The amount of data and insights we now have access to is truly astounding. Ninety per cent of the world's data has been generated in the last two years, with a significant proportion of that information being created, transmitted and stored via social media networks. The latest example of the benefits of that data and connectivity is a research paper published by MIT which shows that of workplace ideas submitted by employees, ideas that came from Twitter users were rated significantly more positively by other employees and experts than the ideas of non-users.
The report presents a fascinating overview of the power of Twitter as a thought-connecting network, and underlines the platform's relevance as a business communications medium. While many still deride the micro-blog network and its 140-character limit, it's clear that there's a rising amount of intellectual and developmental discussion on the platform - if you're not listening-in to Twitter, not utilising the connections and monitoring the discussions and prominent voices in your field, the time to start is now.
The paper outlines the contention that people who are active on Twitter and who actively seek out and follow thought leaders in their industry, as well as people who challenge their own views, are better able to bring new and more innovative ideas to the table. The report categorized Twitter users into two categories - 'idea scouts' and 'idea connectors' - scouts being those who looked outside their organizations to find new ideas, and connectors those who are able to translate those ideas back into their workplace process. The people who were able to perform both these tasks well were found to be the most innovative. But the report's key finding is that those who are actively involved on Twitter are generally more exposed to diverse perspectives, and more attuned to the latest news and happenings. This connectivity fuels better ideas, and ideas that were also more widely accepted because they incorporated varying viewpoints.
While the findings themselves are an endorsement of the power of Twitter, they also support the view that the micro-blogging giant has, over time, developed into more of a focal point for business and industry-related discussions than Facebook, or even LinkedIn. Facebook has become more of a personal space, a platform to stay up to date with family and friends, while LinkedIn, which is the clear leader in business discussion, doesn't as easily lend itself to sharing opinion, at least not at the same rate as what can be done via tweet. You can skim through 100 tweets in quick succession and get a decent overall sense of the industry pulse on the latest issues, picking out those perspectives which you want to explore further. This is something other networks are not able to facilitate in such an adaptive way, and while relevant discussion is happening across all platforms, it's Twitter where a growing number of people are turning to get the latest news and happenings, particularly when in transit.
Twitter's shorter message format better lends itself to the spread of ideas. Building a network of relevant, influential figures in your industry can ensure you remain in touch with a wide range of perspectives and opinions, delivered in bite-sized quotes that can be consumed quickly. The study underlines the significant value of shared thought via tweet - while it may seem light, Twitter can connect you to the pulse of an industry, a network, even an entire nation, something that's been reinforced time and time again by various studies and research.
A Fire Hose of Insights
When Twitter and Google announced a new partnership to incorporate tweets into real-time search last year, many questioned why they would partner up. What value did Google get from this deal? What did Twitter stand to gain? The answer, of course, lies in the value of insight, in the cumulative wisdom that can be gleaned from those 500 million tweets being sent every day. In isolation, one tweet means nothing, but at scale, when looking at the whole picture, tweets form indicative patterns, patterns that have already been used to predict flu outbreaks, to detect and pre-empt crimes before they happen, even to crack the stock market when the data is used correctly. What can often seem like a random stream of emoji and hashtag abbreviations can actually be sorted and translated into amazing data correlations, outlining a wide array of trends and movements. In the hands of the right translator, Twitter data can provide insight you'd dared not even have imagined a decade ago.
This is why Google wanted to partner up, to get access to that data and use it to improve search. This is why IBM has partnered with Twitter, to build better learning models and algorithms more attuned to natural language and interactions. One of the biggest restrictions of big data and maximising the benefits of the rising levels of information we have available is purely our inability to see its potential, our own limitations in what we see as possible via these means. If you can think of something you'd like to know, if you want to predict a trend, to know what behaviours most likely lead to people seeking out your products, Twitter data can show you that. And whether users realise it or not, they're often taking in such data subconsciously, just by being active and scrolling through their tweets on a regular basis. If you want to ensure you're on the pulse of your industry, and that you're keeping your mind open to the opportunities of social media and social media data, Twitter is a must. Consistency, staying active and getting involved on a regular basis is essential. And on top of this, and as noted in this research, making sure you seek out and follow people whose opinions vary from your own is also key.
While social media enables us to create a world of our own in a media sense, a grouping of inputs specifically chosen to match our interests, we're limiting our advancement, and the advancement of real thought, if we only select those that reinforce our already established views. Reinforcement theory is what it's called, the practice of seeking out ideas that support your perspective, whilst ignoring information that may contradict it. The beauty of social media connectivity is the ability to gather perspectives from all around the world, to link into the wider global conversation. The way we truly gain the most benefit from this is by being open to alternate views. As supported by this study, it's through varying opinion, through allowing ourselves to be challenged in our beliefs and understandings, that leads to the generation of true innovation, and subsequently wider acceptance through more informed viewpoints.