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Tweeting SSAO’s less interested in engaging in conversations

Posted by reyjunco on April 28, 2011 in Research |

Earlier this week I was conducting background research for an article I’m writing for NASPA’s Leadership Exchange. I wanted to explore how Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAO’s) were using Twitter and if their engagement level differed from other student affairs professionals. While exploratory, I theorized that SSAO might be more likely to engage, given that democratizing roles and relationships is one of the psychosocial affordances of Twitter.

I conducted a not-very-scientific (for my tastes, at least) study. I surfed over to @tbump’s list of tweeting SSAO’s. She had 16 listed, although one was a duplicate and four had not tweeted, for a total of 11. I added one more famous tweeting SSAO who was conspicuously missing from the list. Then, I used the Twitter API to download the last 200 tweets for each of the 12 SSAO’s (I should note that while the Twitter API provides the last 200 tweets, not all of the SSAO’s had sent 200 messages). The final dataset contained 1,843 tweets. I then counted how many tweets contained @ replies but were not retweets (RT’s). Of the 1,844 tweets, 331 were @ replies.

In order to compare the SSAO’s to a comparable group, I examined the last 12 people who tweeted using the #sachat hashtag. I had to skip two Twitter accounts who used the hashtag because they were vendors tweeting about their product and I was interested in collecting data from student affairs professionals. I used the same process to download the last 200 tweets for each of the 12 student affairs professionals. The final dataset contained 2,224 tweets with 796 being @ replies. All of these data were collected on April 25, 2011 at around 3:30pm EDT.

While 36% of student affairs professionals’ tweets were @ replies, only 18% of SSAO’s tweets were @ replies. I ran a chi-square test and unsurprisingly found there was a significant difference in @ replies between the two groups (χ²(1, 2223) = 697.20, p < .001). It’s important to point out that there was also a difference of 400 tweets between the two groups—to me, this suggests there’s an effect of familiarity with the Twitter platform and extraneous variables having to do with engagement with a personal network. What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • http://twitter.com/DebraSanborn Debra Sanborn

    I had suspected this to be the case and appreciate that you took time to pull the data, Rey. Many of my colleagues have touted the SSAO’s on Twitter, but I have found them to be less than engaging and have looked elsewhere for content and discussion. Nice article!

  • http://blog.reyjunco.com/ Rey Junco

    Thanks Deborah. I should have also written that my qualitative impressions are the same as yours– there’s either a lack of understanding of the platform or lack of willingness to engage in more democratic relationships.

  • http://twitter.com/PetePereira Pete Pereira

    I’m neither shocked nor disappointed in these results. If you’re using social media authentically, then it’s a reflection of who you are. How many SSAO’s (for a variety of valid & not valid reasons) participate in a large amount of democratic relationships anyway? It’s the nature of their world. If that makes sense.

  • http://twitter.com/cindykane Cindy Kane

    The engagement in democratic relationships piece would be cool to explore and then compare IRL vs. online?

  • Gary Honickel

    Great post. Thank you for taking the time. Most of the demographic I have noticed participating and engaging in conversation are those either in graduate school, entry level positions or mid-level. Then again that can be dependent on who I follow.

    Overall though, great post.

  • http://twitter.com/laurapasquini Laura Pasquini

    Can I ask how “engagement” is defined in your personal network? Engagement is a broad term and defined differently for each person.

    This quick study begins to poke at engagement – so I like where you are going with this. Perhaps a solid content analysis to support this quantified research to further extrapolate interaction beyond the “@” message tweets. What can I say? I’m beginning to see the value of assessing collaborative online communities with the mixed methods approach. :)

  • http://blog.reyjunco.com/ Rey Junco

    This quick evaluation was just looking at engagement in conversations. There’s a lot more to the overall construct of engagement and yes, mixed methods are generally the way to go with these things. Reviewers are wanting to see more qual data added to quant papers and vice-versa. And that’s why I’ve just recruited you to write this up with me :)

  • http://mistakengoal.com/ Kevin R. Guidry

    Ah ha – it took me a bit but I finally figured out what was bothering me about this! Specifically, I’m bothered by the use of the words “less interested” in the title. You’re going beyond the (admittedly limited) empirical data to describe your subjects’ level of interest or motivation and that doesn’t seem to be warranted. In fact, I don’t even think your method allows you to say much or anything about those things. Your hypotheses are interesting but the data and method you’ve described don’t test those hypotheses. You’re asking a “why” question but you’ve only looked at “what.”

    And stop trying to recruit Laura to help with this. I had dibs on her first! :)

  • cissy petty

    Rey,
    It’s good that you are taking a look at SA engagement with social media, and obviously this is a beginning. I would venture to say that SSAO’s are not “less interested in engaging in conversations.” Perhaps it’s just that by volume there are many more entry and mid-level SA folks on twitter, and they are engaging in common elements related to their work. My engagement may not be in the actual conversation on #sachat or #higheredlive but I am lurking and learning, and occasionally responding when appropriate.
    What I have gained from being on twitter is the ability to build relationships with SA folks from all level: Resident Directors to Assistants/Associates to a Vice Provost etc. And these relationships are not shallow; they began with a common purpose of supporting one another and a passion for living full, authentic lives. What pleases me most about ‘engaging in conversations’ revolves around my ‘tweets’ becoming direct messages that then become follow up regular phone chats and occasional consults. And Rey, talk about engaging conversations through twitter–I had the privilege of meeting 3 folks from twitterland IRL for breakfast in Chicago last week…and that my friend is an interest in committed and engaged relationships of depth. My best to you! @cissypetty

  • Larry Roper

    I appreciate the exploration of this issue. It is a topic worthy of einvestigation and your post certainly raises good questions. Yet, to me, the conclusions do not honor the depth and breadth of the issue. My suggestion would be, in order to get a full picture of engagement one must be clear about what engagement looks like. I would suggest engagement is not measured just by how much one speaks. As a researcher one should also discern the degree to which SSAO’s are following/tracking conversations. In my role being present and listening to others are often the most powerful aways I demonstrate engagement in my community’s conversations; speaking may be one expression of engagement, but speaking may also reflect other dynamics (not all of which are positive). For me, listening and translating what I have heard into leadership behavior is the way I most often demonstrate my engagement in the issues that matter most to the communities to which I belong. As a leader I try to constantly be aware of when and how I insert my voice and the impact doing so may have on the participation of others. I believe the same considerations are necessary in an environment such as Twitter.

    In order for the conclusion drawn to make sense for me engagement needs to be investigated in its full complexity – as a multi-dimensional dynamic. I think the explanations for perceived participation are more nuanced than can be explained by “either-or” analysis. Each person participating in this platform likely has their own personally constructed views on what constitutes being a “good citizen” of the space; just as there are many views on what it means to participate meaningfully in a democratic society. There are far more issues to be understood than can be explained by counting Tweets.

  • Larry Roper

    repost without the typos (I hope)

    I appreciate the exploration of this issue. It is a topic worthy of investigation and your post certainly raises good questions. Yet, to me, the conclusions do not honor the depth and breadth of the issue. My suggestion would be, in order to get a full picture of engagement one must be clear about what engagement looks like. I would suggest engagement is not measured just by how much one speaks. As a researcher one should also discern the degree to which SSAO’s are following/tracking conversations. In my role being present and listening to others are often the most powerful ways I demonstrate engagement in my community’s conversations; speaking may be one expression of engagement, but speaking may also reflect other dynamics (not all of which are positive). For me, listening and translating what I have heard into leadership behavior is the way I most often demonstrate my engagement in the issues that matter most to the communities to which I belong. As a leader I try to constantly be aware of when and how I insert my voice and the impact doing so may have on the participation of others. I believe the same considerations are necessary in an environment such as Twitter.

    In order for the conclusions drawn to make sense for me engagement needs to be investigated in its full complexity – as a multi-dimensional dynamic. I think the explanations for perceived participation are more nuanced than can be explained by “either-or” analysis. Each person participating in this platform likely has their own personally constructed views on what constitutes being a “good citizen” of the space; just as there are many views on what it means to participate meaningfully in a democratic society. There are far more issues to be understood than can be explained by counting Tweets.

  • http://blog.reyjunco.com/ Rey Junco

    I appreciate your comment, Larry. I am pleased that my post has generated such great discussion. You make an excellent point about watching (lurking) as engaging. I have solid data (unlike what I’ve posted here) showing that lurking is related to real-world involvement for students.

    One of the things I’ve been more interested in doing on my blog is posting data/thoughts that are still raw so I can get feedback from my readers. These conversations today have led me to consider a broader (and more rigorous) study of the engagement issue.

  • http://blog.reyjunco.com/ Rey Junco

    Cissy – great feedback. As I wrote to Larry, lurking does seem to be related to real world engagement and I have data to support that. I think there’s definitely a public/private issue here that I’d like to explore more. I also agree with you about the IRL relationships – Twitter has helped connect me in ways I never imagined.

  • http://blog.reyjunco.com/ Rey Junco

    Kevin – What you got to see here is my initial thoughts about some data, which I almost never share. I was slightly uncomfortable with the title but decided to keep it to reflect one possible explanation of one index of something. Maybe that something is engagement or maybe it’s comfort with the platform… Or maybe none of the above. Since I’m working on recruiting Laura, we may just have more data to find out :)

  • http://trinitydean.blogspot.com/ David Tuttle(@TUDean)

    Good discussion. I have felt a little lonely on #SAChat because it seems to cater to a younger demographic in grad programs and I am at a small private school. It seems that there are more users from the grad level to mid-manager level. I have replied to some things and haven’t gotten a lot of back and forth and I don’t think it because I don’t have things to contribute. Perhaps I am just a fumble-nut. On the other hand, I have noticed a lot of back-slapping and retweeting and a lot of praise for the support of the tweeting community in Student Affairs and sometimes wonder where the conversations of more substance are lurking. I think some of this is related to people being young and, typical to the field, loving everyone and not wanting to offend. I don’t know for sure. The older you get the more secure your position and the more freedom to be more candid.

    Truth is, I need more time and more engagement to really say for sure, and maybe that’s why the posts are low from SSAOs. Used to be that assessment got back-burnered. Now it is tweeting. I look forward to being more engaged in the future, starting this summer, to try to be a little more provocative, to mentor the younger folks, and to connect with people more from my station in life.

    Whoa, I had more thoughts about this than I realized.

  • Gage Paine

    I’m very new to Twitter and feel like I have a very steep learning curve. I’m trying to understand ways to use social media effectively. What makes it worth my time? How do I get the most out of the medium. So far, the focus of my ‘official’ vpsa account has been to tweet about my campus – events, issues, trivia, highlighting different events and departments as I engage with them. So far there is no ‘conversation’ to speak of. I may be wrong, but I venture to guess that SSAO’s who are using Twitter are using it in very specific, and rather limited, ways compared to some other demographics.

    As a final comment – this ‘feels’ much more like a conversation to me than anything I’ve found on Twitter. However, as I said at the first, I’m still in the exploration stage..

  • http://blog.reyjunco.com/ Rey Junco

    Gage – you raise a really interesting point and another variable for consideration– the nature of the SSAO’s Twitter account. What is the intended use of the account and (as Larry mentioned before) what is their understanding of community expectations?

    Your final comment is quite intriguing. Certainly, this feels more like a conversation to me too- but then it makes me wonder – what are the artistic/creative nuances that we must learn when communicating in short bursts? I know that for me, Twitter has allowed me to engage in more conversations than I otherwise would be able to- but is that necessarily “better?”

  • http://blog.reyjunco.com/ Rey Junco

    David– Brilliant point! I wonder what the perception is of SSAO’s from other student affairs professionals and how that plays out in interactions. I know that like you, the further along I get in my career, the less interested I am in “back-slapping.” Indeed, I prefer to engage in conversations with people who will challenge me.

    All of these comments have me thinking about different ways to assess these issues. Now, if only I had the time…

  • http://mistakengoal.com/ Kevin R. Guidry

    And I appreciate you sharing your initial thoughts! I wish more
    people did so. I know it risks some embarrassment as mistakes are
    found, ideas evolve, and interpretations change but those are all part
    of the research process. I think we do our students and the public
    some disservice by always hiding those parts of our research. It’s a
    human endeavor and we try too hard to make it appear to be something
    else.

  • http://blog.reyjunco.com/ Rey Junco

    Thanks Kevin. I appreciate that. Posting this really was going outside of my comfort zone. I’m trying to build myself up to posting a full paper for public comment before submitting to a journal. When I think about doing it, it’s both exciting and incredibly anxiety provoking at the same time.

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