Using Twitter as a Pulse, Not a Firehose

In case you’re still not convinced about Twitter as a research tool, Twitter’s CEO, Jacky Dorsey, recently gave some wise advice at The Economist’s Ideas Economy: Innovation event:

It’s never been easier to start a company since Twitter exists. We get this instant pulse of what’s happening around any topic.

Let’s face it: Twitter is not for everyone. Not every company or every brand should have an official Twitter handle. I think we will all be happy if our toilet brush never says hello to us in 140 characters.

One thing is pretty universally true, though. With more than 450,000 people checking it out every day, there are bound to be people talking about your product or your core consumers talking about other products they love.

What does this mean to you? Practically free consumer insights and research. It’s a pulse on your core consumers or consumers you never knew existed.

I wouldn’t suggest that a few Twitter searches are as valuable or scientific as other studies or research methods, but there can be a tremendous amount of value. And there will be value even if there aren’t too many consumers talking about your product.

With 140 million tweets each day, it can be hard to sort through all of the noise to find the tweets or people that matter the most to you. No two research projects are exactly alike, but there are a few key tips and tricks to use Twitter as a pulse instead of a firehose.

Start general, search specifics. One thing I like to do when starting research is to do the most general search I can think of on Twitter. If you’re interested in the North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball team, search for college basketball or March Madness. Odds are you’ll find some new terms or phrases that consumers are using to talk about the sport. Use these terms to narrow your search to find the most relevant conversations later.

Track hashtags and conversations. If possible, find relevant industry Twitter chats or chats about a relevant topic. This will produce a different perspective even if the chat isn’t exactly what you’re looking for. This will also give you another chance to understand how consumers and fans are really talking about you or your brand.

Find influencers, find their friends. To find out who is talking about the Tar Heels, I’d recommend first finding the obvious (and possibly big name) players on Twitter. Is Coach Williams on Twitter? Any players? Even ESPN or another sports influencer would work. From there look to see who those folks are talking to, and look who those folks are talking to. Keep repeating to find more about how the community is talking about basketball and the Tar Heels specifically.

Check often, vary times. Obviously the conversation about Tar Heel basketball will be vastly different today than it was just one week ago (when we still had a shot at the championship). As time allows, check in on conversations at different days of the week and times of the day. If there are important dates or seasons, be sure to check before, during and after. Compare your notes to find richer insights.

Ask questions. If you still haven’t found that nugget of information you were looking for, ask the question you want answered. While a survey on Twitter is not scientific, I’ll bet you will know more than you did before. Simply ask your followers or a Twitter chat a question, and follow up with those who give you interesting answers.

My example is silly and based on something I’m passionate about, but these same steps could be used to find insights about your brand or company. Or if you work for my Tar Heels.

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