February 20, 2014

Mapping Twitter Topic Networks: From Polarized Crowds to Community Clusters

Conclusion

Social media comes in different forms and structures. Mapping social media networks can enable a better understanding of the variety of ways individuals form groups and organize online. Our social media network maps of Twitter have illustrated six different structures of connection around different kinds of topics.

It is possible to imagine any number of ways that these insights could find application for those interested in using social media to promote causes, to engage the stakeholders who are interested in their organizations or missions, and to start or enter social media conversations that matter to them.

For instance, those who run social media accounts for their organizations can explore how some of the conversational “styles” might be most applicable and useful to their work. Additionally, they might see how the “natural” structure of a conversation around their core topics could profit from adjustment. For example, a brand may want to cultivate community, or an in-group might want to open up to outsiders. Using these maps, participants can assess the type of social media network in which they participate and set a target for what they want their group to be like.

Social media is used by millions of individuals who collectively generate an array of social forms from their interactions. Social media network maps can be useful in understanding the variety of social structures that emerge. Network maps can reveal the structures of the crowd and highlight strategic locations or roles in these webs of connection. By mapping social media network spaces, researchers and practitioners can learn about the most common and best uses for these communication services.

Additionally, network analysis provides insights into social media that can help individuals and organizations make informed decisions about online conversations. An organization may have a goal to create a discussion with a particular kind of social structure, like a community or a brand. Creating social media network maps of these topic spaces can be a useful way to track progress. Social media managers, for example, have many topics of interest, including brand names, events, products, services, companies, and candidates. Managers may want to ask themselves “Which kind of social media network is my topic most like?” Further, they may want to select a network type as their desired goal for their topic discussion. With a goal in mind, additional maps can be created over time to measure the difference between the current state of the topic network and the desired one. As experiments with various social media engagement strategies are performed, social media network maps can track the impact on the structure of social media spaces.