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Identifying the Events That Connect Social Media Users: Charting Follower Accession on Twitter

By: & Published: 2014 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 1
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Twitter is the focus of much research attention, both in traditional academic circles and in commercial market and media research, as analytics give increasing insight into the performance of the platform in areas as diverse as political communication, crisis management, television audiencing and other industries. While methods for tracking Twitter keywords and hashtags have developed apace and are well documented, the make-up of the Twitter user base and its evolution over time have been less understood to date. Recent research efforts have taken advantage of functionality provided by Twitter's Application Programming Interface to develop methodologies to extract information that allows us to understand the growth of Twitter, its geographic spread and the processes by which particular Twitter users have attracted followers. From politicians to sporting teams, and from YouTube personalities to reality television stars, this technique enables us to gain an understanding of what prompts users to follow others on Twitter. This article outlines how we came upon this approach, describes the method we adopted to produce accession graphs and discusses their use in Twitter research. It also addresses the wider ethical implications of social network analytics, particularly in the context of a detailed study of the Twitter user base.

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