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Crowds And Clusters: Identifying The Best Type Of Social Network For Your Small Business

Written by Ken Gaebler
Published: 3/3/2014

New study on Twitter conversations uncovers six different types of networks, points to the need for greater clarity in networking activities for small businesses.

Networking has long been viewed as an essential element of small business success. In the Digital Age, networking has reached a fevered pitch, as small business brands scramble to cultivate followings of customers and influencers on Facebook, Twitter and other popular social media sites.

Research on Social Networking Types

But despite the importance of social networking, not all networks or networking activities are the same. A new study on Twitter conversations by University of Maryland researchers has revealed six distinct patterns or networks around specific types of conversations and topics.

Based on the topic, information and influencers that are engaged in the conversation, the networks that began to emerge included:

  • Polarized Crowds -- Networks that gather around heated, divisive conversations involving two very different groups that have little in common with each other. Common in political conversations.
  • Tight Crowds -- Tightly bound and interconnected communities with few isolated members. Typically gather around conferences, hobbies and other shared interests that are supported by social media engagement.
  • Brand Clusters -- Groups that gather around brands and celebrities. Involve large numbers of highly disconnected people who usually don't engage with one another.
  • Community Clusters -- Networking clusters with multiple centers of activity. Tend to gather around global news stories and ultimately lead to a variety of smaller groups.
  • Broadcast Network Structures -- Network structures that simply pass along information in the form of retweets. They tend to be only connected to the broadcast source and not to each other.
  • Support Network/Customer Service Conversations -- A hub and spokes pattern in which the source of information (i.e. support network or customer service center) communicates information outward to a large group of disconnected individuals.

What It Means for Small Businesses

Understanding the various types of networks that are in play on Twitter and other social media sites is valuable to small businesses that are engaged in social marketing.

Study co-author Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Internet Project said that the study, "gave us a way to take the digital equivalent of aerial photos of crowds while simultaneously listening to their conversations."

By listening more closely to these conversations and evaluating the dynamics of the social marketplace, savvy small business marketers are better equipped to craft messages and social strategies that build community and promote the right kind of social sharing or networking activities.

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