We’re using it for business, we’ve found it useful in the classroom, we’ve followed Twitter streams at conferences. Can we use Twitter as an audience research tool?

To celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity the Museum has ALIVE, a space that features both specimens from our vast and priceless collection as well as a dynamic and changing program of events. ALIVE is an experimental program for the Museum, and we’ve been given the imprimatur to play in the space. Therefore the challenge I set myself was to see how I could use Twitter as an evaluation tool.

Within the space is a large TV screen which is updated with all tweets (sometimes called a “twitterfall”) that contain the hash tag #aliveaustmus and/or #iyob2010. Hashtags are used in Twitter to enable you to search or follow a specific topic and are really useful if you only want to use Twitter for a specific purpose as too many tweets can get a tad overwhelming.

So, what am I doing? Well, for starters I’m tweeting my impressions and observations using pictures to enhance the story. I started tweeting as myself (@lyndakelly61) but soon realised that as I am tweeting for work purposes that I should be using the Museum’s Twitter name (@austmus) – lesson number 1!

Then, I was inspired by staff here (thanks Logan and Steve!) to think about how we could expand what we were tweeting beyond posting web links. I developed a form asking our visitors:

In 25 words or less please give us your thoughts about biodiversity and/or ALIVE. We will upload your responses to our Twitter page (@austmus). Thanks!

So far the feedback has been a bit mixed, although some students I was interviewing quizzed me about whether I would really tweet what they said. I replied of course and, expecting something rude, was pleased to find that these students’ responses were very considered – lesson number 2: trust visitors! Something else I learned was that it may be better to ask for specific feedback on a particular element (as I did with the specimen display component) rather than being too general, but I’m still trying that out: lesson number 3.

Another question we’re now asking (after a challenge set by our Director yesterday) is:

In 25 words or less please tell us one thing you think should be done to help protect our biodiversity. We will upload your responses to our Twitter page (@austmus). Thanks!

We’ve just started this today and will see how it goes.

So, is Twitter a useful audience research tool? Can we elicit meaningful visitor feedback in 140 characters? I’m thinking that with some clever questioning and gently prodding visitors to complete forms the answer may well be yes.

I’ll let you know what we’ve learned once we’ve been going for a few weeks. If you’d like to follow the Australian Museum we are @austmus and the hashtag to use/sort tweets by is #aliveaustmus.