Last week, a new study about social media titled “Who Gives a Tweet” finally released its findings, and many tech and marketing blogs picked up the story.
In a nutshell, the study looked at thousand of tweets to determine what type of updates users find worth reading. To do this, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology created ‘Who Gives a Tweet?’, a website that collected evaluations of tweets.
Many of the coverage that the study received focused on the finding that 25% of tweets are disliked and that only 36% are liked. For me, however, the more intriguing conclusion from the study was the following:
The cliched “sandwich” tweets about pedestrian, personal details were largely disliked. Reviewers reserved a special hatred for Foursquare location check-ins.
This particular recommendation didn’t sit well with me. Partly, that’s because I’m guilty of tweeting about personal details of my life (including my dinner plans) and checking in to Foursquare, but I think there’s more. From my personal experience, these types of updates — the one that the study calls ‘pedestrian’ — are the ones that usually encourage people to respond to me, to engage.
I had to look more into this study. The researchers described their methodology as follows:
André and his colleagues — Michael Bernstein and Kurt Luther, doctoral students at MIT and Georgia Tech, respectively — created the website “Who Gives a Tweet?” to collect reader evaluations of tweets….
People who visited “Who Gives a Tweet?” were promised feedback on their tweets if they agreed to anonymously rate tweets by Twitter users they already follow. Over a period of 19 days in late 2010 and early 2011, 1,443 visitors to the site rated 43,738 tweets from the accounts of 21,014 Twitter users they followed.
I downloaded the entire study just to learn a little bit more about the “Who Gives a Tweet” users, and immediately the following questions emerged:
- Were these people vetted? Are they considered influential? If they are, what were the criteria used to evaluate their influence?
- Were there systems in place to make sure that these people actually used Twitter? What mechanisms were there to ensure that this group wasn’t just a bunch of fellow academics who have never sent a tweet to begin with?
- Were enough info given to participants so that their interpretation of “useful” or “informative” were somewhat similar? A tweet that is useful to a professor may not be relevant to a foodie or a high school student.
- What was the nature of the relationships of these users? (Just because they follow each other doesn’t mean they have a relationship.)
These questions are important because a tweet’s “usefulness” really depends on context, something that seems to be lacking here.
Twitter is about having a personality.
Another conclusion from the study that caught my eye was the following:
“Tweets that included questions to followers, information sharing, and self-promotion (such as links to content the writer had created) were more often liked.”
This recommendation is telling. Asking questions to followers is definitely a great suggestion, but I can’t help but question the other two.
Anyone who has used Twitter for a while will tell you that self-promotion is rarely liked. It’s fine to do it once in a while, but try doing it every day and followers will soon click that “unfollow” button.
Similarly, Twitter lends itself to information sharing, and that practice is often encouraged. But can you imagine an account not doing anything else besides sharing links to news and blog posts? You will bore your followers to death! It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: Social media is not a broadcasting tool.
One possible reason why self-promotion was liked in this study was that users have seen these kinds of tweets over a limited period of time. Over longer periods, both self-promotion and broadcasting are frowned upon on Twitter.
It’s about balance. And authenticity.
Ultimately, it’s all about balance. Information sharing, self-promotion and dinner pics – these are all fine as long as they’re all done moderately and as long as they feel authentic to you.
I’ve seen plenty of examples of social media users — many of them I consider power users and influencers — who do all of these three, and they seem to be getting good results. Jeremiah Owyang, for instance, regularly share food pics on his Google Plus page, while Vancouver’s Dennis Pang has a reputation for tweeting food porn throughout the day. People respond to these updates, so I would hardly call them “disliked”.
I think this quote from Amber Naslund is also worth bringing up regarding the topic of tweeting food pics:
The compelling, the arresting, the artful wouldn’t nearly be so if it weren’t for the contrast with donut pictures of the world. (Source)
Indeed, in a world of too much marketing, of too much self-promotion, the mundane is a nice break. There’s something to be said about bacon’s ability to unite us all.
Also, it’s important to remember that with social media, just like with life, it is not about being liked. Sometimes it’s about being interesting, about standing out. Trying to change yourself on social media just to get a stamp of approval is a tiring and a thankless process.
Finally, I question whether Twitter really needs to be “useful” and “informative”. Different people have different uses for social media, and this notion that it needs to be a source of information seems a little dubious to me. If you’d like to learn while online, why visit Twitter or Facebook? Social media isn’t an encyclopedia; its main purpose is to connect people, not to educate.
The beauty of social media is that it allows us to express ourselves and to share experiences with others. Don’t let academics tell you what you should and should not tweet. Instead, I encourage you to be you, experiment with what feels right, and have fun when using social media.
What do you think of food pics on Twitter? Do you dislike these types of updates?
Photo credit: KayVee.INC