On this interconnected planet, we’ve been led to believe that social media and interactive social tools have made the world smaller – much smaller. We have gotten used to the thought that our new BFF or our next great business connection is just a post or a tweet away, that geography no longer matters, and Twitter is a truly cross-cultural medium.
But like in the "real" world, social ties online also benefit from physical proximity. So says a new study, " The Geography of Twitter Networks ," by University of Toronto professors Yuri Takhteyev, Barry Wellman and Anatoliy Gruzd. I find it fascinating that the rise of the Internet does not annihilate distance or isolate people by enabling them to communicate virtually with people far away, sans any logical social and local ties.
Quite the contrary. According to the study, Twitter reinforces the power of place.
Based on a large sample of available Twitter data – 500,000 tweets were analyzed according to where people were coming from and who’s following them -- the study shows a substantial number of connections within the same metropolitan region, and that regional clusters, distance, national borders and language differences all predict certain Twitter ties. Interestingly, the study also found that the frequency of airline flights between two parties is the best predictor of Twitter connections.
Among the other major findings:
· Four out of every 10 pairs of connected Twitter users live in the same regional cluster (at distances of less than 10 kilometers)
· Ties of less than 1,000 kilometers are substantially more common than expected -- if they were formed at random.
· Those who use Twitter do care about local interests; they follow connections that they also have in the “real” world and are much more likely to be followed by people from the cities they live in.
· Only 10 percent of users protect their tweets.
· Twitter users usually specify their geographical location in their profiles.
· The airline connections between a certain city and the rest of the world predict where your followers are going to reside.
What does it all mean?
For marketers, the study is a goldmine. It reveals that rather than trying to “reach the world” with social media marketing efforts, it might be more time- and resource-effective to focus on nearby locations, cities and regions. Furthermore, studying the airline connections between cities could help refine specific strategies, since it indeed appears that connected cities -- and the people that live there -- share similar interests.