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The Twitter Ecosystem
The big news of the week was that Google has surpassed Twitter in the ranks of social networks, taking second position behind Facebook. While pundits argue about whether those G+ users are active or not, it seems that the growth of Google’s social mega-platform is simply a matter of time. But then, there was another piece of research that shows Twitter as being the fastest growing social platform in the world.
As a student of social media, I’m ever amazed at the complexity and richness of Facebook, Google Plus, and LinkedIn. Every week, new features are added to those systems, meaning that, as marketers, we must keep our noses to the grindstone of learning.
The Twitter Ecosystem
In contrast to those complex platforms, there is sweet, simple Twitter. Its development was inspired by cell phone text messaging, and thus, its creators innocently or knowingly became the inventors of the most uncomplicated of social media systems.
Despite this simplicity, there are a few moving parts – and it can behoove the marketer to keep these various parts in mind. To that end, I propose a view of Twitter as a system. In the most fundamental approach, the system has two major components: mechanics and behavior.
The two components work hand in hand, so I’m not really going to draw a line down the center and talk about each – instead, I’m going to use those two components as a view on the system.
Twitter’s navigation pretty much lays out most of the system for us:
We fundamentally have four major chunks of activities. In Marty Weintraub and Lauren Litwinka’s new book, The Complete Social Media Community Manager’s Guide, the authors could have just as easily been talking about Twitter when they spoke of community management as being “…all about listening, publishing valuable content that connects with your audience in a human way, engaging with the community, and managing our reputation.”
Home Sweet Home
In Twitter, “home” is comprised simply of your main feed – that is, all those tweets of all those people who you follow. There is also a mini-dashboard showing your main stats, main trends, and a few suggestions for others to follow.
It’s All About Me, Me, Me!
The idea of your own profile is a major component across all of the major social media platforms, if not the central component. Your profile is your self-expression. In it, you let the world know enough about you to perhaps initiate a conversation.
Twitter took a cue from perhaps one of the most redeeming features of MySpace, and allows its users to use a pre-designed background or add an image of their own, and most recently, a large image banner. You can write a bio for yourself using a whole 160 characters.
As there is so little you can do in Twitter, it’s fair to say that you want to take full advantage of what you can do. Many brands and individuals have done some clever things with the background image, header image, and individual photo.
Lists also exist in the Me section. Twitter Lists are a powerful means to categorize people in ways that allow you to take in the Twitter stream in different ways. For example, I have a list of people that I consider absolutely brilliant (appropriately named the “absolutely brilliant” list). On many days, I just want to read the stream based on those individual’s tweets. It can reaffirm my hope for humanity.
It’s All About The Connections
The “connections” page in Twitter is simply a filter of the main feed that shows tweets where you’ve been mentioned, followed, favorited, or retweeted.
The process of connecting with others in Twitter is ubiquitous, and the system frequently suggests even more people to follow. Connections in Twitter are asymmetric, meaning you might follow someone while they might not follow you back, or vice versa. Some people add others to lists, where they do keep track of what they’re saying, all the while not actually following them.
Many people have come to regard their follower count as an indicator of status, and others (including some tools) even take note of the ratio of how many people are following them versus how many they are following. @SalmanRushdie has over 515,000 followers, but is only following a little over 375 people, thus it follows that he has a higher status than someone who has 500 followers and is following 750.
Another way of looking at the follow-back is that it’s a really, really small gift. There is a lot of interesting research that’s been done on how gifting in general can have a strong impact on influence; thus, I do believe it would serve the community manager well to consider their Twitter follow-back strategy.
Dr. Livingston, I Presume?
Twitter’s “Discovery” section is a veritable dashboard for creating new connections and finding information that might not otherwise make its way to your door. The tweet stream here differs from the home page, as it’s not just an unfiltered stream from all of the people you follow, but instead is filtered based on what Twitter’s algorithm thinks might be interesting for you. Just about everything I see in this stream appears to have been retweeted already a fair amount – thus, the algorithm might be based on how often a tweet has been shared and by whom.
There are also modules that help you find people based on your existing email account contacts, or based on who you’re already following. Twitter also shows you trending tweets, and a section in which you can find prominent users based on categories.
One of the most interesting behaviors to emerge from Twitter has been the use of hashtags. When used, hashtags become clickable, providing the user with another filter of the larger Twitter stream, in effect, become another powerful means to discover interesting information and users.
While not built into the system mechanically, users of Twitter have used these hashtags as both a means of creating communities, as well as a whole new way of communal communications, the Twitter Chat. Just as book authors have always gone about being guests on talk radio and television, they are now wont to be active guests on various Twitter chats.
In Twitter, we have a social platform that most recommends itself to the discovery of new connections – making what the sociologist Mark Granovetter called weak links. If Granovetter was correct in his thinking, it’s in weak links that we learn new ideas, are exposed to different concepts, and our status quo is shaken up.
There are two other features in the Twitter ecosystem worth noting: direct messages and advertisements. Brands are all over the place on direct messages. Many simply ignore the feature, while others use them for automated responses. Neither use is ideal – instead, it can be a great way to make that informal contact where appropriate.
We can guess with some feeling of certitude that the founders of Twitter embarked on their adventure with the hopes of making money. Twitter has stumbled a bit in finding its revenue model, although the bet seems to be on advertising. There have been a lot of experiments, but so far, little that has been conclusive. While some larger brands have cited successful case studies, most marketers have not been pounding a path to Twitter yet. My bet is that there will be some significant changes this year to its advertising system, and that it’s all worth watching carefully.
Keeping It Simple
Amongst the social media platforms, Twitter possesses an interface that feels the most simple — if you compare the Eco-System diagram above with one for the other major platforms, it really is simple.
It’s possible that as Twitter gains more features, it might lose some of that simplicity, particularly if each new enhancement moves away from that core strength of weak link building. In its most recent changes, for example, the acquisition of the six-second video sharing app Vine is notable. But, even there, Twitter is staying on course in maintaining its largest differentiator from the other platforms: simplicity.
Twitter Eco-System graphic created by the author using stock images from VectorStock by license.
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