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Social Media Network Mapping

Layers of Communication: Forms of Talk on Twitter (Media Talk 2014)

Media Talk Symposium 2014

Layers of Communication: Forms of Talk on Twitter

Axel Bruns

  • 24 Apr. 2014 – Media Talk Symposium, Brisbane

With some 2.5 million accounts, especially representing the influential 25-55 age range, Twitter has become an important social media platform in Australia. It has found key applications in areas ranging from politics and crisis communication to entertainment and sports, but also facilitates everyday communication between like-minded individuals and communities. In spite of the increased scholarly attention on the uses of Twitter across these practices, however, the question of what kind(s) of communication Twitter represents remains largely underexplored, and the forms of interaction that the platform enables have yet to be fully theorised.

Building on prior work by Bruns & Moe (2014), this paper explores the various layers of communication which exist on Twitter, from direct, dyadic @reply exchanges between clearly identified communication partners at the micro level through narrowcast message dissemination to the followers of an account at the meso level to many-to-many exchanges in ad hoc publics created by hashtags at the macro level. It outlines the different types and formats of talk which are able to occur at each of these levels, and shows the interweaving of the information and communication flows which take place on each of them. In doing so, it outlines the complexities of communication on Twitter, and points to new challenges in Twitter research.


Axel Bruns and Hallvard Moe. (2014). “Structural Layers of Communication on Twitter.” In Twitter and Society, eds. Katrin Weller, Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, Merja Mahrt, and Cornelius Puschmann. New York: Peter Lang, 2014. 15-28.

Presenting Our Social Media Work at the 2013 IBM Research Colloquium

Now that I’m back in Australia from my extended conference trip, I immediately got back on a plane to travel to a freezing Melbourne, to present our social media research in crisis communication and beyond at the 2013 IBM Research Colloquium. Below are my slides and audio – many thanks again to Jennifer Lai and her team at IBM Research Australia for the invitation!

Social Media Issue Publics in Australia (IBM Research Colloquium 2013)

IBM Research Colloquium 2013

Social Media Issue Publics in Australia

Axel Bruns

When important news breaks, social media facilitate the rapid formation of issue publics which come together to 'work the story' of the unfolding event. This is especially evident in the context of natural disasters and other crises. The close study of social media feeds during such crisis provides a valuable insight into the dynamics of the event, with participants acting as human sensors for new information and current trends. This paper outlines the crisis communication research conducted at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at Queensland University of Technology, and outlines the need for further background research into the longer-term development of social media platforms.

A Review of Social Media Analytics Tools

The next speaker at Digital Methods is Irmgard Wetzstein, whose interest is in social media monitoring tools. Social media monitoring is an increasingly important research area, of course, in both scholarly and commercial research, as the rise of 'big data' demonstrates. A social media monitoring industry has now emerged, providing a range of tools and services across various platforms. There are even systematic evaluations of the various tools, documenting this diversity.

If many such tools have emerged from commercial contexts, are they nonetheless also useful for scholarly purposes? Irmgard's study examined some 100 tools, focussing on tools which provide analytics for multiple social media platforms, and examined them across a range of parameters. Most of these tools are from the US or Canada, and focus on English-language content and user interfaces; largely, they focus on consumer, customer, and brand relations, but often offer broader thematic analysis, too.

#aufschrei: How a Hashtag Public Forms

The final paper in this Digital Methods panel is by Axel Maireder and Stefan Schlögl, whose interest is in the #aufschrei discussion about sexism in German politics. How did this emerge from a small-scale conversation on Twitter to a major trending hashtag, and subsequently to a cross-media event, over the course of a few hours? What happened here was the growth of a communicative network in the form of a partial public or issue public related to the topic on Twitter, interleaved with other publics as enabled by the conventional mainstream media.

New forms of discussion fora and spaces, especially also including social media, enable new and lasting connections between themes and individuals. These connections are increasingly manifested in the data structures which are available through social media APIs, too, and structure the flow of communication. URLs shared in tweets and other social media updates further document the connection of such communication with other, external media, while hashtags enable the development of ad hoc publics independent of existing follower networks.

How Julia Gillard's Misogyny Speech Went Viral

The next panel at the Digital Methods conference begins with a panel by Theresa Sauter and me, on the viral distribution of links to the video of Julia Gillard's "misogyny" speech in 2012 as it was posted in full on the ABC News site. Unfortunately the audio recording didn't work out, so below are the slides only - do make sure you click on the links to see the video and the animations of the emerging retweet network.

The Opportunities and Challenges of 'Big Data' Research

At the end of an extended trip to a range of conferences and symposia I've made my way to Vienna, where I'm attending the DGPuK Digital Methods conference at the University of Vienna. The conference is in German, but I'll try to blog the presentations in English nonetheless - wish me luck... We begin with keynote by Jürgen Pfeffer, addressing - not surprisingly - the question of 'big data' in communications research.

Jürgen begins by asking what's different about 'big data' research. In our field, we're using 'big data' on communication and interaction to work towards a real-time analysis of large-scale, dynamic sociocultural systems, necessarily especially through computational approaches - this draws on the data available from major social networks and other participative sites, but it aims not to research "the Internet", but society by examining communication patterns on the Internet (and elsewhere).

Distinguishing Chain and Name Networks in Social Network Analysis

The final speaker in this "Compromised Data" session is Anatoliy Gruzd, whose interest is in the automated discovery and visualisation of communication networks from social media data. (He's also just launched a new journal in this field, Big Data and Society.) How can such networks be discovered and visualised, and how can we evaluate the sense of community which may exist in them?

Social network analysis enables us to investigate the connections between users in social networks. It reduces large quantities of messages to a smaller number of nodes exchanging communication; it can track longitudinal developments over time; it can show the social dynamics of interaction around specific topics and events; and it can differentiate between different types of network formation in social interaction.

Reaching for the Higher-Hanging Fruit in Twitter Research

The next paper at the "Compromised Data" symposium is by Jean Burgess and me, and explores the more difficult forms of 'big data' research we're rarely conducting at present because the political economy of data access is weighted against specific approaches - in the specific context of Twitter research. I'll upload the slides and audio for it as soon as possible - for now, consider this a placeholder! Slides and audio below:


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