An Experiment in Twitter-Ology

1 12 2009

I’m teaching a digital  PR and Advertising class this semester, and recently I conducted a few experiments in Tweeting. Trying to capitalize on some of the most recent and relevant developments on Twitter, I went right for the big guns, and did a quick search on:

New Moon.

Now, if you are not familiar with the Twilight saga, or the current fascination with model-like Vampires and rugged Werewolves, which seems to have an amazing effect on girls between the ages of 10 and 50, causing them lose all reason and surrender complete mental capacity, then find any girl and ask them this question: Edward or Jacob?

At any rate, during a class on Twitter, we decided to explore the wiles of Twtter users (or Twits, as one satirical site called them) by searching the trending topic “New Moon” ON the day the movie was released.

The results were intriguing. Most of the posts included something to the effect of “Can’t wait to see New Moon” and included some other pedestrian anecdote. For example: “Took a nap, woke up, ready to see New Moon!” “Sitting in class, thinking about seeing New Moon! Jacob’s hot!” and “Brushing my teeth, can’t wait for New Moon tonight!” Of course, there were the obligatory: “New Moon Sucks” posts and the “Check this new trailer out for New Moon” posts.

Perhaps what was most staggering about these posts…new posts on New Moon were coming in at 30 per minute, or, to paint the picture: We conducted an in class search, and by the time the results posted, we read the first one or two and I asked for any comments, 30 more posts appeared. I decided to leave the page on as we discussed Twitter, and in the space of my 1 hour and 30 minute class, we saw 9,000 posts about New Moon come up.

We surmised 3 things from this VERY informal research

1. People use Twitter to associate themselves with a fad, theme, or event as a way to label themselves. In this case, Tweets about New Moon labeled individuals as “fans” and, perhaps, part of the “real fandom” of Twilight because they were seeing it on Day 1 of the movie release. This was similarly seen in blog posts and forum posts shortly after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book was released, as fans posted how quickly they finished the book (many posts simply read: Subject: Harry Potter 7. Message:  Done!)

2. People use Twitter to take sides on a current event or issue: There were probably just as many “New Moon Sucks” posts as there were “I love Edward Cullen” posts.

3. People use Twitter to connect with others who share their affinity or dislike for an event or issue or fad. Many of these posts were not rich in content, in fact, they were mostly simple accounts of intentions to view the movie. But in doing so, it appeared that New Moon Tweeters (uh…twits) were echoing the refrains of other fans, and, in doing so, building a community of fans who could share their excitement for viewing the film.

Now, these aren’t necessarily eye-popping results, but they are revealing in their own right. Twitter may be more than an “information engine”…it’s a community building engine. What’s even more astounding is that community building is taking place in 140 characters or less.

The real question is, who is harnessing this power for community engagement? And who is blowing it? …and that’s the subject of my next post.




2 responses

8 12 2009
Spencer G

Your final questions treat the main thought I had reading this, that twittering especially, but also facebook updates, lend themselves towards labeling. Something that is historically seen as very negative. This “democratization” of labeling may be seen as empowering–people taking control of their own brand–but then again, what does it mean that the way people exercise that freedom (and this may not be the majority of people, but I’m do think it’s a significant amount) to merely affiliate with a market product? Though I guess it’s no surprise that marketing has integrated into ideas of identity. I’ve heard many Mac users refer to the “lifestyle” they’ve purchased… though not in those exact terms.

8 12 2009
B.G. Smith

Hey Spencer, you raise some great issues. In fact, the whole idea of affiliating identity with a market product has been widely explored, researched, debated, and discussed. I’d recommend Kevin Lane Keller who has produced some excellent work on the subject. Frankly, I think that people self-select and associate themselves with a brand…which relates to your point on democratization of labeling. I think brands become a way to represent what individuals already feel inside and want to express, but have no other way of expressing it than to find a connection in something that is public like Twilight. I think it’s an age-old phenomenon, people associate themselves with what “rings true” to them, and branding builds off of that. Rather than making a product that people have to fit into, marketers spend loads of resources researching their relevant audiences, finding out their needs, then meeting those needs through branding.

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