Wednesday, December 07, 2011

It's all about you? Celebrating a year of BBC Woman's Hour on Twitter

Earlier this week I got a call from the producer of BBC Woman's Hour, who had read the press release that the University of Leicester recently ran about my new book (Stories and Social Media).  Later this month (27th December), BBC Woman's Hour are running an item on Twitter and women. Very exciting!

So the linguist in me couldn't resist taking a peek at the tweets @bbcwomanshour have posted over the last year and seeing how their vital statistics matched up with some of the patterns I've observed in celebrity, corporate and 'ordinary' use of Twitter.  And this is what I found:

Followers v. Following:
The profile information for @bbcwomanshour lists 26,354 followers and 2,590.  Like celebrities and 'ordinary' Twitter members, there are more followers than those that @bbcwomanshour follows.  But the scale of the asymmetry is a ratio 10:1 (followers: following), so closer to the asymmetry that you see on average between 'ordinary' Twitter members (6:1), rather than the disparity on celebrity accounts (60:1).

Types of Tweet:

Like other members of Twitter, @bbcwomanshour use more updates (one-to-many broadcasts) than either directly addressed messages which appear in the public timeline or retweets. Based on the type of tweet, it would seem that @bbcwomanshour is not very conversational.

But that belies the way that @bbcwomanshour seems to be using Twitter, which is not only to promote upcoming features, but to ask the audience for their opinions.  If we look more closely at the pronouns that appear in the tweets, the updates use the pronouns 'you' and 'your' (that focus on the audience) far more frequently than 'us', 'our' or 'we' (that focus on the show's producers and presenters).  And this difference is especially obvious in @bbcwomanshour if we compare it with the way corporate accounts, celebrities and 'ordinary' members of Twitter talk, and if we compare it with large offline corpora (like the British National Corpus or the Contemporary Concordance of American English).

High frequency words and Hashtags
It's not surprising that the most frequent lexical items that appear in the word list for the @bbcwomanshour tweets are topped by 'tomorrow' (which is usually followed by information about an upcoming feature) and 'women' (which appears three times as frequently as 'men') and signals the main themes that the features address.  When we look at the hashtags which are used in tweets we can see that this focus on the show and its featured themes is still present: 8% of all the hashtags used by @bbcwomanshour were directly making the term '#bbcwomanshour' more visible.  The choice of hashtags also shows @bbcwomanshour engaging with current events (like #spendingreview, #tubestrikes), but more than anything else (even more than the #ff tag), the hashtags are about food: (#cooktheperfect, #cooking, #recipe, #pasta, #italianfood, #Maryberry and so on).

It's refreshing that @bbcwomanshour are not simply using Twitter to 'broadcast their brand'.  Their tweets show engagement with their audience (especially in the use of retweets which forward on audience comments for wider response).  And perhaps they hint of the importance that food has for 'women's talk'.  Given that I'm married to the wonderful @tobizzy2bake, talking about, making, eating and sharing food has a key place in family life and the friendships that surround our home. All we need now is for a form of virtual #cake that would actually taste good too.