What if I want to do a bit of social media listening, and I don’t have access to a fancy subscription-based analytics service, I don’t know how to code (e.g., in Python), or my computer is very basic? Take courage. There are tools for lo-fi social media research that require nothing more than a browser.
This is not about having fancy hardware. All but one of the recommendations here would work on a Chromebook laptop (but not a tablet or smartphone). They are presented in order of increasing difficulty to learn and use:
First, to investigate Twitter topics, keywords and trends, twXplorer is a very simple tool. It requires Twitter authorisation, so not much setup. The feature I like the most is the filtering it offers (by terms, hashtags and links), allowing you to drill down into a topic quickly. It’s a great tool for trying out searches to see what’s there.
Then, once you have your search terms ready, you can move on to something a bit more feature-rich: Netlytic is a cloud-based text and social networks analyser that requires no installation. When you register, you get a free basic account, but you can apply to get free student account with more datasets and queries allowed. You can set it up to query the Twitter API at set intervals to gather tweets over time. Netlytic also works with Instagram (location- and hashtag queries), YouTube, Facebook Groups and more.
Twitter Archiver is a Chrome add-on which links with Google Sheets to download tweets from a keyword search or hashtag at set intervals. There is a short video introduction here.
Blockspring is a service that allows you to query APIs, including Twitter, from your spreadsheet (either Excel or Google Sheets). This requires installing an extension in Google Sheets or Excel to enable you to pull down “live” data from web sources. The most immediately useful blockspring service for this purpose is the Twitter one, but Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram queries are also possible.
NodeXL Basic (paid version: NodeXL Pro) is an Excel extension that will load the results of a Twitter search (and searches from other social networking sites) into a familiar Excel spreadsheet environment for analysis. This only works under Windows, with MS Office installed. Because it works within Excel, NodeXL requires a good grasp of spreadsheets, and it will take you some time to get to grips with how to turn the intimidating table of raw data into a pretty network visualization or other analysis. Not surprisingly, it’s also the most powerful tool on this list.
Of course, these tools may be simple and browser-based, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have to learn them yourself. You will have to play around with them, try things out, and definitely watch some instructional videos.
(Image: Conference tweet network for #drha2015, created in NodeXL)