Does Social Media Transcend Personality?

A while back I conducted a very informal little study over the course of several days. This informal study of MBTI, Dunbar numbers and Twitter follower and following counts was meant to be a stepping stone to further studies I plan to do. To that end, I flew a bit fast and loose with the controls and parameters – I wanted to keep it simple and see where the numbers led me for launching future analysis.

My basic premise, and the reason for the data collection, was a belief that unregulated social media tools such as Twitter would allow people to transcend personality if they were naturally introverted and enhance personality if naturally extroverted. I also wanted to see if personality had any correlation to social interactive limits, such as the theory of the Dunbar number (A theory I think is bunk, by the way – most personal networks far exceed the Dunbar number of 150. But I digress).

I asked people to comment here on this blog and on FriendFeed (which feed to this blogs comments and can be tracked) with their Twitter handle, MBTI type, and follower and following count at the time of the survey. It took me so long to find time between clients to correlate the data that I ended up going into Twitter this evening and updating each respondents follower and following count for accuracy as of 2/7/09. (One thing I know going forward to the next set of data collection questions is that I will be using a more controllable poll system where data is input in one location and set for a certain time frame)

I was expecting the extroverts to have larger numbers for interaction in general. What I was pleased to find was an indication that social media tools like Twitter do seem to allow introverts to have more interaction than they normally might choose in real life. It was also interesting to read the comments – most of the comments expressing discomfort with the loose structure of the very informal survey came from introverts. Most comments that expressed excitement for the next step following the preliminary survey came from extroverts. Also, I was pleased to see that no one’s counts offered clear support for the Dunbar number theory. While there were some low numbers, it seemed to have more to do with involvement and engagement than a choice to limit contact.

Interesting to note, the introverts outnumber the extroverts slightly, coming in at 23 respondents to the extroverts’ 21. This survey is serving as a spring board to me for a more formal round of data collection. I wanted to see what questions assembling data on personality and use of social media would generate for me. Just looking at the results of this survey I already know I want to find out more about the nuance of the MBTI types and actual microblogging use. Other questions I want to answer in a more formal survey include age, gender and other demographics.

Please note that I am of the firm belief that time on a network does not matter to results of any survey. How long you are on Twitter, for example, won’t change your inherent comfort level as far as number of followers and following – your ratio would remain consistent over time. Take Beth Kanter, for example. Her introversion shows in how many people she follows, but her profession shows in how many follow her – she keeps her level consistent as possible to her comfort zone and manageability. I, on the other hand, have no problem keeping up with or following back most of the people who follow me – I am both social and pretty good at multi tasking, though my approach isn’t for everybody!

The next phase will be a formal survey over a longer period and reaching a much broader audience. I need to find a survey tool that can handle and correlate data from multiple questions, including MBTI, network counts, and more. I’m actively seeking that tool now. I may ask at Media Makers tomorrow morning if someone can make one for me – I’ll keep you posted on that. What questions does this survey bring up for you that you’d like answered in my next, more formal, round of collection? What are your thoughts on this round?

  • I’d be intrigued if she agrees on my numbers based conclusion as well. So I’ve asked her. I’ll keep you posted on her reply.

  • I’d be intrigued if she agrees on my numbers based conclusion as well. So I’ve asked her. I’ll keep you posted on her reply.

  • I’m curious how you came to the conclusion about Beth Kanter that you did…and whether she agrees with you.

    It’s not like every person Beth follows or is followed by is a friend. Some may be, which would go along with her MTBI. But to suggest that she has more followers than followees due to her MTBI sounds hokey.

    Ari Herzogs last blog post..Keep the Kindle Away From Me

  • I’m curious how you came to the conclusion about Beth Kanter that you did…and whether she agrees with you.

    It’s not like every person Beth follows or is followed by is a friend. Some may be, which would go along with her MTBI. But to suggest that she has more followers than followees due to her MTBI sounds hokey.

    Ari Herzogs last blog post..Keep the Kindle Away From Me

  • Interesting results Leslie! I’d never considered the way a social media tool could help an introvert transform into an extrovert, or at least become more outgoing. You comments about Beth and yourself make me wonder though – how much of the following/follower ratio is also based on the ability to multi-task. I’m a good multi-tasker and keep my follow# close to my followers #. but I can see how someone who doesn’t mult-task well might have a problem (introverted or extroverted) having many followers just from inability to respond to replies and DMs. Just a thought.

  • Interesting results Leslie! I’d never considered the way a social media tool could help an introvert transform into an extrovert, or at least become more outgoing. You comments about Beth and yourself make me wonder though – how much of the following/follower ratio is also based on the ability to multi-task. I’m a good multi-tasker and keep my follow# close to my followers #. but I can see how someone who doesn’t mult-task well might have a problem (introverted or extroverted) having many followers just from inability to respond to replies and DMs. Just a thought.

  • This is great stuff Leslie. Great work.

    I love MTBI stuff, have taught a number of classes in managerial communications using it.

    I used it once to analyze different profiles of users requesting technical support so I could better assist them – this was 15 years ago!

    What I love about MTBI is the dialogue you can have with other people once you are introduced to the framework and know your type. It can really shed some light if you’re managing people or if your boss annoys you.

    I wonder though — MTBI was meant to evaluate face-to-face real time live interaction .. not virtual interaction. I don’t think it was originally intended to evaluate online behavior.

    I am wondering if some of the e-learning styles/profiles are better suited?

    Also remember that the definition of introvert versus extravert is solely a “social” measure. It also has to do with how people process information. Introverts process by thinking it through internally – and extraverts process by externalizing their thoughts and ideas with other people.

    Also, I think you have to look at degree of Introvert versus Extravert. My “Introvert” score was exactly in the middle. I wonder if you would see more definable patterns between strongly introverted and strongly extraverted

    For me, I can take a lot more “people” or interactions with computer mediated communications e.g. online than I can do in a real-life situation because being at the computer – even if you are “socializing” is still a soliditary face-to-face activity….

    Leslie, you say that you follow anyone who follows you – but are you using a tool like Tweetdeck to follow a smaller subset of people more closely?

    I stopped automatically following everyone who follows me because I found that I couldn’t get to know people and keep track in memory who they were. I started using Twitter back in October 2006 when there were not tools like Tweetdeck .. so my following patterns — were at first – do I know them?

    Then as I started to follow over 3,000 people, I found that I wasn’t getting to know them very well. So, I started rotating following people – and try to keep around the 3K.

    This has more to do with the way my brain works – or the way it was hard wired. As a boomer in her 50’s, I grew up as a linear learner – but my exposure to online/internet as transformed me into more of a global learning style.

    But every now and then, my cranial capacity fails me. Which also makes me wonder if there is a pattern between age and twitter following habits.

    Beth Kanters last blog post..Power Law of Participation: How does it differ for collective charitable giving?

  • This is great stuff Leslie. Great work.

    I love MTBI stuff, have taught a number of classes in managerial communications using it.

    I used it once to analyze different profiles of users requesting technical support so I could better assist them – this was 15 years ago!

    What I love about MTBI is the dialogue you can have with other people once you are introduced to the framework and know your type. It can really shed some light if you’re managing people or if your boss annoys you.

    I wonder though — MTBI was meant to evaluate face-to-face real time live interaction .. not virtual interaction. I don’t think it was originally intended to evaluate online behavior.

    I am wondering if some of the e-learning styles/profiles are better suited?

    Also remember that the definition of introvert versus extravert is solely a “social” measure. It also has to do with how people process information. Introverts process by thinking it through internally – and extraverts process by externalizing their thoughts and ideas with other people.

    Also, I think you have to look at degree of Introvert versus Extravert. My “Introvert” score was exactly in the middle. I wonder if you would see more definable patterns between strongly introverted and strongly extraverted

    For me, I can take a lot more “people” or interactions with computer mediated communications e.g. online than I can do in a real-life situation because being at the computer – even if you are “socializing” is still a soliditary face-to-face activity….

    Leslie, you say that you follow anyone who follows you – but are you using a tool like Tweetdeck to follow a smaller subset of people more closely?

    I stopped automatically following everyone who follows me because I found that I couldn’t get to know people and keep track in memory who they were. I started using Twitter back in October 2006 when there were not tools like Tweetdeck .. so my following patterns — were at first – do I know them?

    Then as I started to follow over 3,000 people, I found that I wasn’t getting to know them very well. So, I started rotating following people – and try to keep around the 3K.

    This has more to do with the way my brain works – or the way it was hard wired. As a boomer in her 50’s, I grew up as a linear learner – but my exposure to online/internet as transformed me into more of a global learning style.

    But every now and then, my cranial capacity fails me. Which also makes me wonder if there is a pattern between age and twitter following habits.

    Beth Kanters last blog post..Power Law of Participation: How does it differ for collective charitable giving?

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  • Beth I’m so glad you commented 🙂 I actually looked at some of the online based social measurements before embarking on this little experiment, and found that it didn’t answer the question I wanted to answer – which was how our offline personality affects our online life and interaction patterns.

    I love your input – some of the questions you bring up are also questions I want to answer in round two, including the question of demographics: age, location, gender, etc and how they combine with the offline personality to affect our online interactions.

    I actually think this is going to be a useful study once I get the more formal version off the ground, and I want as much input from people in the comments as possible as I develop it.

    As for management versus personality, I originally got on Twitter via the web (early adopter) then went to Twhirl and then TweetDeck. I tried TweetDeck groups for a while, but then deleted them and now have gone back to just reading the whole stream. I kept one group of Boston people so I can keep abreast of events locally, but other than that I find I much prefer the noisy organic experience, just like in real life. Twitter is much more interesting that way for me. I do admit I occasionally use TweetDeck’s filter feature to silence the TCOT types – that much vitriol can wear me down. I don’t follow everyone who follows me – I don’t follow back bots, or obvious spammers, and will occasionally bookmark someone’s profile and go back to it in a month to see if they have changed how they use twitter (eg from link bombing to talking, which would then get a follow from me), etc.

  • Beth I’m so glad you commented 🙂 I actually looked at some of the online based social measurements before embarking on this little experiment, and found that it didn’t answer the question I wanted to answer – which was how our offline personality affects our online life and interaction patterns.

    I love your input – some of the questions you bring up are also questions I want to answer in round two, including the question of demographics: age, location, gender, etc and how they combine with the offline personality to affect our online interactions.

    I actually think this is going to be a useful study once I get the more formal version off the ground, and I want as much input from people in the comments as possible as I develop it.

    As for management versus personality, I originally got on Twitter via the web (early adopter) then went to Twhirl and then TweetDeck. I tried TweetDeck groups for a while, but then deleted them and now have gone back to just reading the whole stream. I kept one group of Boston people so I can keep abreast of events locally, but other than that I find I much prefer the noisy organic experience, just like in real life. Twitter is much more interesting that way for me. I do admit I occasionally use TweetDeck’s filter feature to silence the TCOT types – that much vitriol can wear me down. I don’t follow everyone who follows me – I don’t follow back bots, or obvious spammers, and will occasionally bookmark someone’s profile and go back to it in a month to see if they have changed how they use twitter (eg from link bombing to talking, which would then get a follow from me), etc.