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Social Media Conversation Structures: If 3's a Crowd, then 6 is a Twitter Party

Carson Reider
Carson Reider / March 03, 2014

Do you recall the public squares of yore? You know, the ones where orators would deliver their message to those walking by who would care to listen?

Now, Twitter serves as the new public square, and new technology is emerging that allows us to view ways that crowds and conversations can take shape on the social networking site.

The Pew Research Center and the Social Media Research Foundation extracted, analyzed, and visualized thousands of Twitter conversations since 2010 to gain insights into the structures, sizes, and key positions (think influencers on Klout) in the resulting networks.

It's as if they took many, many, many LinkedIn InMaps, and examined them.

In this first part of a multi-part synopsis, we discuss the six distinctive social media conversation structures found in the study. These crowd structures form "depending on the subject being discussed, the information sources being cited, the networks of the people talking about the subject, and the leaders of the conversation."

Polarized Crowd: Social Media Conversation Structure #1

Like the ends of the earth, polarized discussions are two large masses with very little connectivity. Even when the topic of discussion is the same in both groups, there is usually little conversation between them.

Polarized Crowds are like two cliques that try to act different from each other (by citing different web resources and using different hashtags), while realistically acting the same way.

Tight Crowd: Social Media Conversation Structure #2

"Yea, we're tight." Think of some communities that are very close-knit and rather inclusive. Discussions within tight crowds are exactly that; they're tiiiiiight.

In these groups, people are highly interconnected and there are only a few isolated individuals. This structure displays "how networked learning communities function and how sharing and mutual support can be facilitated by social media".

Brand Clusters: Social Media Conversation Structure #3

We're talkin' all our favorite brands, brands, brands, brands. When tweeters mention well-known products or services or popular subjects like celebrities, they become part of a large fragmented population talking about the topic.

Rarely, though, do they talk to each other about it.

Think about the interest that surrounds events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars and how the Twitter chatter is not people connecting with one other, rather, "they are relaying or passing along the message" and "there is no extra exchange of ideas."

[Tweet ""Twitter chatter about these institutions and their messages is not among people connecting with each other.""]

Community Clusters: Social Media Conversation Structure #4

Community Clusters look like farmers markets with multiple flurries of activity. An example of when Twitter conversations emerge as this structure is when there is a global news story: many news outlets, each with their own distinct following, cover and report on it.

These clusters "can illustrate diverse angles on a subject based on its relevance to different audiences, revealing a diversity of opinion and perspective on a social media topic."

Broadcast Network: Social Media Conversation Structure #5

Much like the Community Clusters mentioned above, Broadcast Networks come about when news breaks and pundits weigh in on the situation.

This is a distinct hub and spoke structure. In regards to the interconnectivity of the population, "members of the Broadcast Network audience are often connected only to the hub news source, without connecting to one another."

Sometimes, smaller groups can engage with each other, but it is evident that powerful agenda setters and personalities with loyal followings have the largest impact on the conversation.

Support Network: Social Media Conversation Structure #6

Again, a structure shares a characteristic of the structure above it. Like the Broadcast Network, the Support Network is a hub and spoke structure.

Unlike the Broadcast Network, the Support Network is outward-facing, as the influencers reply to their followings.

Think of customer service accounts for major businesses that respond to consumer complaints and issues.

How Social Media Conversation Structures Can Help Us

Just as a topographic map details cultural and natural features of our physical world, new technologies–like NodeXL–graphically represent the social media landscape.

Analysts can aggregate social media data, analyze it in three dimensions, and build their own maps of the social media landscape. Maps like these will not only help us understand the terrain we tread in cyberspace, but also help "interpret the trends, topics, and implications of these new communication technologies."

Here is a quick rundown of the six types and their uses.

Your Thoughts?

Where have you seen these structures in action?

In what ways do you think these structures can help us?

Let us know in the comments below!

Come back next Monday as we dig into the method for mapping the social media landscape with NodeXL.

Tagged With: Social Media