Our third post in the Insite series on Twitter research looks at how to follow Twitter trends marked with #hashtags. If you’re reading this you have probably already clocked how useful #hashtags are, allowing you to isolate specific topics on Twitter.
This is how Twitter defines them:
The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorise messages.
Sometimes they’re using #inajokingmanner to no real purpose, but most of the time they allow you to follow a category of Tweets more easily – about a news story, or an event, for example. The most popular #hashtagged topics will appear in your Twitter sidebar as trending topics (advertisers can pay for their ‘promoted’ topic to trend at the top).
Hashtags are effective advertising and marketing tools, as well as useful aids to follow conversation, live events and breaking news.
- You can follow a specific keyword, using Twitter search. For example, if you’re interested in what people are saying about the television programme Newsnight: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23newsnight
- If you click on a #hashtag in any tweet on your Twitter homepage, you will see all the tweets on that topic. For example: http://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23libelreform
This article on Twitter media examines what makes a hashtag popular. Maybe no surprises to learn that in the main it’s repetition, repetition, repetition. “You need to see a hashtag four or five times before it really clicks,” says the report but not too much: there’s a “sweet spot” after just a few.
For a bit of Twitter history, have a look at the first ever hashtag on Twitter. The ReadWriteWeb reported that according to serial social technology innovator Chris Messina it was #barcamp. It’s logical that a tweet about a technology meetup would be the first topic on Twitter, before it got taken over by the journalists, the spammers and the celebrities.
Tools for tracking hashtags
1. TweetDeck: is a simple, intuitive and immensely powerful Twitter monitoring desktop client that you can download for free. Many, many people admit to ‘not getting’ Twitter until they use TweetDeck. The beauty with TweetDeck is that you can monitor various topics, keywords, lists, people or hashtags in columns. New posts slot in at the top of the columns to create a cascade of posts on your topic. Here TweetDeck is monitoring the Scottish election hashtag #SP11, posts on Syria using #syria and the journalism.co.uk user news feed:
3. Twitseek shows you the trending topics of the day, split into different sectors: celebrities, sport, news, stories, people (although topics could fall into more than one category on that list) and includes the URL of the tweets.
Finding old trends & archiving tweets
One problem with Twitter search is that tweets drop out in time – as you’ll see if you go to look for one of your past tweets.
It also allows you to backup your Twitter account if you give it access to your account, a very handy tool, if you have comments and @replies you wish to use in the future, for research or commercial purposes.
“Your last 1000 messages are downloaded from Twitter and combined with results from our historical database. Tweet Scan can retain your tweets to improve later backups.”
Tweetscan also allows offline search and storage.
Alternatives to Twitter Search
Dave Larson has an excellent list of Twitter search engines here, which includes: Searchtastic;SnapBird; TwimeMachine (browse up to 3200 of a user’s old tweets); Topsy; The Archivist (Windows only or browser version); TweetBoard (private alpha); BackTweets (subscription required for full access); FriendFeed; and http://research.ly/ (subscription required, from $9-$99).
Topsy is particularly handy because it notifies bloggers when someone has tweeted their story, via a pingback. But it’s Searchtastic and SnapBird that Larson considers the best for your “Twitter arsenal”. Searchtastic has one particularly useful feature: you can back up tweets and export to a spreadsheet.
Read Larson’s post in full for a more detailed explanation of each engine and see his chart comparing their functionality here. And if you’re still thirsty for more, Larson has listed 30 more Twitter search options at this link. Enjoy!
- In part one of our Advanced Twitter research series we looked at Twitter search: read at this link.
- In part two we examined the best ways of finding people to follow: read at this link.
** Learn more about sophisticated search techniques on our one-day Advanced Internet Research course, Tuesday 5 July in London.**
Tags: advanced twitter research, hashtags, Online social networking, Real-time web, Technology/Internet, Twitter