Twitter Metrics for Researchers


“The end goal is action, not eyeballs”

You run through your Twitter checklist: Read the blog post on Twitter for Hesitant Researchers? Check. Created a catchy Twitter handle? Yup. Tweeting & retweeting like it’s nobody’s business? Done. Congratulations — you are a Twitter savvy researcher living in a social media world! But suddenly you ask yourself “Wait — how do I know if any of this is working?” Enter the vast and confusing world of Twitter metrics. You’re overwhelmed by terms like “impressions” and “engagements.” You read about tools like Twitonomy, Buffer and Bitly. But what does it all mean? Here we’ll run through a few basic definitions and tools for gathering information about your Twitter activity, as well as some guiding principles for doing so.

Twitter Metrics: Definitions

Below are a few common Twitter terms. Summary reports often present the following metrics as an average per day or per month:

  • Retweets: # of times a user (ie — anybody with a Twitter username) retweets a tweet
  • Follows: # of times a user follows you directly from a tweet
  • Followers: # of users that follow your Twitter account
  • Impressions: # of times a user receives a tweet in a timeline or search results. Beware: this does not mean they actually saw, read, or engaged with the tweet — only that it showed up in their timeline. This number is always the biggest, so it’s tempting to use it, but also often the most irrelevant.
  • Engagements: # of times a user interacts with a tweet. Now we’re getting somewhere! You said something that impacted a user and they want to take an action in response. This includes clicks anywhere on the tweet (eg- retweets, replies, follows, links, hashtags, etc.)
  • Engagement rate: here comes the math. This is # of engagements divided by # of impressions. Multiply by 100 for the percentage. If you have 10 engagements for 100 impressions, your rate is 0.1 or 10%. Most people average an engagement rate of 0.5–1% but the best advice I’ve heard is that any engagement is acceptable, as long as it’s a real connection. Compare this number to your past performance as opposed to another Twitter account.

Twitter Metrics: Tools

When you are ready to collect your data, there are dozens of tools available. Here are a few common ones and what they do:

  • Twitter Analytics are free and open to anyone with a Twitter account. This tool will compile all of your monthly Twitter data (users, tweets, impressions, profile visits, etc.) in an easy to use dashboard.
  • Twitonomy offers in-depth metrics for your account as a whole. It reports things like your most engaged/influential followers, your most retweeted tweets, and your tweets with the greatest potential reach.
  • Hootsuite is a social media management platform that allows you to manage up to five social profiles at a time for free. You can schedule tweets, browse data, and delegate tasks within a team.
  • Buffer is a content publishing platform for scheduling and publishing tweets to multiple social media accounts. It offers basic statistics for individual tweets, is simple to use, and can be managed by a team without having to share passwords.
  • Although not strictly for analytics, is one of many available URL shortening tools. It makes links more manageable and helps you compile and track click data related to the link. Note: both Buffer and Hootsuite have their own link shorteners that can be used from within their platform.

Guiding Principles

  1. Context is important — numbers are helpful but they don’t tell the whole story. One new influential follower (eg. a key funding body or expert researcher) can potentially have more impact that 10 new followers made up of your best friends and family members (this is nothing against great Aunt Mildred who just joined the Twitter-sphere!). Never dismiss the story behind the numbers.
  2. Choose realistic and relevant goals — keep in mind why you are using Twitter and what you want to achieve. If you want more people to know about your research, maybe a % increase in followers is important to you. If you want to increase traffic to a research product, maybe it’s the # of engagements with that product that is important.
  3. Pay attention to what works — look at your best performing tweets. Did they use a certain hashtag? Promote a particular type of product (eg infographic, report, publication)? Tag a key individual in the field of practice? Were they tweeted at a certain time of day? Keep track of what works and use it again.
  4. Don’t be afraid to dive into the data — the information available from the above tools can be overwhelming. But don’t let that scare you off. These numbers paint a picture of your Twitter impact and it’s worthwhile to find out what that picture looks like.

Got a Twitter-related or KT question? Post it in the comments section below, or if you’re already on Twitter, Tweet us @KnowledgeNudge

About the Author

Carly Leggett is the Knowledge Translation Practice Lead with the George and Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation and the Knowledge Broker for Translating Emergency Knowledge for Kids (TREKK), a national knowledge mobilization network for pediatric emergency medicine.

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