New research is adding a Twittery flavor to the old adage “birds of a feather flock together,” because it suggests happy twitterers tend to aggregate. Does this have implications for PR-related tweeters?
In a paper titled “Happiness is assortative in online social networks,” University of Indiana researcher Johan Bollen and other authors conclude that “Social networks tend to disproportionally favor connections between individuals with either similar or dissimilar characteristics. This propensity, referred to as assortative mixing or homophily, is expressed as the correlation between attribute values of nearest neighbour vertices in a graph.”
The social network analysis highlighted that “results indicate that beyond demographic features such as age, sex and race, even psychological states such as “loneliness” can be assortative in a social network.”
Got that? Lets simplify: Above many other factors that cause people to aggregate together, people who are sad or happy tend to communicate on Twitter with other people who are sad, or happy.
The team analyzed the tweet streams from 102,000 Twitter users for a six month period, applying sophisticated language tools to examine the content of every 140-character Twitter message–all 129 million of them. The analysis used standard algorithms borrowed from psychological research to assess the “subjective well-being” of users from their tweets by looking for trends in positive or negative words. Then they looked at aggregation trends, and found that happier people are more usually found re-tweeting and messaging other Twitter users who are also happy. The same is true for unhappy people.
Bollen has admitted he’s not sure why the action happens yet–the mechanism wasn’t the subject of this study, although he suggests that the compact nature of emotions expressed in a tweet is actually pretty infectious, and very effectively communicates joy or sadness. People who are happy would then tend to prefer (on average) happier fellow tweeters because they echo their own emotions.
But is there a message here for corporate tweeters? We already learned that when it comes to spreading influence on Twitter it’s the quality of your followers–rather than the sheer quantity–that is important. Do PR tweeters need to concentrate on the emotional flavor of their tweets too? After all, if you’re pushing a brand message to millions of consumers, you may want to think about who’ll be more receptive to a happy (or perhaps to a more downbeat, factual tweet), and how it matches the image you’re trying to project.