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The Rise of the Masspersonal Intermediaries - The New Influencers

Like many of my colleagues at Waggener Edstrom my undergraduate degree was in Communications. But I didn’t take the route or Journalism or PR, I studied communication theory. My senior thesis was an analysis of Internet chat rooms (this was the late 90’s) to study the effects of computer mediated communication on interpersonal communication. Recently Yahoo and Cornell released some new research where they utilized Twitter to try and answer Laswell’s maxim, which is: “who says what to whom in what channel with what effect.” It’s a simple question asked 60 years ago that has yet to be answered definitively and probably (hopefully) won’t ever be. In the process the researchers also addressed the challenges created for the dichotomy of mass media vs. interpersonal communications within social networks. So to say I geeked out on this study was an understatement.

My biggest takeaway for the field of  PR was that “getting coverage” is just the beginning of the process. PR professionals need to get smarter about how they engage with bloggers and what the research identifies as “Intermediaries”. Intermediaries play a key role in filtering and amplifying news to the majority of people on Twitter.

This research also introduced me to a new term being used in communication research and theory and that’s “masspersonal.” Masspersonal was introduced by Professor Patrick O’Sullivan and is used to explain the shift between our typical understanding of interpersonal communication as they shift to public platforms with mass media reach. It could also be used to describe the changes companies are having to go through where their typical mass media approach happens on platforms that enable interpersonal interaction. The two are blending and the field of communication, like every industry, is trying to understand what changes these are happening to us individually and us as a society.

I won’t bore you all with the extents of my geekery but I’ll limit myself to some relevant key points:

  • Companies, which have always operated under the rules and norms governing mass media are having to adapt to the rules that govern interpersonal relationships and individuals are having to adjust their interpersonal behavior to the effects of mass media reach.
  • “Media” produces the highest number of links and are the most active (by volume of tweets).
  • Consumers only receive 15% of their tweets from “Media.”
  • There are two types of non-Elite user: those that receive almost zero content directly from the media and those who receive all of their content from the media (Intermediaries). The latter group acts as filters for the former and tend to have much larger follower bases than your average users.
  • Links from bloggers have the longest lifespan. Celebrities then Media content had the shortest.
  • One interesting finding not specifically called out was that “reintroduced” content, which was defined as manually RT’d posts, had a better potential to have longer lifespans than posts retweeted using Twitter’s retweet function.
  • Video and entertainment content have the longest shelf life.

If you want additional takes on the research several blogs covered it yesteday:

GigaOm: Twitter as Media: Yes, Celebrities & Brands Still Matter
HuffPo: Twitter Still Dominated By Noisy Minority, Study Finds
ReadWriteWeb: Research Examines Who’s Talking, Who’s Listening on Twitter
Smart Mobs: Who Says What to Whom on Twitter
Mashable: 50% of Tweets Consumed Come From Only 0.05% of Twitter Users [STUDY]

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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

  • Geoff Anderson

    Excellent post. Working in the industry I understand many of the principals you have discussed but at times have struggled to find the right words to articulate the evolution you have outlined. You work will assist me in explaining how the rules of business or marketing/pr are evolving to more closely mimic that of personal relationships. Thank you and good work.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Thanks Geoff. Glad you found this as useful as I did.

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