This blog post is a guest post written by Dr. Jennifer Evans-Cowley, Associate Professor and Section Head of City & Regional Planning at Ohio State University. It rocks, and I’m glad you are reading it!
I (@EvansCowley) recently returned from the American Planning Association’s 2011 Conference where I was part of a session that talked about the possibilities and pitfalls of using social media to engage with the public. Kristen Carney posted this great blog summarizing Twitter activity at the APA conference. This blog generated considerable interest. Kristen and I began talking about how the same kind of analysis of Tweets that I had completed as part of the Austin SNAPPatx project could be applied to the APA Conference. I asked Brittany Kubinski (@brittkub), a sophomore planning student at Ohio State University, to run an analysis of the Twitter activity at the APA Conference. From the results below it’s clear that planners have a lot to say and that analyzing our tweets provides a window into understanding the meaning behind more than 1,300 tweets.
Topics of Conversation
Kristen created a wordle that expressed the key words that people were tweeting about with planning, Boston and session leading the way (clearly we love talking about planning!). In analyzing the tweets I wanted to understand the key planning topics that microbloggers are tweeting about. The top twenty topics run the spectrum of planning. No surprise that Tweeting planners are talking about social media. Alicia Rounault’s blog on the APA Conference notes that the major topics at the conference from her observation were around social media, technology, food and Delta Urbanism. All of these topics made the top 20 except Delta Urbanism. It’s interesting to see the range of topics that planners were tweeting about. My favorite Skyboxification became the buzz word of the conference as @mpopek put it. It’s impressive that political philosopher Michael Sandel was able to engage the crowd bright and early Sunday morning. His quote that got everyone tweeting was captured by @praxis313 and others “The skyboxification of America destroyed CEOs and mail clerks watching a ball game—together.” Similar to skyboxification there were other key words that captured attention in tweets such as “blight porn” and “gray tsunami.”
At my session I described the use of sentiment analysis to help understand the meaning conveyed in a large group of tweets. To learn more about sentiment analysis I have a publicly available article on the topic. What are the sentiments that planners are expressing when tweeting about the conference? Are we angry, happy, or something totally different? And are there different sentiments expressed among the 33 most popular tweets as reported by Kristen Carney? What we can see is that the top tweets are very similar to the tweets as a whole. It seems that in our tweets we like to reflect what is happening in the present in a social manner in our current space. This is exactly what one would hope to see at a conference where the use of Twitter is meant to support social interaction between unknown people with shared interests. I thoroughly enjoyed it when people came up to me at the conference and introduced themselves by their Twitter handle. It created the opportunity to network in a new way where there as a topic of common interest.
Equality of Participation
Kristen presented that 203 different planners tweeted during the conference which is a wonderful number of participants, but what was the level of equality in participations. How many people were heavy Tweeters like me and how many were light users? Similar to other research about the use of social media a small number of people dominate the conversations with 6 percent of the users sending out 35 percent of the tweets. BUT, we can also see that we had a wide array of users with many participating one or a few times.
My takeaway from the use of Twitter at the conference is that a significant number of people were able to use this medium to share and engage in conversations around planning topics that resonate with them. It provided a platform to engage in social conversations that helped people meet each other both on and off line. What more could we ask for from social media in a conference? I look forward to an even greater use of Twitter at next year’s conference in Los Angeles. We’ll have to conduct a year to year comparison.