Physical proximity in real world affects electronic communications

By February 25, 2012 Drop a comment
globe with air traffic

Despite its worldwide adoption, Twitter ties follow geographical patterns, including global flight patterns. Because of this dichotomy, brands must remember that Twitter users mostly connect face-to-face first.

 

Twitter is most often perceived as a scene that transcends geographical distances, or that the network that it creates ignores physical boundaries. However, a study shows that Twitter connections do correlate to physical proximity and that in other words, physical proximity does affect the way users communicate online and how social interactions happen online. In order to analyze this, researchers from the University of Toronto compared Twitter users, their ties and air traffic. Most posts used in their sample had location associated with them, and they grouped into location clusters. These clusters were connected by heavy air traffic routes more often than with less popular routes. Clusters tend to have more ties - 39 percent of ties between users fall within the same regional cluster. A large share of these ties can be explained by the concentration of users in a handful of places - “a large share of ties would be local even if ties were formed randomly, disregarding location.” But the level is even higher that this naturally occurring amount of clustering. Further analysis of the ties between geographic distance and Twitter connections shows a correlation between high-traffic airline paths. These were traced out between Los Angeles and New York, for example, but not New York and São Paulo, New York and Tokyo, and Tokyo and São Paulo.

Language and country are key influencers of social networking

Language differences were a large structuring factor – these distant groups must be able to communicate in order to form meaningful networks. But national boundaries further complicate things – the country and city largely indicate local and national languages being learned, as well as if English or other cosmopolitan tongues are taught. In other words, the structure of networks on Twitter is related to language and geographical distances, but those elements don’t explain it all. The study shows that what matters most for users to connect on Twitter is previous interactions, especially face-to-face relationships. Despite these national or global connections that exist between Twitter users, they are more often predicated on personal ties.

Twitter better for global reach than other networks

Twitter’s popularity and global appeal made an ideal study case. The low cost of Twitter connections makes it less sensitive to distance - users follow others around the world with less correlation to actual face-to-face networks than on other social networks. Twitter being only 140 characters, it isn’t as personal as other networks – relationships on Twitter tend to be unidirectional while those on Linkedin or Facebook tend to be bi-directional. Therefore, users are more likely to cross geographical boundaries than on Linkedin or Facebook for instance. Even so, people are less likely to be complete strangers - they are friends of friends, or people that they’ve heard of. Because of these real world ties and transparent relationship patterns, Twitter is the best social network for global brand reach. 

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