While Facebook may be the most popular social media site, Twitter is perhaps the most prolific social media site in the world. Content from Twitter is constantly quoted in news articles, has had a hand in the Arab Spring and other political demonstrations, and is growing in popularity amongst teens and other heavy users of mobile technology. In many ways, Twitter is one of the most important social media sites to peruse during the course of online research and investigations.
What is Twitter?
A screenshot of Wil Wheaton’s (@wilw) Twitter profile
Twitter is a microblogging site which allows users to tweet text and links to pictures, videos, and other content in 140 characters or less. Each user’s Twitter experience is customizable, as they select to follow only the users that are of interest to them. The tweets from the followed users appear on the Twitter homepage. Additionally, each user has a Twitter profile in which users can see the user’s last 3200 tweets, followers, followings, and photos and videos.
Another important feature of Twitter is the hashtag. The hashtag was first used on Twitter by users to communicate with one another about a specific topic and is now used on a variety of other social media sites. By clicking on a hashtag, users can execute a real-time search across Twitter to find tweets containing the same hashtag. That search can be sorted by top tweets, all tweets, or tweets from known users. It can also be saved for later use.
What Can You Learn from Twitter?
A screenshot of the JFK trending topic
Twitter allows researchers and analysts to gather a wealth of information about any individual or topic of interest. More than half of all Twitter users leverage the site to access news coverage. Similarly, many users post live coverage of events occurring around them, and Twitter is testing a breaking news feature which allows them to alert users of breaking news in their area. By utilizing hashtags and trending topics, researchers can find information on almost anything of interest.
The amount of information Twitter contains about any given user is astonishing. Using advanced search techniques, you can read every tweet made by an individual user. These tweets can contain information regarding a person’s habits, interests, general disposition, social networks, and locations. Additionally, with the amount of social media applications that push content to Twitter, it makes it easy to quickly identify other social media accounts of a person of interest.
How Can You Use Information from Twitter?
How to leverage information from Twitter is entirely dependent upon the needs of your research or investigation. If you are monitoring topics or events using Twitter, you can use a variety of free and paid tools to identify and capture Tweets using keyword or location-based searches. Many of these tools have alert features built in which will tell you when there are new posts about your topic or area of interest. Similarly, you can also use free or paid tools to monitor and capture individual user’s information.
Ultimately, Twitter is an excellent starting point for any investigation. You can do broad based topic research to identify language patterns and influencers of topics and events of interest. Once you identify your users of interest, you can map out their social networks and movements to establish patterns of behavior and identify even more sources of information. In the future, we will be giving more in-depth tips on how to conduct these investigations in another social media platforms series.