Friday, July 15, 2011

Corporate Twitter, interaction and synthetic personalization

I’ve been extending the analysis of ‘celebrity practice’ in Twitter that forms a chapter in my new book (Stories and Social Media) by comparing the language used in corporate Twitter accounts with the celebrity and ‘ordinary’ datasets that I gathered last year.

(Thanks again to my colleague Philip Shaw for his help with this!)

My analysis has focused on hashtags as identity markers, and today I was doing a more fine-grained (for which read 'manual') analysis of the grammatical contexts in which the most frequently occurring hashtags appear. It won’t surprise you that when the most frequent hashtags from corporate accounts occur with questions and/or imperatives, these projections of interaction are mechanistically reproduced (i.e. it is the exactly the same question that gets reposted numerous times).

I also observed that there were some modified Retweets in the updates with hashtags too, which I argued elsewhere is a form of synthetic personalization (Fairclough 1989): that is, a pseudo-backstage (in Goffman's sense) performance which simulates solidarity, but is more like a mass-media broadcast than peer-to-peer conversational exchanges.

Modified Retweets appeared in the updates from my datasets with the following frequency:

Corporate accounts: 20%

Celebrity accounts: 12%

‘Ordinary’ accounts: 5%

So my question is, why would this happen, or what do these results suggest?
Is it a case that the more ‘branded’ an account is, the greater the need for synthetic personalization?
Are the modified Retweets there to counterbalance (and give a personal voice in contrast to) the mechanistic questions and imperatives that co-occur with hashtagged-tweets in corporate accounts? 
Will 'ordinary' accounts employ dyadic interchange (one-to-one conversations) instead of one-to-many broadcasts?

What do you think?