is active on Twitter - but you get what I mean. By researching the most common queries and developing an understanding of your customers' path to purchase, you can develop some simple search commands that'll enable you to track down relevant conversations and reach out to people at just the right time - or even, if you're really clever, ahead of time. With an established knowledge of the most common behaviors that lead your clients to your products, you can search for the steps before they consider seeking out your products, then target them with promoted tweets or reach out to them with offers before they even realize what it is they're looking for.
You can set up monitoring streams in either Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to do this - you can save streams and they'll update with every new mention of your target term/s, enabling you to stay on top of relevant mentions and get in touch with offers at the optimal times.
It may seem somewhat obvious, but the point here is to highlight that Twitter can be an extremely valuable and beneficial research tool when used well. If tweets can be used to predict election outcomes, predict stock fluctuations, even earthquakes, then it's worth expanding your view and considering how they can also help you detect market shifts relative to your industry and/or niche.
2. Finding Relevant Influencers
Another thing Twitter's great for is finding influential commentators and voices within your industry. Such people are likely present on LinkedIn and Facebook too, but Twitter's data is all public, making it easier to seek out and find people based on their actual output.
To do this, the easiest way is to use a tool like BuzzSumo. BuzzSumo is primarily a content discovery platform - you put in a subject and BuzzSumo will give you a listing of the most shared content on that topic across all the main platforms. But another handy feature is BuzzSumo's influencer discovery functionality.
To use this, you simply go to BuzzSumo and type in your topic of choice - for our example, let's say its "chocolate".
As you can see from this screenshot, I've narrowed my search (on the left of screen) to Melbourne, giving me a listing of the biggest influencers that mention 'chocolate' in their Twitter profiles from my local region. From this, I could put together a listing of key people to contact to help amplify my message - maybe I'll send all these chocolate fans a gift basket with the hopes that they might give me a mention. Maybe I'll follow all these influencers and seek to engage with their tweets. Given their strong social followings, taking the time to develop relationships with these influencers would be a viable way for me to help spread the word about my business - and in a more natural, less intrusive way than advertising.
There are many ways to use this data, from finding content amplifiers to locating relevant blogs which these key voices are reading (via the 'View Links Shared' option). If nothing else, the info provided can give you a better idea of who your industry influencers are and where you stand in the wider scheme of things.
3. Understanding Key Trends and Topics
But of course, there's one more crucial element of that knowledge chain - it's great, and valuable, to know who your industry influencers and the people you want to connect with are, but it's another thing to know what they're reading every day, what content's generating the most interest and getting attention amongst the communities and audiences you really want to reach.
One of the best tools for getting a better handle on Twitter, and using Twitter's network to understand important trends and topics of interest, is Nuzzel. What Nuzzel does is actually quite simple - Nuzzel analyzes the social networks of each Twitter user, then shows you the most popular content within that network, based on frequency of links posted in their tweets.
So, in your Nuzzel feed, you get a listing like this:
As you can see, Nuzzel has analyzed my overall social network and is showing me the most popular content among those users, including how many connections have shared each post. I can filter this stream by the last 24 hours, the last hour, the last week - whatever suits my requirements. This is massively helpful in trying to get a handle on which issues are resonating and what content is gaining traction amongst members of my social audience - but as useful as that is Nuzzel actually has more tricks than that to it.
On the right of screen, you can see a listing of recently viewed feeds. Where Nuzzel is truly great is that it's not restricted to your own network - you can examine the same info for almost any other Twitter user. So I can go check my competitors, my influencers (as identified in the previous step), anyone I want, and I can get an understanding of what's of interest to their audience, highlighting what topics are resonating with them and ways in which I too can connect with them.
Further than that, if you enter a topic into the search field, Nuzzel will show you the top trending topic across Twitter on any given topic, along with Nuzzel feeds you can subscribe to for popular influencers related to that topic.
This provides further context into how people are discussing your industry of choice, and makes it easier to rationalize the Twitter stream and stay on top of trending issues (honestly, I wish Twitter would just buy Nuzzel and integrate it into their 'Trending Topics' listings to make them more personally relevant).
These are just some of the wide range of tools you can use to analyze Twitter and get more value out of the micro-blog platform. As you can see, amidst all the doom and gloom and prognostications of Twitter's pending demise, the platform is still a hugely valuable and insightful resource, and one which has significant value for a wide range of businesses, particularly when used right.
Tools like these also highlight that making sense of that endless stream of tweets is not as complex or intimidating as it may seem. While it takes work to narrow down your data focus and locate the mentions and influencers of most relevance to your brand, you're likely to find it's worth the effort. And maybe, you'll be able to advance your knowledge of what leads people to your business, what steps people take before reaching out to connect. Do that, and you might even be able to get ahead of the game and build a social listening framework that puts you ahead of the pack.
Main image via fyv6561/Shutterstock