The proliferation and popularity of social networks such as Twitter are, at least in part, due to their users’ desire to know a little about a lot of things. Interestingly, this motivation is often the opposite of the goals of academic monographs, which probe deeply into focused, acute aspects of larger phenomena. But why?
Recent research from the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany has shown that Twitter users, even those with virtually no knowledge of a given subject, can most quickly increase their following and influence by tweeting detailed and insightful comments about a single event or subject. This is essentially the goal of an academic monograph, except completed with many fewer characters, and could be either a positive development or frightening proposition if put into practice. First, it indicates that anyone, regardless of his or her knowledge of a subject, can become an authority by simply concentrating on that one subject. On the other hand, it may also be fortuitous that a regular, previously unknown user can become an authority virtually overnight. Because the products and markets of university presses are constantly shifting - they cannot tweet extensively about a single monograph or journal at the expense of the others - publishers such as the Penn State Press may have difficulty putting this research into practice.
However, they may not have to in order to maximize their reach on social networks. My thesis research focuses on the dynamics of gatekeeping within collaborative networks, and although not complete, it preliminarily indicates that many smaller networks of friends and followers exist within Facebook or Twitter, and each of these smaller networks consists of even smaller networks, each organized around a given topic or subject. Also, each network has its own structural hierarchy.
If this is true, the Penn State Press would only need to become an authority within each network, which develops around each book the press publishes. Although exploratory, answers to these types of questions can help to maximize the marketing potential of social networks as their dynamics become clearer.