Twitter traffic boost affirms value of real-time search

Twitter traffic is up, reaching a new record for unique visitors in January

After months of lagging, or at least stagnant traffic, Twitter is on the rise again -- setting a record in January for most unique visitors in a single month according to statistics from comScore. It seems like more than just coincidence that the resurgence of Twitter follows the launch of real-time search by Google, which includes Twitter traffic in the results.

Both Microsoft and Google spent much of last year courting Facebook and Twitter. The monolithic rivals were each aggressively trying to understand and adapt to the explosion of social networking and the shift in Internet culture to instant and immediate feedback. Both Bing and Google provide extensive, searchable catalogs of virtually everything on the Web, but indexing takes time and users want to know what is going on right now.

Twitter emerged into the spotlight during the political unrest in Iran following its national election. In the absence of any outside journalists, Twitter proved to be an important tool for reporting and sharing breaking news. Those events established the credibility of Twitter as more than just some silly way to let your friends and co-workers know where you are eating lunch.

Ultimately, neither Facebook or Twitter was purchased, but partnerships and alliances were formed with Microsoft and Google. In December, Google announced that real-time search results from Twitter would be included alongside traditional Web search in its Google Search Appliance.

The result has been a spike in traffic for a resurgent Twitter -- validating the power of 140-character microblogging as an important marketing and public relations tool. Granted, Twitter is still flooded with multi-level marketing pitches, and tweets about which silly nonsense, but somewhere in there is an opportunity to communicate a message and have it spread virally to a large audience in a short period of time.

Many organizations are still struggling to define the role of social media for their business. There are productivity and security issues, and little business value, related to simply letting all users access sites like Twitter and Facebook from their desktops, but there is also valuable information to be gathered in terms of current trends, and a potent voice for sending a message to the general public if leveraged properly.

That "little Twittering thing", as former Alaska governor and 2012 presidential hopeful Sarah Palin calls it, can actually be a very powerful communications tool, and a tremendous marketing and public relations asset. My advice to Palin? Marketing and public relations are important for political campaigns, so start learning more about that "little Twittering thing" quickly, or at least make sure your campaign employs someone who understands it.

That doesn't mean there aren't some kinks to work out and noise to filter through still, though. In a recent press release from Greenlight, Adam Bunn, head of SEO, said "99% of the time it's just not useful, nor is it clear that people actually want the ability to search Twitter from Google. Where it is useful is as a barometer of what is current. Expect to see more subtle integration of Twitter data into indexing processes and algorithms."

The increase in traffic to Twitter -- much of it flowing from the addition of Twitter real-time results in Google searches, hasn't been lost on Google, either. Part of the value of Buzz for Google is the ability to include Twitter feeds while keeping users on Google's site where it can generate ad revenue.

Real-time search has been the "Holy Grail" of search providers like Microsoft and Google, and the resulting growth of Twitter traffic demonstrates that there is a lucrative opportunity there for those who learn to effectively harness social networking.

Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies . He tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW , and can be contacted at his Facebook page .

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