Finding Meaning in the Twitterverse Without Being a Buzz Killer

follow During the Presidential campaign this fall, news organizations were eager to discern patterns of meaning from raw (and unfathomable) social media data. We learned that the first Presidential debate generated 10.3 million Tweets to become the “most tweeted event in political history” (as if the only portion of political history that matters is that since the launch of Twitter way back in 2006).  The news organizations breathlessly reported the moments during the debates that generated the most tweets.  And they tracked the most popular Twitter hash tags being used–”Big Bird” and “malarkey” were two that jumped out of the first presidential and the vice presidential debates, respectively. All that was interesting but told us very little about what people were actually thinking or feeling about a topic or candidate. The sheer number of tweets made it impossible to provide any useful quantitative discernment on attitudes reflected by the tweets. 

go site For example, we can track how many hundred thousand people tweet per minute when the subject of “gun control” comes up in a debate, or the number of times #guncontrol is mentioned, but if we can’t separate the number of tweets for and against the idea of controlling guns, how useful is this? Sure, we can look at a sample of tweets, judge them as pros and cons, and extrapolate to the larger population–but that seems so Twentieth Century. Can’t we automate that?

see url One way is to ask a yes/no or multiple choice question and ask followers to respond using different hashtags. Be careful to make it absolutely clear what you’re asking (e.g., does “no” mean “no to guns” or “no to gun control”?); if you confuse even 10% of respondents, your data could be grossly misleading. Still, not everyone tweeting cares to respond to a contrived question. Much better is to find ways to sort through naturally occurring Twitter traffic.

This is where Twitter will surely evolve to meet our incessant need to count and track–creating a simple, instantaneous mechanism for tweeters to use to express pro and con opinions, whatever the topic. Something more meaningful than a “like this” option but equally easy to click. With a little evolution, Twitter will provide instantaneous snapshots of mass public opinion.

Of course, getting answers to a complicated issue is seldom a matter of picking between two clear choices. Twitter totals aren’t ever going to reveal nuance. We’ll continue to need to dig deeper (through some manner of focus group probing) to delve into gray areas and to answer why? and how? questions.

see url An even more basic limitation is that much of social media conversation is said in fun and jest, not to be taken seriously or counted. And being at the center of a fun and frivolous conversation is pretty much what buzz is all about. We can measure the amount of buzz being created around a topic or brand quite easily, but asking for more detailed information can be a Twitter buzz-killer.

follow link – Jon Harmon 

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