Is Twitter just all about self-promotion?
Academic research from Rutgers University examined the characteristics of social activity and patterns of communication on Twitter; a prominent example of the emerging class of communication systems that is called “social awareness streams.”
Are you an informer, or a me-informer?
The rise of social media services has contributed to the altering of many people’s communication patterns and social interaction. In particular, semi-public communication platforms such as the Facebook “Newsfeed,” Twitter, and FriendFeed represent a new class of communication technologies.
Rutgers University have used system data and message content from over 350 Twitter users, applying human coding and quantitative analysis to provide a deeper understanding of the activity of individuals on the Twitter network. In particular, they develop a content-based categorisation of the type of messages posted by Twitter users, based on which we examine users’ activity.
Their analysis shows two common types of user behaviour in terms of:
- the content of the posted messages and
- exposed differences between users in respect to these activities.
For those familiar with Twitter, users post short status messages or pointers to resources like links to articles, photos and videos. The posted messages are often available publicly, or semi-publicly (e.g., restricted to the user’s designated contacts). The postings are consumed by readers in “streams” of messages published by the various users that they follow.
Research aims to acquire an initial understanding of the type of content activities commenced by individuals. The contributions of this work are:
- A characterisation of the content of messages posted on social awareness streams.
- An examination of how message content varies by user characteristics, personal networks, and usage patterns.
The main objective in this work was to identify different types of user activity, specifically focusing on message content and its relationship to patterns of use. The following research questions were asked:
- What types of messages are commonly posted and how does message type relate to other variables?
- What are the differences between users in terms of the types and diversity of messages that they usually post?
- How are these differences between users’ content practices related to other user characteristics?
The four dominant categories were information sharing (IS; 22% of messages were coded in that category), opinions/complaints (OC), statements (RT) and “me now” (ME), with the latter dominating the dataset (showing that, indeed, “it’s all about me” for much of the time).
Figure 2 considers the proportion of users’ activity dedicated to each type of content out of 10 messages coded for each user. The figure contrasts the span of activities of the network: most people engage in some scale of ME activity, while relatively few undertake information sharing as a major activity.
Figure 3 shows the mean of the average proportion of messages in the top four categories for each user. For instance, on average Informers had 53% of their messages in the IS category, while a significant portion (M=48%) of the messages posted by Meformers were “Me Now” messages. Indeed, the figure suggests that while Meformers typically post messages relating to themselves or their thoughts, Informers post messages that are informational in nature.
Twitter users represent two different types of “content camps”
- A majority of users focus on the “self” or
- A smaller set of users are driven more by sharing information.
Which camp do you fit into?
Note that although the Meformers’ self focus might be characterised by some as self-indulgent, these messages may play an important role in helping users maintain relationships with strong and weak ties.
Do you share ideas, or just share yourself?
The findings suggest that the users in the “information sharing” group tend to be more conversational, posting mentions and replies to other users, and are more embedded in social interaction on Twitter, having more social contacts. One hypothesis is that informers prove more “interesting” and therefore attract followers; an alternative explanation is that informers seek readers and attention for their content and therefore make more use of Twitter’s social functions; or that an increased amount of followers encourages user to post additional (informative) content.
Finally, Rutgers University did not address in this work the relationship between social network structure and social influence to the type of content posted by users. Rutgers concluded, that it is certainly possible that users are subject to social learning and are influenced by the activity of others they observe on the service.
Download the full research paper here.
- Mor Naaman,
- Jeffrey Boase,
- Chih-Hui Lai
- Rutgers University, School of Communication and Information. New Jersey, USA.