By Guest Blogger: Rodger Johnson
There’s more to Twitter than the occasional retweet or mention about the latest Kardashian drama. The social network has 271 million active users, nearly a half-billion tweets are sent daily and over two-thirds of its users are tweeting from their mobile devices.
What does this mean for you? Simply put, there’s tremendous reach on Twitter, with people connecting with other people to talk about your brand. This presents you with an opportunity to harness that reach and get others sharing and amplifying your marketing messages. That is, if you understand how to influence them to share information about your company.
Six Kinds of Social Groups in Twitter
People surprisingly communicate in much the same fashion through Twitter as they do outside of the social network. The Pew Research Center with the Social Media Research Foundation discovered people congregate into six categories of groups on Twitter:
- Polarized groups are best characterized as political factions on Twitter. As you might expect, these divergent crowds polarize and share information only among each other and rarely communicate with other political groups. In this case, birds of the same feather do, in fact, flock together.
- Tight crowds share common interests and are highly inter-connected. You’ll notice this type of group forms around conferences, professional topics, and hobbies. These people come together in the name of mutual support.
- Brand groups form around products, services or the pop-culture topic du jour, but typically tweet about these things and rarely tweet to each other. These people are fragmented and become more so as their numbers increase. In other words, they focus on the topic and are not concerned with connecting to one another.
- Community groups are smaller than tight crowds, and they form around a few hubs with their own audience, influential members and information sources. Think of these groups as exotic bazaars with their own conversations. Coverage of global news stories by many major news sources (each with its own following) are what allow multiple versions of these groups to form. The World Cup is a good example because people tweeted about the progress of their favorite team. These environments create medium-sized groups and a fair number of isolated people tweeting, but not connecting with other groups.
- Broadcast networks form around breaking news as a distinct hub and spoke group in which many people repeat what prominent news and media organizations tweet. People in these networks are usually only connected to the news outlet and not each other. Sometimes within the larger network, subject groupies emerge, which could be the tipping point of these networks into more robust community groups.
- Support groups form around businesses and other organizations where complaints and other information directed toward that company are resolved. In this group, the hub, or source of information, communicates directly with customers or others using their services, and customers connect with and communicate to the organization, but rarely mention or follow others in the group.
This graphic from Pew Research Center provides even more insight:
If you are a small to medium-sized business, it’s important to understand these types of groups and communities that exist in Twitter. Even more so, you should know how to build, join and influence each of them, because the strategy will be different.
In this post we will focus on brand and support groups. Let’s first explore what makes up a group before we dive into strategy.
A Brief Anatomy of Groups
For business owners, it’s important to understand how groups form and how people share information because that is how they create ties with each other. It’s these ties that matter most when the time comes for your company to engage those people.
Twitter groups have three very distinct traits:
- Groups have a regular pattern of communication and are continuously redefined by people moving into and out of them.
- Among a groups’ members, conversations continually ebb and flow.
- People within these groups can become increasingly reliant on each other.
While it is important to understand what makes a group a group, knowing what happened among people inside those groups is helpful when developing engagement strategies.
How We Communicate in Groups Using Twitter
As was mentioned earlier, groups on Twitter share close ties, but what connects one group to another are weaker links called bridges. Twitter users who serve as bridges are important for sharing information from one group to another. Keep that in mind as we turn to the three types of communication most frequently found within Twitter.
Typically, people with weaker links to a group have more time to share information because they are less incline to engage in conversations with other people, according to research funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science. Their purpose is to share information. On the other hand, people embedded in groups have stronger ties, communicate more vigorously with other members of the group and, therefore, have less time to share information between other groups and may only share highly relevant information with members when a bridge introduces it into a group.
What also matters is how information is carried through Twitter. There are three main ways people share information on Twitter and between groups:
- Tweets are broadcasting messages of information resonating from one user of the social network. These messages, depending on their relevance, have the potential of igniting mentions and retweets.
- Mentions are tweets using the handle of another person, which are directed to the corresponding user, or mentioning the targeted user as a relevant source to a broader audience.
- Retweets are highly relevant content-forwards naming a specific user as the token of information being shared. These types of message are also viral, which means they spread more rapidly than mentions.
People inside groups use mentions, in the process tagging the @username, to identify a person with whom they want to communicate. As these increase over time, so does the strength of those ties. People who retweet a link to a content source create weaker links because the information is not directed to some one. Rather, it is directed as a general all-points-bulletin. And, researchers at Pew found bridges retweeted more between groups, while mentions occurred more frequently inside groups in Twitter.
Why Brand And Support Groups Are Important For Your Company
As businesses increasingly use social media to monitor for potential problems with their products and services, understanding and building a support network in Twitter will help make resolving customer complaints more transparent. It’s in these courts of public opinion where problems are solved and resolutions are communicated that build trust in the brand and strengthen the identity of the company with its customers. On the other hand, some brands and topics command mass interest. Although brand groups are fragmented, the spreading of relevant brand messages can leverage weak ties to raise awareness of the brand throughout groups on Twitter.
All businesses can and should build brand communities. These are especially useful for businesses preparing for a product launch. Even local eateries that want to promote a new menu or special feature item can seed their followers and those they follow with content to help spread the good word and spark interest.
Empower Weak Ties to Spread Your Message
Empowering Twitter users with weak ties to a brand is a process, and it starts with listening. From there, a brand must think about speaking to, engaging with, offering support when appropriate, and empowering these users at the right time. Given the complexity of building various communities online, you should follow these strategies to build a brand network:
- Listen: Get on Twitter and find people talking about topics relevant to your brand, or identify conversations mentioning your company specifically. Once you identify these conversations – listen and take notes – that’s it.
- Talk: Once substantial intelligence has been gathered, devise a messaging strategy that speaks into the conversations that are already happening. Start with retweeting positive information relevant to your brand and the industry in which your company serves. Identify a handful of people that engage consistently – those could be influential. Observe their activity. Are they bridges – do they primarily retweet or do they have stronger ties?
- Engage: Begin mentioning other handles your company follows. Share their information and share your information with them. Use the @username to direct your message to them and their followers. Continue to retweet information as before. As you begin this phase, you’ll notice over time people will begin to accept you. Acceptance is important because you don’t want to interrupt what people want to consume, you want to be what they want to consume.
Once you firmly established a comfort level with your followers and others in Twitter, you will have established a brand group or community around your company. The more sophisticated strategy of supporting your community comes next. And this is where engagement becomes personal.
- Support & Empower: Solving customer complaints and other problems that arise in everyday business can be challenging enough. Handling those in the light of day in front of other followers takes strong will and resolve. If you knocked, you have to be ready to roll with the punches. Building a support network means that your social media team must be monitoring Twitter nearly all the time. It also means you must empower your employees to give conflict resolution on the fly. Your strategy must be one that incorporates most of your organization.
While not all brands are equipped to grow and evolve a support community, every company has the capability of building branded groups and a larger community around the company. In this type of community, weak links become your strongest asset because they can spread your brand’s messages far and wide.
A note on branded groups: by connecting your message to larger events, stories and other content people are sharing, your brand will appear more relevant. As it always has been, relevance gets the attention of people. This is an historical fact of human existence; the only thing that’s changed is the channel through which we earn relevance… Everything has changed, yet nothing has really changed.