So, there you are, Tweeting away each day, saying what you want and getting loads of attention. But does anyone believe you? The chances are, much social media activity could be working against you, rather than for you.
An interesting new study on social media credibility suggests that the things we might think are worthwhile, could be harming our online reputation.
The researchers were looking at Twitter and which kind of accounts people believed more than others. The communication experts from Penn State University set up some fake Twitter accounts and Tweets on a medical subject – sexually transmitted diseases. Then, they tested those accounts on students – people who would be highly likely to want to know about the topic.
Here’s what the researchers found.
They discovered that the Twitter accounts with the highest believability were those with several signals of “authority”. The Twitter accounts that showed the least believability were those that included several Retweets and which were not really focused.
Essentially, what the study showed was that for this subject, at least, people mostly believed authority accounts that did little or no Retweeting. It appears that Retweeting reduces credibility.
The most important finding, though, was the need to be recognised as an authority. Part of that seems to come from having a previously established brand and reputation. The study found that the most believed Twitter account was that of a recognised, independent, health organisation in the USA.
This study appears to confirm work published over three years ago about popularity on Twitter. That study found that the most actively followed Twitter accounts were those that came from individuals and organisations who had an established offline brand. Similarly, another study which appeared in this blog post on getting more Twitter followers established that well-known accounts get more attention because they provide material that is shareable. Such Twitter accounts tend to do little sharing themselves, instead, what they produce gets Retweeted a great deal.
Together with this new study from Penn State, it suggests that we tend to like people on social networks who are well-known, well-established authorities on their subject in the “real world”. Such organisations or individuals rarely need to Retweet or share things because they are producing a considerable amount of original thinking themselves.
However, what these authority people achieve is a considerable amount of sharing of their own, original material. And therein lies the subconscious clue we see when we look at someone’s Twitter account. If that account has lots of Retweets, then it suggests they are not producing much original material of their own. That implies that they are not an authority. If they were an authority, they would be creating a great deal of original material which other people would be Retweeting.
How to enhance your social media reputation
The latest study, taken together with those earlier research findings suggest there are two ways to make sure your social media activity is credible:
- Establish your brand offline; become well-known in the real world for what you do. Then people will believe your social media activity more.
- Avoid sharing too much from other people. The more you share, the less credible you become.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+