Twitter is a is a treasure trove of knowledge with jewels spilling out at the seams. Even universities and colleges are getting in on the act.
The only problem is, mixed amid the genuine pearls are plenty of fakes. On top of that, one person's rock is another's diamond. What's useful to me may be useless for you.
As a freelancer, you can use Twitter to discover the needs of potential clients, spark up new ideas for a dusty old project, see what others are saying about you and your work, and train yourself in new skills. (You can also use it to find clients and job opportunities. I explain how here).
But unless you know where to find what's relevant to you, Twitter can seem like a big waste of time.
In this article, I show you how to use Twitter as a powerful research tool to give you the edge you need as a freelancer.
Twitter Research Tools
Before we get into what you can research on Twitter, let's take a look at the tools on offer.
Twitter Search and Advanced Search
For most Twitter research, the search bar will be your first port of call. You can input any word, phrase or #hashtag to find the Twittersphere's thoughts and ideas on a topic at any given moment.
Advanced search options help you narrow down your search by excluding particular words or phrases, searching for a range of words, picking out tweets in a particular language, or searching for tweets in a particular location. You can even filter tweets by sentiment (positive or negative), and search out questions.
Set Up a Search Stream
If you want constant updates on a word or phrase, you can set up a search stream using the free Tweetdeck dashboard. This is useful if you want to have an overview of a particular topic, for example if you're using Twitter to search for work or follow the latest news and trends in your niche.
Additionally, the [InboxQ plugin] for Chrome and Firefox provides the latest questions people are asking on Twitter around a search term.
Alternatively, using a simple URL tweak, you can receive Twitter search updates as an RSS feed to read on Google Reader or your RSS reader of choice.
Topsy is an alternative to Twitter advanced search, with a range of useful options. It allows you to search for videos and images, and it pinpoints the most popular tweets around a word or phrase.
My favorite Topsy feature is its ability to find experts in a particular field. Type in a search term, click the "experts" option, and it will show you the thought leaders tweeting about that word. You can use this to find the best people to follow to keep you updated in your niche. You can also use it to search out potential clients, to find other freelancers to collaborate with, or to find experts to interview.
What the Trend, a free tool from Hootsuite, provides insight into the most discussed topics on Twitter. You can check out both worldwide trends and national trends.
Knowing what's trending on Twitter is good for keeping your Tweets, Facebook updates and blog posts topical. It's also useful for freelance writers looking for hot topics to pitch to editors.
Topsy's analytics gives you insight into whether a trend is on the rise or in decline.
Not only do questions kickstart conversation and help to keep your followers engaged. They're also a helpful research tool, as they allow you to tap into the expertise of your followers.
What You Can Research On Twitter
Twitter's powerful research capabilities let you research everything from client needs to the latest news and trends in your niche.
Freelancers operate in the marketplace, so there must be a demand for our services. More often than not, that means we help our clients solve a pressing problem.
Knowing the difficulties your clients face helps you in numerous ways because it:
- Improves your marketing because you know what your clients need;
- Allows you to speak the language of your client when you're pitching;
- Helps you develop your services to meet client needs, boosting demand.
The best way to find out what your clients need is to ask them. Once you've built up a following of prospects on Twitter, engage with them. Discover what their key questions, pain points and difficulties are. Engaging in conversation not only builds a relationship and shows that you care, it also gives you vital insight into what your clients really want, and what they're willing to pay for.
Another way to discover client needs is to look for questions in your niche. For example, if you're a landscape gardener, you'd search for questions related to gardening on Twitter. A sales consultant would search out sales related questions.
The most useful tool for doing this is InboxQ. On top of discovering client needs, you'll also discover potential clients! Engage those who have questions by answering their pressing issues. You'll be doing them a favor, and you'll have pulled one more prospect into your sales funnel.
Feedback on You and Your Work
For most freelancers, being well-known and respected is a key part of their marketing strategy. Whether through public speaking, blogging, writing a syndicated column, or engaging on social media, their aim is to get their name, face and brand in front of as many potential clients as possible. The bigger their public profile, the steadier their flow of incoming clients.
Once you've got to a stage where people recognize you and talk about you, it's helpful to know what they're saying. Twitter can give you a sneak peek, by searching for your own name or your business name. Much of the time you'll find positive feedback on what you're doing well. Sometimes you'll discover ways you can improve your service. (Note: Talking to dissatisfied clients on social media and helping resolve what went wrong is a very good idea).
If you're still building your public profile, you can use questions to get feedback on your work. Post examples of your work and ask your followers what they think.
Stuck in a Rut? Crowdsource Creativity
When you work in an office or as part of a team, anytime you're stuck in a creative rut and need a spark of inspiration you can turn to your colleagues for help. Not so for solopreneurs and freelancers who work alone from home.
For that reason, social media is always handy when you need a quick idea or opinion.
Need ideas for a blog post? Ask your followers, or check out the latest Twitter trends. Want advice on a new color scheme you've created (groovy or gaudy)? Ask a design or artist friend you know on Twitter. Need sources for your latest article? Put the word out and see what or who turns up.
That said, always be careful about what you disclose on social networks, and in how you ask for help. You don't want your followers (or worse, your clients) to think you're incapable of finding solutions yourself. It goes without saying that you should never disclose confidential information about clients.
Lastly, remember to always say thank you when people help you out.
Big businesses invest millions of dollars every year in training their employees. As freelancers, it's up to us to invest in ourselves.
Many freelancers I know are self-taught, even in their main skill. It's in our entrepreneurial and go-getter spirit to learn new things.
Setting up a Twitter search stream for tutorials in your field (or even outside your field) is a fantastic way to discover resources to help you develop your skillset and broaden your knowledge.
Keeping on Trend
Knowing what's hot (and what's not) right now in your niche can open up opportunities. Keeping on top of the latest news, blogs and YouTube videos that are relevant to you and your clients gives you the advantage in two ways:
- If you know how to read the news right, you can spot hidden work opportunities. I don't have space to go in-depth in this article, but needless to say if a software company in your area is investing in R&D, and you're a software developer, it makes sense to get in touch and see if they need any freelance help.
- Collecting gold nuggets of interesting news gives you a reason to contact prospects and clients. You can get in touch and say "Did you see this?" or "I thought this might interest you." Keeping the conversation going means you're at the front of their mind.
What Will You Find?
The most exciting part about searching on Twitter is the sense of serendipity when you find what you need. Twitter is far from perfect as a research tool (but then, so is Google and your local library), and there are times when you will come away frustrated. But there will be times when you come away over-joyed.
What makes Twitter so thrilling is you'll never know what you'll find. Day-after-day it changes, and there will be days when you uncover gems far better than you could ever have hoped or imagined.
What will you discover on Twitter today?