It’s no secret Twitter users post more often when there’s major news, but researchers at MIT’s Senseable City Lab have discovered another interesting dynamic. Tweets tend to become
shorter during big events, suggesting Twitter users fall into an “episodic” cognitive state, versus the more contemplative or narrative frame of mind they inhabit during normal events.
The MIT researchers analyzed Twitter and other social-media data from big events, including The Masters in April 2012, when a white-knuckle playoff spurred a huge uptick in Twitter
activity, the 2012 presidential election and the snowstorm in February 2013. Then they compared them to low activity periods.
During periods when Twitter users are posting less often,
tweets typically range in length from 70 to 120 characters, compared to just 25 characters when the volume of traffic increases.
It’s not a universal phenomenon. According to
the same study, a small number of Twitter users actually want to post more during major event; they express frustration when they can’t use more than 140 characters.
the shift to shorter messages may be the result of an internal psychological reaction to major events by the individual user, the researchers pointed out that it could also have a social component.
Social-media users see other people’s shorter messages and consciously or unconsciously model their own posts on them.
The study didn’t explore any implications for
marketers, but it’s easy to imagine a few possible takeaways. When the overall volume of social-media messages increases during major events, people might be more receptive to more marketing
messages in the mix. That's provided they fit in with the rest of the user-generated content in terms of length, tone and content.
On that note, one example that comes to mind is the
famous Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet from 2013: short, pithy and relevant. It was just right for the high-volume period of the blackout, when most fans were simply asking, “WTF?”