The folks over at BrandonHall, the learning folks who blog lots of interesting links, pointed out a value of Twitter that not all of us may have seen yet. Twitter as a search engine. This was interesting to me because I’m co-leading a short online workshop introducing social media in a global international development network. The question always comes up “why would we be interested in something like Twitter. One application I try to show is Twitter as social listening. But I never really conceptualized it as search. So I thought I’d put it to the test.
First, I searched for something for me. Chocolate, of course. But you have to have a question in mind to make the search meaningful beyond curiosity. I wanted to get a sense of how many people were tweeting about chocolate, and if their tweets were about their obsession, or if there was valuable information about chocolate flying around the tweetosphere. (Is that a word?)
Well, the answer is yes and yes. The first page of results were from tweets that happened within a two minute time frame. LOTS of volume. For example, flamingo_punk Wrote: “Mmmm! Chocolate mini-wheats rock my socks.” There were lots of passionate chocolate tweets like this. On the information side I found:
- SavingEveryday: Off to work! I leave you with this: An ounce of chocolate contains about 20 mg of caffeine…
- recr: @MortgageChick They say it takes 21 days for a ‘change’ to become a habit. try subing coffee or lattes with hot chocolate. worked for me.
- 2chaos: NYSE commentator: “If the last depression brought innovation, like thechocolate chip cookie, I hope this gives us more than the snuggie” Ha
That last one bolstered my outlook of the current economic situation. Ha! is right! But chocolate is a wide ranging topic so using Twitter to search and listen would give you many results and you could aggregate that information to watch trends on a topic quickly.
Climate change gave me on the first page a lot of links and serious tweets about the issue. Clearly, climate change advocates have taken up tweeting. Note the twitter names — they are using their twitter IDs as a part of the communication issues strategy. It is like a breaking news ticker. The volume of tweets on this topic (the first page of returns were all posts within 15 minutes) indicates this may be a very useful “social listening” resource for organizations working on climate change.
I thought agricultural research
might be a bit thinner. I was wrong. But the timing is much different. The links on the first search page were between 1 and 20 days ago, but they were far more focused than the wide ranging chocolate tag. Interestingly, I knew about 20% of the tweeters on the first two pages — it is a much smaller network. There were also tweet replies @ users within the first two pages, showing connections between those tweeters. So I start to wonder, is there an audience for agricultural research tweets yet? Is it in the growth phase while chocolate may be overwhelming in the amount of ongoing tweets?
All in all, this 25 minute exercise told me a lot about Twitter as a social listening tool
. For me, watching a twitter search stream over time is a form of scanning one subset of the world and what it is thinking about that topic. I am not quite as clear about how searching Twitter as a one-off search can pay off. The time frame is so short, or if you want to go longer, you have to awkwardly search back through page after page of tweets. It is not yet easy. If you captured the stream via an RSS feed and than analyzed it later as a search, that might be easier.
Still, I’m fascinated by the listening site. Watching tweets can tell me about both what people are tweeting, but more interesting to me from a work perspective, is who is tweeting about a topic and how connected tweeters are around a topic. Is a Twitter topic a seed for a new community? Can a community or a network emerge around a shared tweeting topic like it can around
a social bookmarking tag
? Is a trend of tweets a community indicator
? It certainly is when people use a hashtag
to tweet event or topic related tweets.
How would a community technology steward use Twitter? Would they want to encourage some sort of community usage of keywords or tags? Would they want to go more focused with a hashtag? Ah, but now I’m roaming far outside of my initial “twitter as search” question. See how tantalizing this is?
Do you use Twitter as a search engine? If yes, how is it working out for you?
P.S. Edited in later — some additional Twitter Search resources, thanks to all you fab commentors. I’ll keep coming back and editing them in.