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Hiking Through Your Social Media Conversations

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

Social media conversation is like a topographic map and the Pew Research Center is creating intense, visually-rich maps to show you how. According to a 57-page report entitled, Mapping Twitter Topic Networks: From Polarized Crowds to Community Clusters, Pew teamed up with the Social Media Research Foundation to help us media.

According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, social conversations are a bit like a topographic map. You have high points (mountains) and low points (valleys) over a period of time. These high points, in part, represent popular and widely repeated content, reflecting the significant role these people play in social media discussions.

In their report, they reveal that Twitter users represent only 18% of internet users and 14% of the overall adult population. Despite the limited data set, the structure of these Twitter conversations says something meaningful about how an engaged user discusses topics, how people find each other, and share information.

No doubt, some research company is doing similar work with Facebook, or Google+, or Instagram data and we’ll soon receive more insights on how we communicate with one another on social media.

The analysis and the maps of social structures were created using an open-source tool called NodeXL that is a plug-in to Excel spreadsheets. I just posted about another open source visualization tool called Plotly that lets you plug in data and stream it to the cloud for free. It is also a new social platform for people wanting to share their ideas visually and with the crowd. However, there are millions of people comfortable with Microsoft Excel who might find NodeXL perfect for solving a data challenge.

I’m working on a small project with Matt Hixson at Tellagence, a firm that helps you discover how people are talking about particular topics and terms. Conversations often happen in ways we do not expect and just finding a keyword isn’t enough – you have to study to search for intent and context. In his post, Using Social Market Research To Inform All Parts of Your Marketing, Matt uncovers some of the same things that Pew Research is also discovering:

There is not much demographic data on Twitter, but we have something more valuable. People are telling you, in an unbiased way, what they are interested in through the content they share and interact with. These conversations can move quickly and change rapidly. How do you make sense out of 10,000, 250,000 or even 8 million tweets that can happen any week on all sorts of topics that involve your customers? It is not enough to sit in front of a monitoring tool and read as fast as you can for a week to form a mental model that you think is right. None of us have time for that and in the end you have your best guess.” – Matt Hixson

Social media comes in different forms and structures. Mapping social media networks can enable a better understanding of the ways individuals form groups and organize online.

I like how Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center Internet Project, summarizes this research project: “It gives us a way to take the digital equivalent of aerial photos of crowds and simultaneously listen to their conversations.”

You can download the Pew Research report here: Mapping Twitter Topic Networks: From Polarized Crowds to Community Clusters.

The article was written by TJ McCue and originally published at:

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