Twitter occupies a unique and powerful niche in the outreach and engagement arsenal for nonprofit organizations, especially those that aim to engage the media, “thought-leaders,” and other influential audiences. In addition to the community access it provides, Twitter is also an invaluable data resource for organizations to learn about their own content and audiences, as well as others’ as everyone publishes to a shared public forum.

Before we get into the “how” of accessing Twitter data, a word to the “why”: Twitter is a high-volume and high-velocity communications channel that is entirely in the public view. This means that every day there are millions of little experiments and informal surveys being run on messaging and ideas that can inform your outreach, your program design, your audience identification and targeting, and so on and so on! A surprising amount of scholarship has been written based on insights drawn from Twitter data, and there are countless ways you can analyze and learn from it. For example, we wrote earlier this year about how the pictures think tanks use on Twitter affect engagement (or don’t). 

But first, to ask and answer questions like this, you need to get at the data, and to learn anything at scale, “getting at it” must mean more than just scrolling through tweets and eyeballing “likes” as you go. Here are a few ways you can tap into the wealth of Twitter data.

Go directly to the analytics

No conversation about Twitter analytics can begin without first mentioning Twitter’s own native analytics platform that it makes available to any user (not just organizations or paid users!) Head to with your logged in account and you’ll see all your content and how it has performed with callouts for top performing pieces and other summary metrics. In addition, explore the tabs along the top to learn about the people of Twitter in the “Audiences” tab, including interests, demographics, and even how your followers compared to others, with benchmarks and comparisons. 

Explore the “Events” tab, which gives you a way to explore high-level insights on global trends on Twitter. Use this to help find popular topics that might relate to your work and see examples of things that have caught fire online.

And if that’s not enough, Twitter analytics also offers special tags for website administrators to help you connect your Twitter outreach with impact on your website under the “Conversion Tracking” tab. Use this for detailed insights on how Twitter influences website traffic that you can use alongside whatever link-tagging schema works best for your outreach. 

While Twitter analytics offers some powerful insights about your content and a way to explore trends, it does leave you limited to the questions it was pre-configured to answer. This means that to take control of your data you’ll need to get it offline. Twitter analytics offers a way to do just that with the “export” button in the “Tweets” tab, but it has many limitations regarding date ranges and the Twitter export button can be mysteriously disabled from time to time, as we’ve written about in the past.

API access and export

So if not through Twitter analytics, how else can you download your data? Twitter offers a powerful API to dig into your data set and retrieve Twitter data for all kinds of queries. Check out Twitter’s own documentation to get a sense for all the things you can find through their API. If you are a programmer, or aspire to be one, Twitter’s API is *relatively* lightweight and an easy one to get some experience with as you seek out insights. Not a programmer though? Since most people aren’t, a range of tools and services have arisen to handle the Twitter API for you, giving you point-and-click access to its power.

The first thing to note here is that your social publishing platform may itself offer analytics services that tap into Twitter’s API, allowing you to configure your own dashboards that report out on specific subsets of data, and then also offering export buttons to download CSV files. If you have simple needs, this can do the trick, however, I find that often you simply end up right where you were with Twitter Analytics: accepting a different (and even stricter) set of limitations. 

The sweet spot for Twitter data access is in tools that manage the API’s for you, like Supermetrics and Blockspring, that were designed specifically to help you export data from APIs (for Twitter and MANY other platforms). These can be used in a multitude of ways, but what makes them the most accessible are the plugins for Google Sheets and Excel,  These plugins let you download the data right into platforms where you are likely to do your analysis. They provide all the drop downs, autocompletes, and checkboxes you need to configure a custom query, and then take care of all the code allowing you to  focus on asking good questions and then getting the data that answers them, consistently. 

Using API managers works for getting your own data out of these platforms, but these tools also work for going beyond your own content and gathering content from other accounts, letting you “listen in” on social media conversations driven by your peers and audiences you’d like to reach.


Social listening tools

There is an enormous industry that supports social listening, with new companies springing up all the time.  Each has their own take and unique capabilities they use to differentiate themselves. 

Start simply, small and focused on accessing Twitter data; however, I suggest you look at the Twitter Archiver plugin for Google Sheets. This simple plugin lets you set up a query with a good deal of flexibility.  It then automatically runs it on a regular basis, adding new data to your Google spreadsheet as new tweets appear. This only works on public-facing data, so it won’t get you internal Twitter analytics metrics, like impressions, but it combines a lot of valuable info about each Tweet and the user who posted it, enabling all kinds of analysis.

The Archiver is fast and easy to use, but has its limitations when compared to fully featured social listening tools. A few we’ve come across include publishing-platform-integrated listening, like features within Hootsuite, Sprout Social, and Radian6, standalone lightweight dashboards, like TweetDeck, TweetReach, and more full featured analytics platforms like Zoomph, TalkWalker, Keyhole, and Mention. the features within Radian6.

The larger of these go beyond aggregating your data, and offer built in tools to analyze your data, including some advanced capabilities like natural language processing to support sentiment analysis, topic identification, bio analysis and audience classification, and a whole host of other buzzwords.

Once you have your data, what next?

You don’t need powerful tools to start tapping into your data. The most important thing you need to tap into your data is a good question, and anyone who is responsible for managing outreach to their audience will have plenty of those. Any of the tools given above will get your data into a spreadsheet where you can run almost any analysis yourself. Once you’ve found the questions that provide useful answers, you can then focus on automating that reporting process to take the effort out of the process and start delivering insights faster.

If you’re not sure where to start, or would like to see more progress sooner, we would be happy to help, but nothing will accelerate you quite like having a keen interest in getting more value out of your social media data!