October 6, 2011

Welcome to our Tweet beat

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By Michelle Hagopian/For CU-CitizenAccess — I’m a journalism graduate student in the College of Media working with the CU-CitizenAccess.org team this semester and my job is to follow the social media scene in Champaign-Urbana.

I will first report on how the community is using social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook, so that users can get an idea of what different groups are talking about.

I also will look at different software to collect and analyze tweets and ask for advice and ideas from the community.

We know quite a few websites already exist that allow Twitter users to view their tweets on a map. Sites like Bing.com and Trendsmap.com use hashtags, @replies and keywords to show what’s trending in the Twitter universe. Those trends are then superimposed on a map – typically using Google maps. The result: You can click on an icon and see a tweet, its location and the user who tweeted it.

Here in Champaign-Urbana, you can do some of this by going to a site like Trendsmap.com. If you type “Champaign” in the search box in the upper right corner of the home page, several Twitter trends will appear on the next page. A search on Saturday, Oct. 1,  generated trends unsurprisingly centered on university sports. After all, Illinois was playing Northwestern University in Champaign. So “Illini,” “5-0,” and “northwestern” were all popular trends for football Saturday.

Another useful website is Twitter Grader (http://tweet.grader.com/). By plugging in a username, users can find out how “influential” they are on Twitter, that is, how many followers they have and how often they update.
Similarly, tinkering with the html coding allowed us to find the most followed tweeters in the Champaign-Urbana area. The top five were (as of Oct. 4):

Name                        Twitter name        Followers        Updates
1. John Bambenek        bambenek        46,285            3,247
2. Mary-Lynn Foster        marylynn3        6,337            5,449
3. Vanattica                      vanattica        6,989            2,619
4. Tom Parker                  t_d_parker        6,310            3,146
5. Linda Smith Tabb        smittytabb        4,722           7,137       

Bambenek is a Republican candidate running for state senate. Foster is a radio show host for MyConnectFM.com. Vanattica is a rock alternative metal pop band from Illinois. Parker is involved in marketing solutions related to social media, and Smith Tabb is an educator.

We recently tried finding tweets after our website did a set of stories that revealed that many Champaign County restaurants failed health inspections, but the health district never publicized the failures. Among the restaurants most often failing was Geovanti’s. We got tweets that said (some using the #cudinesafe hashtag):

“So, who’s up for lunch at Geovanti’s today?”
“hmm maybe think twice about your next meal in the CU … great work @cucitizenaccess”
“That’s disgusting, and noted for my next IL trip :)”
“you guys blew the roof off with that story. Strong work!”
“for sure multiple fails at same establishment should be made public don’t you think”

What does this mean for social media? Here’s what the public has been saying about the story on the CU-CitizenAccess Facebook page:

“THANKS FOR THE INFO!!!!”
“Thanks for your vigilance on our behalf. Illuminating.”
“ugh…glad I never went to Geovanti’s! I wonder how many other campustown restaurants fail…seems they care about revenue but not safety”

As stories unfold, we’ll keep an eye on the Web and try to find ways to make tweets and comments more meaningful to you. Until then, join us as we try to put together the C-U Social Media Beat.