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All Twitter All The Time

By: Dave Green - Principle Consultant - Part One

Ever since Iíve learned about Twitter, my interest in "micro-blogging" and its potential has steadily grown. Twitter started out as an internal communication tool used by the staff at a California startup and less than two years later there were 3.2 million registered users. Twitter is a social network based on micro-blogging. Micro-blogging is a subset of blogging where users post and read text updates of up to 140 characters in length.

The Twitter service creates a publically indexed/searchable depository of updates referred to as "tweets". Tweets are sent and received through the Twitter website, through mobile devices, through external websites, and other access points. Twitter is fundamentally an RSS aggregation application that allows people to subscribe to virtually as many RSS feeds as they want all wrapped in single, simple, user-friendly interface.
Time Magazine also has an article entitled "10 Ways How Twitter will Change American Business".

Understanding Social Currency

A student named Boris Silver wrote the following (which I have edited) about the relationships that are created in Twitter. I removed the overused single and double quotations used around Twitter terms.

"Users can quickly earn social currency within the Twitter community by sharing interesting links or posting valuable updates. The fact that followers can un-follow creates a negative incentive to spamming or sending out high noise updates of little value to your followers. The follower structure of Twitter also creates a hierarchy of social proof on the service. The profile design displays a publically available follower count, which tracks how many users subscribe to what you say."

"Psychologically, users want to attract more followers because it builds their social proof and makes their perceived importance higher. This incentivizes users into self-promoting their Twitter page to gain more followers, which in turn promotes Twitter for free through explicit diffusion. This is why people will add links to their Twitter page on their business card, e-mail signature, blog page, business profile, etc. This turns into a self-repeating process where new users also want to gain followers, so they continue the cycle of self-promoting their Twitter page to friends, family, business contacts, etc."

Boris Silver's blog can be seen here: borismsilver.wordpress.com

What Silver points out is the basic premise for following and following-back and the self regulation that happens when someone over-tweets. They can instantly see a drop in followers and adjust accordingly, or they can allow the process to continue and let the chips fall where they may - allowing the followers to diminish resulting in a smaller core group of followers.
The premise that I followed in my study was to see what happened when I limited following and replaced it with content that resonated with others, enticing them to follow not just for following's sake but because the content was interesting - to me that would be the best form of social currency.

Study Measurements and Results

Working from the approach outlined in Silver's thesis above, I set out to test Twitter as a competitor to the traditional social networking site and author-driven blogs that Twitter has most undeservedly become a subset of. The premise of the study was to see what a little known, very localized micro-blog could expect compared to the typical personal Twitter account where the following to followers ratio where followers (Fr) is roughly equal to people who follow (Fw) or less. I will reference Fr:Fw as the basis for my ratios. I will also look at the ratio of Followers to Updates!

My opening effort was to get connected to others Twitter users who would possibly supply content ideas for my Twitter updates and for the focus of the study - Northend.org. I also put some effort into building a Twitter design that included the Northend.org logo, my name and a photo that typifies the context of the Northend.org website. I then followed known sources of content that would match up with the content I usually produce through research for Northend.org.

I initially followed 30 people (sources). Virtually all of them followed back, as you might expect, yielding a ration of 1 to 1 right off the bat. I then started producing 2 to 3 updates or tweets a day that tied back to new or existing content available on the Northend.org website. Almost immediately the number of followers doubled to a 2 to 1 ratio. From these new followers I selected additional people to follow in turn and added content that was relevant to their audiences. The result of these updates got me back to a ratio of 2 to 1 almost instantly.

As the study and use of Twitter continued I was starting to see a mild jump in unique visitor traffic at Northend.org. But a new concern started to develop as I also saw my Twitter account climbing quickly in the search rankings on Google. I am almost certain that the website would ultimately suffer if it dropped in the rankings below the Twitter account. I forged on through the next two weeks and found that I was gaining followers with virtually every new tweet. The content search capability at Twitter and the new relationships were paying off. I also noticed that the rankings for the Twitter account leveled out just under Northend.org as I started linking back to Northend.org more.

By the end of study period I had exceeded a 3 to 1 ratio. My original goal was to establish and maintain a 2 to 1 ratio of followers to following. The use of content as a driver was proven a success. Structurally I also feel confident that social networking can be used to enhance a traditional web presence but not replace it. A traditional website like Northend.org acts as the anchor for my "network" or mix of social networking sites.

Closing Thoughts

Great communities will occasionally have a great following in social networking circles. Whether it's Twitter or IM, Facebook or MySpace, Linkedin or Naymz, the real winners are people or groups that have a strong connection with their constituents. Connection can be characterized in three ways - personal, professional and political. The three "P's" account for virtually all interactions across the web and are fundamental to the success of social networking of any kind.

For more information on social networking and blended media visit www.printmixer.com

Copyright 2009 - Dave Green

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