In case you were living under a rock, or have not logged on to Twitter anytime in the last three weeks, you should be well aware that Taylor Swift released her new album “1989.” I say this not because I assume that everyone is as obsessed with Swift as I am, but because news, comments, and praises of her latest work have been dominating Twitter since its’ release on October 27th. In addition to the initial buzz surrounding the album in the first days of its debut, Swift has been able to create an ongoing social media conversation of her work with record breaking CD sales and the surprise leaking of a delightfully shocking music video.
Although I welcomed any content related to Swift on my Twitter timeline, it was almost unavoidable. It seemed everyone from news outlets to business, and even the girl I used to sit next to in math class, was tweeting about Taylor Swift. I was astounded by the number of people who seemed interested in the same topic and I guessed Swift’s music was creating countless conversations and networks in the Twitter community. However, it wasn’t until today that I began to really think about what this meant for social media or how all of these networks could be viewed through an analytical lens.
Not long ago, The Pew Center composed a study that classified Twitter interactions into different archetypes. The research analyzed how Twitter users who tweeted about a certain topic or conversed with one another were networked together. They presented their data in the form of maps. The fascinating data shows that most Twitter conversations fit into one, or a combination of six regularly observed structures. I have chosen to apply this research by categorizing the four different kinds of interactions I saw on Twitter surrounding the “1989” excitement.
A Tight Crowd conversation is composed of “highly interconnected people with few isolated participants.” These networks often share a common thread such as a profession or a hobby. In this case, I experienced a Tight Crowd structure among Taylor Swift fans who run Twitter accounts dedicated to the singer. Self titled “Swifties” are often super fans who regularly converse with each other about all things Taylor Swift. In many instances the people who manage major Swift fan accounts have not met each other in person but are in constant contact through social media. I especially noticed that the Swiftie fandom sprang to life after the release of 1989. Through Twitter, fans listened to the music and immediately conversed about it with other fans, creating a tight crowd situation.
Brand Clusters appear when well-known products, services, or popular subjects like celebrities are discussed on Twitter. Commentary often comes from “disconnected participants.” I noticed this structure when two different people on my Twitter timeline, who do not follow one another, were both tweeting about Taylor Swift. They were commenting on Swift’s music but they were not conversing with one another. This was certainly not something that was unique to my timeline. Although there were many who were connecting because of Taylor Swift, there is always a great number of isolated Twitter users who are tweeting about a certain topic and not engaging with other users.
I think of this structure as a hybrid of both Tight Crowd and Brand Clusters. This occurs when a popular topic develops multiple smaller groups, which “often form around a few hubs each with its own audience, influencers, and sources of information.” An example of this that I witnesses was when three of my friends (that I follow on Twitter and they follow each other) tweeted each other about the new Taylor Swift album. Although it was just the three of them connecting about the topic, they still formed a network that could be mapped. I imagine that a Community Cluster is often much larger than three users, but you get the idea.
A Broadcast Network consist of commentary surrounding things such breaking news stories and the output of well-known outlet. It is a hub and spoke structure in which “many people repeat what prominent news and media organizations tweet. The members of the Broadcast Network audience are often connected only to the hub news source, without connecting to one another.” A broadcaster in this situation could be Taylor Swift herself or her official business account Taylor Nation. For example, when Swift initially tweeted out the link to her new music video I quoted the tweet with a comment, repeating what she tweeted to my followers.
These maps have opened my eyes to the networking power of Twitter. These graphs are so dense and detailed! In structures like the Tight Crowd it seems that the majority of commenters are connected with several other people in the conversation and structures like Brand Clusters can connect people who are interested in the same topics to created Community Clusters. The visual representation of these conversations is a great way to understand the ways in which Twitter is impacting our lives. The Pew Center explains, “These maps highlight the people and topics that drive conversations and group behavior – insights that add to what can be learned from surveys or focus groups or even sentiment analysis of tweets. Maps of previously hidden landscapes of social media highlight the key people, groups, and topics being discussed.” Understanding the ways in which we interact on social media is important when sites like Twitter are becoming our new civil centers.
I had planed on ending this with a clever Taylor Swift lyric but I couldn’t choose one and I and not sure that anyone would get it. So in place of that, do yourself and favor and go check out 1989 on iTunes and also watch this genius music video!
P.S. As usual, the featured image is a picture I took. This one is from a Taylor Swift concert back in 2010.