One Digital Analyst’s Guide to Using Twitter

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Did you come to this post via a #measure link on Twitter? If so, then fair warning: your arrival probably has more opportunity to benefit me than it does to benefit you – I’d love to get some tips in the comments section that help me evolve my own process!

Guy Kawasaki spoke at the San Francisco eMetrics this year, and one of his early statements that most people in the room seemed to agree with was, “If the first time you saw or used Twitter, you didn’t think, ‘This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,’ you probably aren’t that bright.”

Anyone who actively uses Twitter has struggled to articulate how and why it brings value to their lives when discussing it with a non-user. Consistently, those of us who are active users wind up falling back on, “You really have to get in and try it out and stick with it for a couple of weeks before it will start making sense.”

This post is my attempt to provide a guide/process specifically for analysts who fall into that “skeptical non-user” camp to try to make that “try it out for a couple of weeks” as smooth and worthwhile as possible.

A second Guy Kawasaki reference: he wrote a post once where he articulated another absolute truism:

There is no right and wrong with Twitter. There’s only what works for you and what doesn’t, so telling people how to use Twitter is as laughable as telling people what kind of websites were acceptable in 1980.

I’m walking a fine line with this post then, am I not? What I’m laying out here has two critical caveats:

  • It’s how I use Twitter – what I use it for and the tools I employ to use it effectively
  • It’s how I use Twitter as of April 2011 – as the medium continues to evolve and shift, and as I pick up tips and tools from others (I’m hoping to get some such tips from comments to this post), my process evolves

I (like many others) disagree with a lot that Kawasaki has to say about Twitter, but I agree that there is no single “right” way to use it, and this post shouldn’t be taken as such. It’s how I use it — if you find a thought or two that you think would be useful, use it. If you find a thought or two that you think is inane, then don’t (but I’d like a comment on this post so I can evolve my own approach).

Let’s dive in, shall we?

What I Get Out of Twitter

As an analyst, I get a range of benefits from my use of Twitter. Trying to organize them into a list makes it seem like they fall into discrete buckets, when, in reality, they’re a bunch of fuzzy overlapping circles, but here goes, anyway:

  • Breaking news in the industry – product launches, acquisitions, hot topics
  • Useful thinking from members of the industry – blog posts with tips/tools/explanations/philosophies
  • Relationship building – tweets can lead to emails, phone calls, and in-person meetings with both recognized industry leaders as well as analysts grappling with similar issues to me, and two minds are better than one almost all the time! I’ve also had relationships with vendors seeded through Twitter – several that have led to very real and very valuable partnerships
  • Technical support…from the community – I regularly tap into the Twitterverse to confirm oddities (the disappearance of Google Analytics Benchmarking, the fact that GA shows Safari as the top mobile browser for Android devices, etc.), which is often a quick way to confirm that I’m not missing something obvious
  • Technical support…from vendors – many vendors have a formal customer service presence (username) on Twitter or monitor references to their products and will respond promptly. I’ve gotten quick and helpful responses with very targeted queries to @OmnitureCare, @OmnitureFC, @Twitalyzer, and others

Even without all of these benefits, I would still value Twitter as a useful tool in my analyst workbelt. So, let’s get onto the actual process I use with Twitter.

But First! A Critical Understanding

If you’re new to Twitter, there is one key, key thing you absolutely must understand:

98%* of the content on Twitter that you could see and that might be of interest to you…you will miss…and that’s okay.

It’s easy to get sucked into your Twitter streams and find one useful link or reference after another. You then jump into some other work for a few hours (or days), and a little voice in the back of your head starts saying, “You’re missing valuable content!”

You are…and you aren’t. There is simply too much information out there to consume it all. Don’t try. Think about the information you get out of Twitter in terms of incremental bonus information on top of your existing resources rather than an entire body of information that you should be consuming as much of as possible, and you will be much more able to go to bed at night and rest peacefully. As it happens, my own Twitter usage has been pretty light for the past couple of weeks due to travel. It’s not keeping me up at night!

NOW…to the Brass Tacks of Using Twitter

There are three aspects (plus an optional bonus) to using Twitter:

  • Twitter tools (clients)
  • Filtering and categorizing content
  • Contributing and engaging
  • (Optional) Measurement and analysis

Twitter Tools

I use Hootsuite. It’s web-based, has all the functionality I need (the key one being the ability to show multiple “streams” of content at once), and has a mobile app that works fairly well. And, it’s got a nice bookmarklet (“hootlet”) that is a persistent button in my preferred browser, Google Chrome, so I can quickly tweet any link I find.

My setup at work and at home is to use an external monitor with my laptop. I use the monitor as my primary workspace, and my laptop off to the side with a browser maximized with Hootsuite running in it at all times. That way, I engage with the various streams I set up (discussed below), simply by glancing off to the side – where my laptop sits.

There are other clients, for sure. You can look at the tweets of people you follow (or ones you don’t follow) to see what clients they use.

‘nuf said. I’d be surprised if I was still using Hootsuite a year from now, but maybe not terribly surprised.

Filtering and Categorizing Content

One of the great things about the evolution of Twitter is that there is little harm in having a high count of people you are following. You may occasionally scan the timeline that intermingles all of their tweets, but, in practice, that’s going to be an unmanageable sea of information. I have the following “streams” that I set up to drastically filter and organize the content:

  • Replies – I have a stream for people who reference me in a tweet; this is one of the more important ones, because anyone who says something to me or about me can reasonably expect a timely response or acknowledgement
  • #measure hashtag – this is a search of “#measure,” basically, and it’s the widely adopted convention that web analysts (or, really, digital marketing analysts) use for tweets relevant to the field
  • Other searches – during eMetrics, I also followed the #emetrics hashtag; if I were working exclusively with a single web analytics platform, I might follow a search for that tool’s name or the hashtag…but I don’t do that currently (and there are a finite number of streams that I can reasonably follow at once)
  • Lists – I have several lists of people I follow; most notably, a “web analytics” list that I add people to when I see them tweet something of interest in #measure, a “Resource Interactive” list that contains current (and former) co-workers of the agency where I work, and even a private “client” list where I add employees of clients with whom I’ve had some interaction

I have a stream for Twitter direct messages…but I seldom look at it. I have DMs set up to send me a text message so that I’ll be more likely to get them even if I am away from my computer.

Contributing and Engaging

Some people use Twitter solely as a one-way communication vehicle – so-called “lurkers.” They use a combination of the techniques above, but they seldom actually tweet anything themselves. This really cuts down on the overall value that can be gained from the medium.

My personal strategy for contributing/engaging goes something like this:

  • Using the various streams described above, I retweet information that I genuinely find valuable and try to include a few words as to what struck me about the tweet or link it referenced
  • I get emails with interesting content – often people send me a note because they found content that they thought might be of interest to me, and, when I check it out, I feel like it’s actually content that might be of interest to the larger #measure community, so I tweet it (and credit the person who emailed it to me, if they’re on Twitter and I know their username).
  • I reply to people when I’ve got something to contribute – either a humorous response that might make them chuckle, a helpful link that I remember/can track down, or actual information that answers a question they’re asking or furthers a conversation
  • I have a list of “Measurement and Analytics” bloggers that I’ve built a feed for in Google Reader. This is my own version of something Stéphane Hamel (@immeria) set up years ago, and I used to use Yahoo! Pipes for, but which I recently cut over to Google Reader. I regularly add additional blogs to this feed, and I go beyond the pure “measurement” blogs that I find – pulling in both some data visualization and presentation tips blogs as well. This is an information resource for me in its own right, but, I start my day by scanning the new entries in that feed, and, if I see anything that might be of interest to the #measure community or to a specific person…I tweet it.

None of these are time-consuming activities for me. They’re either 5-10 seconds tacked on to whatever I’m already doing (to share the content), or they’re micro-interruptions throughout the day when I need to glance away from whatever work is currently at hand for a quick mental break.

(Optional) Measurement and Analysis

I wonder if it might be a bit controversial to say that measurement is optional. But, I don’t measure my e-mail use or my phone use, and, in many respects, all Twitter is is another channel along those lines.

Having said that, Twitter is also a key tool I use to build and evolve my personal brand. I use it to promote new blog posts I’ve written (this one, for instance, was auto-tweeted when it was published), as well as, I hope, to elevate awareness of who I am and what types of expertise I haven, and even some degree of my personality.

So, for me, it is important for me to measure whether my contributions and use of the platform are having a positive impact on @tgwilson as a Twitter presence. I use Twitalyzer for this…and you can read about how (in near-excruciating detail) in a post from a few months back.

Some Closing Thoughts

In the end, I try to hook into a few different dimensions of my social graph and engage with each of those dimensions. At times – fairly often, actually – I find content from one dimension of my social graph (say, my non-analyst co-workers) and port it over to share with the #measure community.

Both Twitter and various Twitter tools will continue to evolve. In a medium that is inherently micro and choppy, relatively small nuisances (being limited to 4 streams showing concurrently on my laptop screen, for instance) can really start to grate on my nerves over time. But, time and again, both Twitter and Twitter tool vendors continue to innovate and improve the user experience.

Looking back over the past 3 years, I realize that I’m now consuming and engaging much more, garnering more value, and spending the same or less actual time in the medium than I did when I started out. That’s partly from improvements in the tools, partly from the organic evolution of my personal process, and partly from…practice.

What Do You Think?

Chime in! What else do you do to efficiently leverage Twitter as an analyst? What frustrates you or is holding you back?


*Completely unsubstantiated, mostly defensible estimate.

One Comment

  1. Pingback Breaking in to the Digital Analytics Field | Gilligan on Data by Tim Wilson

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