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Article Summary: How and Why People Twitter

5 July 2009

Dejin Zhao and Mary Beth Rosson of Pennsylvania State University authored “How and Why People Twitter: The Role that Micro-logging Plays in Informal Communication at Work” earlier this year to gain “in-depth understanding of how and why people use Twitter” and explore “potential impacts on informal communication at work.”

This scope of work is consistent with our book research. Overall, this research can help us articulate why people use Twitter in introductory chapters and define behaviors that help explain why some organizational uses of Twitter are more successful than others.

To frame their work, Zhao and Rosson defined two benefits of informal communication, which they claim Twitter cultivates:
1. Relational Benefits
a. Person perception
b. Common ground
c.  Connectedness
2. Personal Benefits

The authors’ method of research was phone interviews conducted between September and December 2008 with 11 people from a large IT company. The job descriptions of the participants varied, as did their Twitter habits.

Through these interviews Zhao and Rosson found three ways in which the interviewees thoughts about Twitter:
1. Frequent life updates
2. Real-time information
3. “People-based RSS feeds.”

They also identified three technological features of Twitter, which the interviewees found most attractive:
1. Brevity
2. Mobility and pervasive access
3. Broadcast nature

Returning to their original conceptual framework, Zhao and Rosson found how Twitter provided “Relational Benefits” and “Personal Benefits”:
1. Relational Benefits
a. Person perception – “Twitter is useful for keeping a pulse on what is on others’ minds and knowin their personal life updates.”
b. Common ground – “We found that micro-blogging was useful for increasing awareness of what is on each other’s mind; this in turn implies that it may help to generate more common ground that can be used to support future conversations.”
c. Connectedness – “The real-time personal updates found in Twitter may help sustain a virtual feeling of proximity, enable more chances of exposure to what is on others’ minds and what they have been doing, and provide possibilities to explore similar experiences and attitudes with each other.”
2. Personal Benefits – “The technology characteristics of micro-blogging (e.g., brevity, mobility, broadcast nature) may offer ways to reduce users’ cost of sharing, and thus make it easier for other employees to obtaining useful and trust-worthy information.”

Zhao and Rosson also identified problems with Twitter according to interviewees: Security, Integration and Filtering and Grouping.

In closing, the authors’ research suggest that Twitter can be a mechanism for generating virtual water-cooler conversations and that the low cost of micro-blogging can help it complement other forms of professional communications like IM, email, phone and in-person dialogue. While this research may state the obvious, it provides the data necessary to support these broad characteristics and benefits of Twitter should we decide to include them in the book.

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