3 tips for using Twitter as a research tool

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In any field of expertise, you will find insights on Twitter that you cannot get elsewhere. The problem is that there is so much information.

Twitter is now one of the world’s biggest search engines. There are various ways of searching for people, organisations, news, insight and issues using the ‘who to follow’ tool and typing keywords and hashtags into the search box. There are also a whole host of other tools for filtering information on Twitter.

But searching on Twitter doesn’t always yield the results you want from the people or organisations you rate. Not everyone will use the same hashtag or keyword when talking about a particular subject. And there will be a lot of people using the same keywords in a different context. For example, a search for mentions of research on ‘play’ (as in children’s play) will bring up a whole host of things about gaming etc that aren’t relevant.

Where Twitter comes into its own as a research tool for business and organisations is its ability to provide a snapshot picture of what is going on in any one sector or field of expertise, whether certain keywords are being mentioned or not. Here are some tips on how to get the best out of it.

1. Be selective about who you follow on Twitter

If you want to be positioned as an expert in a particular field and share that expertise with your followers, you need to follow a select group of people and organisations who you rate and that you can rely on to only tweet relevant information and provide meaningful insight. This means that you can scroll down your homepage easily and see what topics, blogs, articles etc influential people in your field are talking about.

2. Keep everyone in the organisation updated on what is going on on Twitter

If there is someone sitting in marketing using and monitoring Twitter, they hold all the intellectual property that comes from it. It makes sense to have one main user of Twitter so that the feed is consistent and guidelines are followed, but others need to see a snapshot of what is going on to help relationship building with stakeholders and keep on top of topical issues.

The person running the Twitter account may flag up when there is something that one of your experts could comment on, but there are other insights to be gained from regularly looking at what other experts in your field are doing on Twitter that can only be gained by looking at it yourself. This could be shared either be via a weekly digest of what people in you follow are discussing or, better still, by encouraging everyone to spend a couple of minutes a day or 15 minutes a week having a scroll down the page.

3. Always make sure you are part of the debate on Twitter

By monitoring what is being discussed by experts in your field on Twitter, you can make sure that you are always involved in debates you may have otherwise missed – and not just on Twitter. There might be an article that lots of people you rate are commenting on that one of your senior experts could add to and then tweet about or you may see something on Twitter that one of your experts could follow up with someone they rate via LinkedIn or at an event.

I know there are many Twitter pros who rely on tools that provide stats on Twitter trends and topics but I don’t think there is any short cut to gaining expert insight. Disagree? Tell me why…

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Victoria Tomlinson is founder and owner of Harrogate-based PR consultancy, Northern Lights. A former director of Ernst & Young, she started her career as a graduate trainee for Plessey and later with Bradbury Wilkinson, the banknote printers, travelling around the world to sell banknotes to foreign governments. She joined Arthur Young as part of their start-up marketing team and was made a director of client services on the management committee and managing a 100-strong division. Victoria sits on the boards of Bradford University School of Management, Northern Ballet Theatre and Common Purpose North Yorkshire. She is a Prince’s Trust mentor.