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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Twitter: a network of influence

Who’s setting the agenda for the MR debate on Twitter? Brian Tarran joins the dots to find out.

In December, when Tom De Ruyck of InSites Consulting was crowned Tweeter of the Year by the #MRX community on Twitter, we asked him how broad the reach of the social network was in the offline research world. He guessed that “a few thousand researchers” were involved in one way or another, with a small group of “very active people” leading the discussion.

But who are these people: the content creators, the sharers, the people driving debate and connecting people and ideas? Over two weeks, from 25 November - 9 December, Jason Brownlee of Dollywagon ran an analysis of all the messages carrying one of 350 keywords, ranging from ‘analytics’, ‘market research’ and the #MRX hashtag, to ‘biometrics’, ‘sample sizes’ and ‘paid respondents’.

Over 106,000 on-topic messages were collected in total, generated by 5,000 individuals or companies. Working with Jon Puleston of GMI, we narrowed the list down to the top 400 with an interest in market research and re-ran the analysis to produce the image opposite – a network map showing the lines of communication running between various Twitter users, represented as nodes.

Nodes are sized according to general influence. Brownlee explains: “People with the highest general influence tend to be the biggest, most credible players in a network. They create content that generates more in-bound links than anyone else, but crucially also tend to attract links from other credible players in the network.”

Brownlee has also applied a clustering algorithm to determine the main sub-groups within the market research Twitter community. These are colour-coded. “These groups are predicated on the frequency, pattern and density of connections between the nodes in each group,” explains Brownlee.

One thing that surprises is the lack of any clearly defined clientside clique – or indeed a major clientside influencer. The absence of research buyers in discussions on Twitter was also noted by De Ruyck in our interview. “We have to admit that most of us [Twitter #MRX users] are agencyside and on the more progressive side of the industry – working at smaller or mid-sized agencies specialised in the newer online research methods and techniques.

“That’s not bad. It’s a great way to stimulate our thinking, to be inspired and to push things forward together,” says De Ruyck. “But it would be great if more conservative researchers, and clients as well, would join this discussion. It would make it even more valuable and worth following.”

Click here to download a high-res version of the full network map

  • Our thanks to Jason Brownlee and Dollywagon for the network analysis and map. Find them online at www.dollywagon.com.

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Readers' comments (9)

  • Great map and very interesting data. I was also surprised at the lack of client-side influence or clique. I've been following the #MRX discussion for a while now and find us client-siders few and far between. I think the discussion could only benefit from more agency-client balance.

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  • Not sure I agree with the terms you've used :) Clients unlikely to be tweeting about "sample sizes", and probably sharing marketing / advertising information, which is why you've probably not picked them up?

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  • Brian Tarran

    Anonymous:

    350 key words were used, some of which surely must have been used by clients engaged in research discussion online.

    It's also worth remembering that clients were underrepresented in our #MRX Tweet Awards nominations lists and analysis. Perhaps, they're not using the #MRX hashtag – in which case, what are they using to tag their discussions?

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  • For many agency people research is 90%+ of their job, for many client-side people it is a much smaller %, so perhaps not surprising that the bulk is from supply side.

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  • Brian Tarran

    Thanks Ray. Also, I'd guess that if you were to add them all up, there are fewer client-side researchers than agency researchers overall (not just on Twitter).

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  • I've pretty much stopped using the #mrx hashtag since I went back clientside. Previously I'd just the hashtag for tweets about methods or research issues. Now I don't really tweet about those things; instead I'm more interested in news/trends/stats - where the relevance is wider than the research community

    (Obligatory comment about sample of one).

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  • Brian Tarran

    Thanks Simon. That's interesting to know.

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  • Good article. First of most, I was surprised I was in the map. Has given me the incentive to keep tweeting as opposed to thinking everything was going into a black hole.

    Some thoughts:

    -Lack of client side - shows outsourcing is still very strong. When I was Head of Consumer Insight at Phones 4u, I wish I had tweeted more, as the whole company was doing some really interesting stuff. But then again, why would we? Wouldn't we want to close guard our processes and thoughts to have the advantage of competitors?

    - The map definitely shows the strength of marketing an agency through an individual account. Not going to happen, but would be interesting to see the correlation between tweet volume and incoming web traffic

    - One thing that does interest is the theory of weak ties. I have never met anyone on this map in person. So does that make me a weak tie? Or am I instantly labelled as a strong tie because we are all virtually known through the #mrx hash tag?

    - Influence based on the number of followers. Difficult one to look at. I could be an "influencer's influencer" with low followers, and more of a bridge influence to a larger group. Would be interesting for example, to go one up from this map. Ask all the people featured who influences them.

    Just some ramblings, nothing else. Would be keen to catch up with anyone wishing to look at the above in more detail.

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  • Great discussion, and great article - thanks Brian!

    As for the under representation of clients, it would be highly interesting to filter by role - and see who of that initial 5000 might have been client side. Possibly not achievable, but still interesting.

    One thing that strikes me is how similar the MR "twitterverse" experience is to general consumer experience. I think many client side researchers could use this thread when talking to product/brand managers who want to use social media as their primary (or only) data point.

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