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Departments: News, Notes and Tips

Are You Using Twitter for Your Next Survey?

doi: 10.1097/NNE.0b013e3181ed825a
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Twitter, a popular resource for social networking, is reported to be as effective as a traditional telephone survey in obtaining data related to key political and economic issues. Noah Smith of Carnegie Melon University in Pittsburgh examined 1 billion tweets posted between 2008 and 2009 using text-analysis software. Tweets, averaging 11 words, were analyzed for positive and negative opinions related to the performance of politicians and the economic climate.

Smith and colleagues tracked positive and negative Twitter comments related to President Obama for over a year. Similar information was also being collected by the much more specific Gallup Poll. Both resources reflected a decline in public approval ratings during the same period. In fact, when data were averaged over several days, Twitter comments showed a 79% correlation with Gallup Poll results.

Twitter data also successfully tracked consumer confidence. Tweets related to financial well-being were collected, with those related to saving and spending filtered. Results were again similar to more traditional national economic indicators.

Smith and colleagues note that there are distinct limitations in using Twitter to track opinions or confidence. Fine distinctions are difficult to measure with Twitter. The authors note that they tracked posts related to both McCain and Obama during the 2008 presidential election. Merely examining frequency of the names being mentioned provides no information related to positive or negative evaluations.

Nicole Ellison, a social scientist at Michigan State University, presents additional precautions related to examining Twitter data for social trends. She notes that Twitter users may not be representative of our general population. She also noted that savvy Twitter users could hack into postings and skew data sets.

Still, nurse educators may want to consider using Twitter for certain activities. Social networking is an effective mechanism to reach the current generation. If questions or surveys are designed appropriately and uses and limitations of using Twitter are taken into account, we may obtain valuable information using this technology.

Source: Bohannon J. Twitter as good as a telephone survey? ScienceNow. May 11, 2010. Available at Accessed on May 18, 2010.

Submitted by: Robin Pattillo, PhD, RN, News Editor at [email protected].

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.