Twitter communication patterns

In a recent study Bruns and Stieglitz[1] (2014) refer to the standard 1/9/90 distribution in the context of online communication. The 1/9/90 distribution is a new concept, which was born with the Internet, and which explains the distribution of content usage and creation in an online collaborative space/social media platform.

twitter_comm_patternsAccording to the concept 1% of the participants act as content creator, 9% of the participants act as editors and 90% of the participants act as content consumers:

“In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action” (Nielsen[2], 2006, online).

Nielsen’s claim is confirmed by other researchers who found evidence of what happens in an online community. Their conclusions are that 1% are leading users – “those individuals that dominate” (Kardara et al.[3], 2012), e.g. opinion leaders -, 9% are highly active users, while 90% are least active users (Bruns and Stieglitz, p.166) who are “plain participants” or “information consumers” (Kardara et al., 2012, online).

Zappavigna[4] (2012) also confirms the standard 1/9/90 distribution and names the three categories of users as “information sources, friends and information seekers” (p.30) where the “information sources” are the content creators, “friends” are the editors and “information seekers” are the content consumers. Citing Naaman, Boase et al. Zappavigna (p.30) groups Twitter users in two categories:

1) meformers, largely concerned with self, and

2) informers, interested in sharing information” (p.30).

Waters and Williams[5] (2011) compared the Twitter usage by individual politicians and national bodies against Grunig’s four models of public relations. They found that U.S. national bodies use Twitter for a double purpose:

1) “to release information in a one-way manner” and

2) to “foster relationship growth with other Twitter users” (p.361).

These bodies pay less attention to interactivity and conversation since they “have more on their communicative plates” (p.361).

Waters and Williams warn that, contrary to the researchers’ recommendations, the one-way communication models are still the dominant features of the current practice where public relation practitioners pay less attention to the two-way communication approaches.

The researchers demonstrate that the findings of their study contradict the communication “practitioners’ claims of interactivity on Twitter” (p. 353). Furthermore, Waters and Williams adapt the traditional public relation models to the behaviour of users on Twitter, and therefore create a Twitter version of the four models (Table 1, Adapted from Waters and Williams, 2011, pp. 356-357).


Table 1: Twitter communication models based on the traditional public relation models

Waters and Williams (p.356) use a relevant metaphor to describe the two-way symmetrical model:

“Scholars and consultants state that public affairs communications should ideally incorporate the fourth and final model into their communication as often as possible to move toward becoming an audience-centric organization. Just as doves coo to one another to woo the other into a romantic relationship, two-way symmetrical communication promotes a balanced dialogue between an organization and its publics to encourage an open, mutually beneficial relationship”.

Waters and Williams explain why organisations prefer the one-way distribution of messages to mass audiences: they “are not going to abandon the control that they maintain in one-way communications for give-and-take conversations on issues where external stakeholder input is not warranted” (p.359). The authors note, nevertheless, that “public relations scholars have slowly pushed these issues to the periphery in favour of focusing solely on relationship-building approaches and dialogue” (p.359). In terms of Twitter communication practice, Waters and Williams advise communicators and organisations to:

  • personalise their Twitter presence and profile with logo and website URL;
  • balance the number of followees and followers;
  • tweet key information and not overtweet; engaging is crucial;
  • avoid overusing the agentry model leading to publishing overly promotional content;
  • avoid focusing too much on the own content, retweeting or sharing the others’ content increases credibility and helps build a community;
  • avoid ignoring followers’ comments, questions and direct messages;
  • use links consistently to the company website for detailed information;
  • interlink social media/network accounts to expand the network communities to strengthen corporate identity, increase credibility and visibility (Adapted from Waters and Williams, pp. 360).

Summarising a study by Hargittai and Litt, Weigel[6] (2013, online) draws attention to the risk of excluding other populations while analysing samples of Twitter users. It means that the findings of a research activity may concern only Twitter users and should not generalise the conclusions since Twitter is not a familiar platform for all population.

While Twitter has become a strong competitor of the traditional media, Weigel, citing Lampe et al., raises the point of a number of barriers to the use of social media:

“The ability to realize these potential benefits faces inherent barriers in terms of perceptions of social media, ability of administrators to make effective use of social media tools, and the design of software used to operationalize social media “.

[1] Bruns, A. and Stieglitz St. (2014), “Metrics for Understanding Communication on Twitter in Study” in Weller K. et al. (eds.), Twitter and Society, New York, Peter Lang Publishing

[2] Nielsen, J., (2006), Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute

[3] Kardara, M. et al. (2012), Influence Patterns in Topic Communities of Social Media, in WIMS ’12 Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Web Intelligence, Mining and Semantics

[4] Zappavigna, M. (2012), The Discourse of Twitter and Social Media, Continuum International Publishing Group, New York

[5] Waters, D., R. and Williams, M., J. (2011), “Squawking, tweeting, cooing, and hooting: analysing the communication patterns of government agencies on Twitter” in Journal of Public Affairs, vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 353-363

[6] Weigel, M. (2013), Twitter, politics and the public: Research roundup“, in Journalist’s Resource


Leave a reply, don't be shy! :)

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s