Tom Webster at Social Media Explorer discusses some data that he believes suggests that Twitter users are not expressive of either internet users, nor social network users. They instead are those that are most open to and interested in “asymmetric connections” with relative strangers.
Data like these do not reflect causal relationships, of course – merely correlations. In the case of Twitter, which is still a growing and developing organism that has yet to cross the chasm to mainstream adoption, these findings certainly don’t posit that Twitter itself has enabled group membership. Rather, it suggests that Twitter users – a small subset of overall social networking users – are more receptive to joining groups. In other words, Twitter does not encourage or necessarily even facilitate group behavior; instead, it rather neatly aggregates humans who are already predisposed to joining groups in the first place.
If you think this through, it is of course common sense and even axiomatic. After all, what else is Twitter and other asymmetric networks than a group of loosely related (or even unrelated) individuals, seeking connection with other humans outside of their normal social circles of comfort? Most people connect with social networking sites and services to retain or foster connections with people they already know, either currently or from their past. Twitter’s asymmetric nature is such that those who join Twitter and continue to use it past an initial trial (out of curiosity, say) are those who welcome asymmetric connections with heretofore unknown humans.
I love the reference to asymmetric relations, and I do believe that Tom hits on a key there, but the initial paragraph above really overstates things. Data indeed CAN reflect causal relationships and not merely correlations, that is something to be uncovered. Also the conclusion that Twitter does not encourage or facilitate certain behaviors seems completely ungrounded to my eyes. Tom seems to feel that Twitter only gathers together a kind, a class of person, segregating them, but has no active role in what they are doing. This seems odd.
Indeed it would appear that the Twitter medium’s very asymmetric relations is central here. Clearly relationships are formed through Twitter, modes of information exchange, versions of intimacy forged that simply would not exist without it. The “one way glass” of Twitter invites (I would say encourages) the very exploration that Tom picks out as essential to groups. And successes on Twitter may very well bolster one’s social skills in this thin, fast, asymmetric way. Someone who may be slightly predisposed towards social extending, once becoming experienced with Twitter may very well become proficient in those modes. This is not even considering the specific ways in which Twitter can be used to find people with specific interests, be they lists or keyword search columns.
It isn’t just that there is a breed of dog out there, and Twitter acts like a net scooping them up unmodified and without growth. It seems more the case that IF there is a predisposed nature to Twitter users, it is indeed nurtured and given to thrive in Twitter environments. This goes a bit to Tom’s final point, that branding towards Facebook and Twitter indeed should be different…there is no one “social media” strategy.
As Twitter usage begins to creep towards a double digit percentage of Americans, it is likely that differences like these between social networking users in general and Twitter users specifically, if they continue to hold true, may indicate that Twitter users are more than simply the “early adopter” subset of social networking users. Rather, it may be that active Twitter users, with their predilections for group membership and asymmetric relationships, really are different dogs.
In other words, if you don’t have differential strategies for Facebook and Twitter (and are instead merely broadcasting similar messages across both), you are potentially missing significant opportunities for segmentation and tailored communications.
I certainly agree that strategies need to be different for different medium. And I do agree that Twitter users express different thresholds and needs for social interaction. What I would like to add is that such a strategy needs to see Twitter itself as more than an aggregate of a class of users. Rather, it needs to be seen as an active culturing of these predispositions. If indeed Twitter users are open to asymmetry, speed, thinness of communication, breadth of connection, pin-point brevity, but prone to group joining, then it is in the language of these things that brand strategy makes the most sense.
One of the most productive aspects of this may be that Twitter users as natural explorers among the anonymous, are the best Brand carriers.