PR Research: Twitter Tribe Has Spoken. Secretly

by PR Coach on March 18, 2013

Research identified unique Twitter tribes’ language

As a Twitter power user, I couldn’t resist looking into this Twitter research study on word usage in my favorite micropublishing channel. It’s fascinating to say the least.

It’s titled Word usage mirrors community structure in the online social network Twitter. Researchers looked at more than 250,000 users to define some very interesting Tribes.

Who knew Twitter users were forming such unique Tribes and speaking their own language? Academics really do provide a useful service for the rest of us. Pointing out the sociological implications of social media and everything else we do.

I’ve already optioned a reality TV proposal called Twitter Survivor. So the research study really came along at an opportune time.

remote island Tristan Da Cunha

Imagine host Jeff Probst taking 10-16 Twitter Tribe members and dropping them on the isolated tropical island of Tristan da Cunha? Ready to Retweet, Shoutout, Friday Follow, Fave, and out-Tweet their Tribe mates until they get Blocked.

Exciting or what?

Just kidding. Storytellers, PR pros and marketers have known the importance of unique words and language to target Tribes for eons.

Think about the abbreviations long time Twitter Tribe members use without a second thought. How intimidating we are to newbies, those outside our Tribes and academics. Common shortcuts such as RT, FF, DM, HT, TY, TYVM, PRT, WTF and IMHO are just a start.

Consider the more esoteric CX, CT, AFAIK, BH, BFN, FUBAR, GMAFB, KYSO, LHH, PNP, RLRT, SFTU, STFW, YKYAT and YOYO.

YKWIM? (You know what I mean?) HT (hat tip) to Tia Fisher for compiling a LHH (laughing hella hard) list of Top Twitter Abbreviations You Need to Know.

How many did you recognize? If you got 15 out of 15 of the previous, you really do need a life outside of your Tribe. If you didn’t know any of those secret Twitter code words, just click on over to Twittonary, the all-purpose Twitter dictionary.

For communicators and marketers, the social words research study is a great reminder. If you want to exclude others, use your group’s code language. If you’re reaching out, remember who you’re speaking to.

Twitter Research Study Finds Connections & Communities

The study examined communication between more than 250,000 Twitter users.

According to the report:

“The network analysed had 189,000 nodes (each corresponding to a single user) with 75 million mutual tweets between them (mean degree of 28) and a global clustering coefficient of 0.084.”

In other words, a heckuva lot of communicating was going on between Tribe members as you can see in the following illustration:

 Twitter Study Graphic key words

The researchers identified top words in each of many “communities” with more than 250 Tribe members. Here’s how they did it:

“Repeating this procedure 1,000 times for each pair of communities, we found that for 248 of the 253 pairs of communities the distance between the original pair was greater than all of the 1,000 resampled pairs. For the other five pairs of communities, the distance between them was greater than most ( ≥95%) of the resamples. Comparable results were found for the communities generated with the hierarchical map equation algorithm. In other words, the community membership can explain part of the variance of word usage.”

What they’re trying to say is that Tribe members spoke to each other in their own unique language. Who knew?

At this point, I guess you’re glad you have me along as a translator. These researchers do speak their own language!

Vanuatu and Twitter SurvivorSo let’s look at the chart and the secret language of several of the Tribes. The animal lovers: “anipals, pawsome, furever.” A US urban gang: “nigga, poppin, chillin.” British skeptics:”rubbish, reckon, blimey.” Food aficionados: “foodies, foodbuzz, chard.” Politicos: “pelosi, obamacare, potus.” And Justin Beliebers: “bieber, pleasee, <33.”

This is rich stuff for politicians, marketers, and PR people trying to reach influencers of all stripes. Social scientists and cultural anthropologists will be busy for decades data-crunching, interpreting and figuring this out.

In our Marketing Mavens Tribe, expect “memes, big data, target market.” PR Peeps: “influencer, CSR, Barcelona principles.” Social Mediaites: “SEO, content marketing, social graph.”

Oh, and don’t forget the CMO Tribe: “social enterprise 2.0, ROI, USP.”

Key Findings for Marketing & PR

There’s one more critical outcome. Researchers are confident they can predict your Tribe by your words. With a standard error of less than 1%. Here’s their simple formula:

“For each word i used by each community j we calculated its relative word usage frequency fj(i)i.e., the proportion of the total word instances that were word i. Using this, we were able to measure the difference between two communities j and k by the Euclidean distance as follows,

Twitter Tribe word useNeedless to say, this research was complex yet rich in nuance once you get past the science babble. I just recommend you don’t try this at home or the office. You might hurt yourself.

Finally, here are the conclusions of the study by Bryden, Funk and Jansen:

“This indicates a relationship between human language and social networks, and suggests that the study of online communication offers vast potential for understanding the fabric of human society. Our approach can be used for enriching community detection with word analysis, which provides the ability to automate the classification of communities in social networks and identify emerging social groups.”

Translation? We know who you are. You can’t fool us with your secret language. And, our branding team is already working up a brand profile to sell you stuff.

Marketers and PR rejoice!

The possibilities are staggering for bloggers, social marketing, social media gurus and those trying to reach influencers. Civilization will soon reach out to these previously undiscovered Tribes. Your success will depend on your ability to speak their language and communicate.

Well, my analysis of this Tribal research study is over.

The Tribe has spoken. It’s time for me to go.

If you want to connect, just tweet me @ThePRCoach. Better yet, share your secret thoughts in the comments below. Our Tribe is waiting to hear from you.

Meanwhile, WTH. I’ll be hanging out with my other Tribes at #PR #publicrelations #crisisPR #contentmarketing #socialmedia #badPR #PRfail #prstudchat and #PRjobs.

Author: Jeff Domansky

Visuals: CBS, Tristan da Cunha, EPJ Data Science Fig 1, EPJ Data Science Fig 3