Segmented Communications on Twitter via @-partner Messaging

As this blog rarely attracts comments, it can be quite hard for me to know who, if anyone, regularly reads it (likely known suspects and the Googlebot aside). The anonymous nature of feed reader subscriptions also means it tricky to know who (if anyone) is reading the blog at all…

Twitter is slightly different in this regard, because for the majority of accounts, the friends and followers lists are public; which means it’s possible to “position” a particular account in terms of the interests of the folk it follows and who follow it.

Whilst I was putting together A Couple More Social Media Positioning Maps for UK HE Twitter Accounts, I considered including a brief comment on how the audience of a popular account will probably segment into different interest groups, and whether or not there was any mileage in trying to customise messages to particular segments without alienating the other parts of the audience.

Seeing @eingang’s use yesterday of a new (to me) Twitter convention of sending hashtagged messages to @hidetag, so that folk following the hashtag would see the tweet, but Michelle’s followers wouldn’t necessarily see the tagged tweets (no-one should follow @hidetag, NO_ONE ;-), it struck me that we might be able to use a related technique to send messages that are only visible to a particular segment of the followers of a Twitter account…

How so?

Firstly, you need to know that public Twitter messages sent to a particular person by starting the message with an @name are only generally visible in the stream of folk who follow both the sender and @name; (identifying this population was one of the reasons I put together the Who Can See Whose Conversations In-stream on Twitter? tool).

Secondly, you need to do a bit of social network analysis. (In what follows, I assume a directed graph where a node from A to B means that A follows B, or equivalently, B is a friend of A.) A quick and dirty approach might be to use in-degree and out-degree, or maybe the HITS algorithm/authority and hub values, as follows: identify the audience segment you want to target by looking for clusters in how your followers follow each other, then do a bit of network analysis on that segment to look for Authority nodes or nodes that are followed by a large number of people in that segment who also follow you. If you now send a message to that Authority/high in-degree node, it will be seen in-stream by that user, as well as those of your followers who also follow that Authority account.

This approach can be seen as a version of co-branding/brand partnership: conversational co-branding/conversational brand partnerships. Here’s how it may work: brand X has an audience that segments into groups A, B and C. Suppose that company Y is an authority in segment B. If X and Y form a conversational brand partnership, X can send messages ostensibly to Y that also reach segment B. For a mutually beneficial relationship, X would also have to be an authority in one of Y’s audience segments (for example, segment P out of segments P, Q, and R.) Ideally, P and B would largely overlap, meaning they can have a “sensible” conversation and it will hit both their targeted audiences…

For monitoring discussions within a particular segment, it strikes me that if we monitor the messages seen by an individual with a large Hub value/out-degree (that is, folk who follow large numbers of (influential) folk within the segment). By tapping into the Hub’s stream, we get some sort of sampling of the conversations taking place within the segment.

These ideas are completely untested (by me) of course… But they’re something I may well start to tinker with if an appropriate opportunity arises…


  1. Sheila MacNeill (@sheilmcn)

    Hi Tony

    just catching up with your posts around this. Part of me thinks that yes, this could be really useful, particularly around gaining knowledge/market intelligence about networks. But there is another louder voice that is saying “no, no, no”. Maybe this is just my naivety around not wanting my twitter stream to be like my tesco clubcard – and end up where I only see selected tweets. I like the chaos and serendipity of twitter and I feel if we try to segment our audiences too much we may well end up losing them all together. When I choose to follow someone/brand/university etc on twitter, I want to see the “whole” of their twitter stream – if I’m not interested I’ll self filter.

    • Tony Hirst

      @Sheila I’m not sure about it either, but I think that it is one more way of making powerful use of Twitter; for example, the technique of using an @someoneNooneFollows address so you don’t swamp your feed with live event hashtagged updates seems eminently sensible. I’m not really suggesting that it should be used for all updates, but it may be useful in some situations?