Posted by: Joel Arellano | October 7, 2013

Misunderstanding the Twitter

The Wilson/Supa and Wright/Hinson research both misunderstand Twitter. Twitter is a semi-public means to exchange text messages en masse, granting immediacy, brevity, a wide audience, and re-transmissibility, which well suit the medium for exchanging time-based information or quick notes that don’t merit a formal email. Wilson/Supa treat Twitter as an undifferentiated mode of communication on par with email, studying whether participants prefer Twitter as a primary method of communication, and whether they perceive Twitter as a “news” tool. The authors never define the latter term, nor do they investigate Twitter’s tactical role among the broader tool set of news media- and they never define Twitter as a medium.

So how do journalists and PR practitioners use Twitter? Neither study pursues this question, though without answering it, we have no context to meaningfully interpret the data. Wright/Hinson mention significant differences in survey data depending on the kind of organization for whom subjects worked, but the authors don’t elaborate or even present their supporting data. Investigating these different applications should have been the basis for studying trends in the use of Twitter.

Both pairs of researchers set themselves up for failure by collapsing a variety of distinct roles into overly broad categories- PR practitioners and journalists. Photojournalists leverage time-based information differently than other journalists, and a PR agent for restaurants will collect and distribute event info differently than a healthcare PR agent. These distinctions deserve more attention.

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