Had Twitter failed to catch on initially, none of this would have mattered. But Twitter did catch on, with both users and developers. The question is, did Twitter catch on because it was cool, unique, and provided a valuable service? Or did Twitter catch on because developers saw the potential, and users were attracted to the huge (and largely free) ecosystem of integrated services?
That's a chicken-and-egg question that probably can't be answered (although I'd love to hear your opinions). The one thing we know for sure is that the reason Twitter struggled, and continues to wrestle with scalability, availability, and reliability has more to do with the massive ecosystem of third-party apps leveraging its infrastructure than with the number of users tweeting on Twitter.com at any one time.
For communications professionals, however, the end result of Twitter's technical openness and popularity is thousands of app services that address myriad things people want to use Twitter for. The challenge is weeding through the existing lot and keeping up with the new debuts. That's where I hope to help you today.
I won't waste your time with a discussion of Twitter clients here. That's a huge topic in and of itself, and really requires weeks of research, performance testing, and a comparison grid to be done right. For what it's worth, my preferred Twitter clients are the actual Twitter.com native UI and Seesmic.com. There are several fans of HootSuite, TweetDeck, Twidroyd, and Tweetie here at the firm, along with at least one lone Twhirl holdout.
I maintain a database of Twitter apps and services here at Gregory FCA. Several years in the making, the database contains only those Twitter apps that I feel provide true value to communications professionals. It is updated (added to, subtracted from) regularly, and presently contains over 200 entries. Of those, about 25 tools see service regularly in the execution of our clients' social media campaigns.
Here are some of the tools I find most useful in the management of Twitter activity for me and my clients. Try them yourself, and let me know what you think. And if you have a tool that you think should be on this list, please let me know by posting a comment, writing to me, or tweeting me.
|JustUnfollow just unfollows|
I don't use Twitter to stay abreast of news. I have Google reader for that. I use Twitter to share the things that interest me across a very narrow field of vision (e.g., Linux, Ubuntu, certain programming languages, etc.) with a larger network of like-minded people.
And I want to follow people who share back. Typically I'll find out about an update to some obscure piece of software that I use and care about on Twitter long before it ever makes news. It's not the "right way" to use Twitter. It's my way. Depending upon what your objectives are, this approach could utterly fail for you.
But if you believe, as I do, that the people you follow should follow you back, JustUnfollow is the tool for you. There are many unfollowing tools for Twitter. Most of those I have tested have issues. JustUnfollow just works. You can search for non-reciprocal users, and then enjoy the feeling of unfollowing them one by one.
You'll also enjoy the occasional crank who is using an automated unfollow monitor that automatically tweets, "@RBLevin just unfollowed me!" Makes me chuckle, since they're putting a premium on the unfollow, but they never reciprocated my follow in the first place.
|UnTweeps: Say goodbye to those who don't tweet|
This helps you optimize your follower ratio, and make certain that you are only following people who are active on the network. And why would you want to follow dead accounts?
Note that UnTweeps can appear to hang if you have more than a few thousand followers. But it hasn't locked up. It's thinking. It has to evaluate each follower and their timeline, which requires a lot of processing. Be patient. The results are worth it.
Everybody who is serious about Twitter wants to know how they're doing. The most basic measure of Twitter success is your follower count (i.e., the size of your network). The bigger, the better.
There are those who argue it's about quality, not quantity. Better to have a small, highly targeted, passionate group of followers than a massive network, they say. They're the guys with the small Twitter networks.
Here's what's really better: A growing network of like-minded friends (people who follow you and who you follow, and who are interested in the topics you tweet about).
|Twittercounter: The race is on!|
We could argue about how fast a network should grow (or how fast a client wants it to grow). But the fact is, all PR is good PR, and all Twitter growth is good Twitter growth, regardless of the pace of momentum.
There are myriad tools that allow you to visualize your Twitter network in one form or another, and review its statistics. But I've found only one that pulls the most important Twitter stats together into a single tool, and provides the types of clean charts and readable reports that clients like. It's Twittercounter.
|Jealous, aren't you?|
In addition to comparisons (useful for benchmarking brands competitively), you can visualize trends around followers, friends, tweets, retweets, mentions, and more, with a nice amount of granularity.
Twittercounter also provides projections. As you can see, Robert is on quite a roll.
|Statastic stats from TweetStats|
I've found the Tweet Timeline, Tweet Density, Aggregate Tweet, and Replies To charts especially useful in helping clients understand how their usage and interaction patterns can help or hamper their Twitter efforts.
It's not a comprehensive tool, and its "Trends" and "Twitter Stats" features (both perennially in beta) provide little more than some word clouds and a few interesting but fundamentally inactionable graphs.
And, as with UnTweeps, TweetStats can be a tad pokey if you have a larger network to compile and visualize. But the charts and graphs are perfect fodder for client reporting and strategic analysis of Twitter networks.
|TweetReach: How far did that hashtag go?|
Used methodically, TweetReach can help users and clients understand how far their messages are echoing, who the most influential people in their network are (influential defined as, "peeps who retweet"), and what topics resonate best within their network.
Here's what I mean about being methodical. Firstly, know in advance what you want to measure, and create a hashtag for it. This ensures your results are clean. For example, if you want to measure the reach of your tweets around "Japan," the results would be garbage, since it would measure your tweets as well as every other tweet that references Japan.
But if you included a hashtag of, say, #MyJapanTweet, TweetReach will report back only those tweets that included your hashtag. The result? Accurate insight into your reach. Now, I don't recommend using #MyJapanTweet as a hashtag. But a hashtag of #BFchat, which we developed for one of our clients, shows the client how far the conversation they spawned about breastfeeding topics travels, as well as who the major users of the hashtag are, and other interesting information.
Likewise, you can search for a specific handle, with the @ sign (such as @ladygaga) to see how well the handle is doing in general. But you need to check TweetReach regularly (at least weekly), because it only seems to maintain the past 11 days (or some such) of Twitter activity. If you wait too long, the data you're after will be gone.
|Hashtracking: Hashtags only, please|
Like TweetReach, Hashtracking allows you to measure how far a tweet or series of tweets traveled. Unlike TweetReach, it's focused on measuring hashtags. No @ or RT or keywords or phrases, please.
|More features, less features|
That said, and as I mentioned earlier, measuring hasthags has advantages over measuring unmarked-up text. But this focused approach also limits Hashtracking's usefulness.
The beta also offers a smaller measurement window than TweetReach, but does provide a few more reporting options, which is why I'm inclined to feature it here. Deeper insight into social activity is never a bad thing.
We hear a lot about "real-time search" today. Real-time search means many things to many people. In practical terms at present, real-time search usually means instant search results driven by Twitter tweets. That's certainly useful and interesting, and perhaps even essential for news hounds and PR pros.
|Twitterfall: Surfing the real-time Web|
But it's not directly actionable. That is, until you use Twitterfall, a real-time interactive search platform. Twitterfall makes it easy to engage on Twitter in real-time with the entire Twitterverse. It's a great way to go beyond your friends, followers, and lists to participate in the broader Twitter community as things are happening.
It's especially appealing to people who would feel comfortable in the cockpit of a 747. There are lots of dials and controls that allow you to tweak, filter, and calibrate the incoming live feed. And there are lots of tools that allow you to engage at the spur of the moment.
It's quite a different experience from popular Twitter clients and what most users are accustomed to. And by casting a wider net, it gives you ample opportunities to engage new faces at the moment they are tweeting, which increases the likelihood they'll become a friend.
On Twitter, there's no better win than to gain a follower because they interacted with you (as opposed to following you back). As you'll see, winning fresh followers through true engagement isn't the only benefit you can wring from Twitterfall. Some news organizations have taken to projecting Twitterfall onto a screen or wall in their newsrooms. It's that good for keeping track of breaking trends.
|IceRocket: The Google of real-time search|
In addition to letting you query Twitter, you can see what's happening on Facebook, in the blogosphere, and more. The user interface is uncluttered and intuitive, and the search results are accurate and delivered in real time.
IceRocket also bundles several tools that social media mavens will find useful, such as a blog tracker, RSS builder, blog trendalyzer, and more.
Looking to increase your reach? Want to get on the radar of lots of twitterers with minimal time and effort? Want to find and follow the Twitter stars and mine their followers to build your network? Start by figuring out who the most popular Twitter users are, and of those, who is interacting with the audiences you want to dialog with.
|Twitaholic: Who leads the Twitter wagon?|
Twitaholic is the simple way to do it. Just hit the site and peruse the lists. You can view the top 100 to the top 1,000 Twitter users by followers. Then employ basic tactics to get attention for your handles. These include:
- Following people who are following the top users (look for those with their own large networks)
- Joining the conversation around top users' @handles
- Retweeting the top users
- Retweeting other users who are retweeting the top users
- Piggybacking on hashtags being used by the top users (i.e., using those hashtags in your tweets)
10. NM Incite BuzzMetrics
Nielsen and McKinsey are behind NM Incite, the company that produces the BuzzMetrics media monitoring and measurement platform. We were an early adopter of BuzzMetrics several years ago, when the commercial product was essentially in the alpha stage, and when few such tools existed at all for CGM, social media, and traditional media measurement.
|Actual client dashboard showing how their social media|
campaign took them from near-last-place to second place
in mind share among B2B buyers over a six-month period
BuzzMetrics isn't free and it isn't cheap. It's a significant investment in technology and training for a PR shop. But it is without question the most expansive and insightful measurement tool I have yet tested, free or otherwise (and I test them all).
BuzzMetrics allows you to turn the Web into a targeted global focus group. You can ask the kinds of questions clients want answered, such as:
- How are we doing compared to the competition?
- What is our brand's perceived position in the marketplace? How about competitors?
- What do buyers (B2B or B2C) think about our brand (or competitive brands)?
- What effect is our public relations campaign having on our brand's awareness and reputation?
- Who is saying what about our brand?
- How does our reputation vary among demographic groups?
- What is the mainstream media's (or bloggers') perception of our brand?
Once your trained analysts have programmed BuzzMetrics to answer those questions, those queries produce up-to-the-minute results 24/7. The results are visualized on a marketing intelligence dashboard that PR teams and clients alike can refer to on demand.
Never before has public relations (and, in the social realm, public relationships) been so measurable. Never before could PR shops be so accountable to clients. Now you don't have to wonder if that hit in The New York Times or Engadget generated results. With BuzzMetrics, you'll know.
Unlike any other tool I have tested, BuzzMetrics maintains a rolling two-year window onto tens of millions of data sources, including traditional media, blogs, blog comments, microblogs (Twitter, Facebook), videos, and message boards (even including Usenet, which is useful for tech clients).
If it sounds like I'm shilling for BuzzMetrics, well, I am. The platform has proven indispensable for our social media practice and its clients. It's not the only tool you'll need, but it's certainly the only tool of its kind as it stands today.
There you have it: My favorite Twitter tools. Did I miss one that should be on this list? What tools do you use and why? Comment here, write to me, or tweet me and let me know.