Where do narcissists hang out online? And a free tool for analysing social media networks.

Two new social media studies, both from the United States, stood out this week, for different reasons.

The first, by researchers at High Point University involving hundreds of US college students and members of the public, examined narcissism among different groups of Twitter and Facebook users.

They found that (in contrast to earlier research) students who scored higher on narcissism (measured by the Narcissistic Personality Inventory) weren’t into showing off on Facebook. They were no more likely to post Facebook status updates, nor did they tend to have more Facebook friends, than those with lower scores.

By contrast, among the general public recruited online (average age 32, compared to the students’ 20), higher narcissism was linked with more use of Facebook, measured, in this case, by number of updates and friends.

As the British Psychological Research Digest says: “The researchers speculated that for young people who have grown up with Facebook, it’s common practice to use the social network regardless of one’s personality type. For older generations who did not grow up with Facebook, [the research team] said sending status updates was ‘not part of their social norms’ and may instead be driven by narcissistic motives.”

In other words, it’s easier to spot middle-aged narcissists on Facebook because they stand out from the crowd.

Among the students, higher narcissism was associated with more active usage of Twitter and with students’ motives for using the site. Those youngsters suffering from self-love were likely to admit that they posted updates to attract followers and to gain admiration on the site.

While this study had a large number of respondents, it’s not possible to say for sure if narcissism drives the Twitter updates, or if there’s another cause. Like boredom. But I find it interesting as another piece of the puzzle linking personality type with online behaviour.

From the self to the many, the Pew Research Internet Project, has published a fascinating study of the behaviour of Twitter crowds, based around a free Excel spreadsheet add-in for analysing social networks called NodeXL. (No, I hadn’t heard of it either and, yes, you can import social network data directly from Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and email).

After looking at hundreds of Twitter crowds, researchers shuffled them into six categories.

They include ‘polarised crowds’, who gather at different ends of a spectrum of any given topic. These groups “are not arguing. They are ignoring one another while pointing to different web resources and using different hashtags.”

This matters, says Pew, because it shows that partisan Twitter users rely on different information sources. And it matters to PR professionals, I would add, because if you are commenting or campaigning on an issue which induces polarised crowds and don’t want to ignore half of your key publics, then you need to be aware of the dichotomy.

‘Support network crowds’ are generated by customer complaints for a business handled by a Twitter service account, attempting to resolve and manage customer issues around products and services. As you can see from the Dell example, customer support streams of advice and feedback can be measured in terms of efficiency and reach using these social media network maps. While I’m not entirely sure whether it would be as useful for Twitter customer service accounts in smaller businesses, I am going to muck around with the free toy.

As an aside, this piece includes the caveat that Twitter users’ demographic profile is not reflective of the full population (in the UK as well as the US btw) and tweeters’ reactions to events are often at odds with overall public opinion. Always worth remembering.


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