Twitter has a global reach and is used on a daily basis by millions of people, however, and the current survey of literature questions its effectiveness as a communication tool. The impact of Twitter has most recently been highlighted by the current POTUS, whose sphere of influence is no longer limited to personal and business enterprises. Through Twitter, he has always had a global audience, but now the consequences of his communications as the Commander in Chief, could potentialy have a global impact; however, the literature shows that we could realistically expect very little effect. The benefits may seem endless when considering the power of a free communication tool being implemented by low-budget establishments such as educational institutions and non-profit organisations. However, the literature proves Twitter to be an ineffective communication tool. Online literature relating to Twitter focuses heavily on the analytic data that can be leeched from the platform. Twitter as a communication tool has been revolutionary; unlike other social media platforms, there is no requirement to ‘Friend’ or ‘Follow’ a user to see the content they have created. As a result of this, harvesting data for analysis is easier than with other platforms.
A study conducted by Kwak, Lee, Park and Moon (2010), set out to determine whether Twitter is ‘Social Network or a News Media’ and to define the power of Twitter ‘as a new medium of information sharing’ (591). The authors claim that ‘this work is the first quantitative study on the entire Twittersphere’ (591). Analysis of current data would provide an interesting comparison. Kwak et al. investigate the occurrence of homophily, being ‘a tendency that a contact between similar people occurs at a higher rate than among dissimilar people’ (594). This is an interesting concept when we consider the communication and dissemination abilities of Twitter as well as considering the type of information that is promulgated. If users typically ‘Follow’ accounts of those who have likeminded views, they are assimilating and consuming a world view that is inherently skewed by the information presented to them. Pervin, Phan, Datta, Takeda, and Toriumi (2015) show similar results concerning homophiliy among hashtags: specifically, that ‘the similarity / dissimilarity of the hashtags plays a crucial role in hashtag popularity. Results indicate that when similar hashtags appear together the hashtag popularity increases as opposed to dissimilar hashtags’ (180). The statistics tracked in Kwak et al. ‘all mark a deviation from known characteristics of human social networks’ (600). The conclusions drawn are that when it comes to human interaction and communication, Twitter is divergent from our normal habits; for example, we will not ‘Unfollow’ or ‘Unfriend’ a friend in real life for simply having a differing political view, yet we are unencumbered about doing so online. Kwak et al. and Pervin et al. both agree that as a communication tool, Twitter can be rather weighted in favour of the user’s current interests rather than assisting in assimilating a world view.
Barnes and Lescault (2013), outline that over ‘84% of institutions of higher education have at least one Twitter account’. Kimmons, Veletsianos and Woodward (2016), set out to disprove prior research which ‘suggests that social media can serve as a vehicle for institutions to extend their reach and further demonstrate their value to society’. Kimmons et al. argues that ‘such innovation, in the context of institutional social media use, is limited’. Within this paper, the authors offer a useful summary of the relevant literature (98-100). This provides a stable foundation for the results of this study to either prove or contradict a previously upheld standard or idea. Kimmons et al. draws the conclusion through the processes of ‘data mining and quantitative methods’ (100), that instead of being considered a communication tool, Twitter should instead be considered a broadcast tool as the majority of Tweets are monologic and information based, as opposed to dialogic (10.1%) and requiring a response or action (12.2%)(102). Merry (2014), also found that ‘interactive communication was relatively uncommon’ (329), and where interaction did occur, there was no significant increase in action, reach or influence beyond current ‘Followers’.
This very brief review of a narrow section of literature available regarding the effectiveness of Twitter as a communication tool highlights some interesting facts. All of the reviewed literature pointed to Twitter having global reach, but perhaps as users, we are all living in our own little worlds, personalised to our own ‘likes’, ‘follows’ and interests. It is an important medium for communication. It can inform, warn, and enlighten, but perhaps it would be better described as a broadcast tool. This survey of literature suggests that Twitter does not encourage action, facilitate dialogue, or boost interpersonal connection in any meaningful way.
Barnes, N. G., & Lescault, A. M. (2013). Dartmouth, University of Massachusetts. “College Presidents Out-Blog and Out-Tweet Corporate CEO’s.” College Presidents Out Blog – UMass Dartmouth, www.umassd.edu/cmr/socialmediaresearch/collegepresidentsoutblog/.
Kimmons, Royce, et al. Institutional Uses of Twitter in U.S. Higher Education. Springer Science Business Media New York, 5 Aug. 2016, http://rdcu.be/xGKo.
Kwak, Haewoom, et al. (2010) “What is Twitter, a Social Network or a News Media?” WWW 2010, 26 Apr. 2010, http://www.ambuehler.ethz.ch/CDstore/www2010/www/p591.pdf.
Merry, Melissa K. “Journal of Information Technology & Politics.” Taylor and Francis Online, Routledge, 13 June 2014, www.dx.doi.org/10.1080/19331681.2014.933723.
Pervin, Nargis, et al. “Hashtag Popularity on Twitter: Analyzing Co-Occurrence of Multiple Hashtags.” SpringerLink, Springer, Cham, 2 Aug. 2015, link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-20367-6_18.