There’s been increased attention over the last few months for the #mrx Twitter hashtag – the most prominent market research tag which serves as a de facto centre for a lot of prominent research bloggers and pundits.
On the one hand, you have Research Magazine listing its most influential research Tweeters each month – a list with a lot of big #mrx users - and Jeffery Henning drawing attention to the most-shared articles every week on the hashtag. On the other, you have Ray Poynter wondering out loud whether tags like #mrx are creating a ‘chattering class’ who mostly talk to themselves. Is the #mrx tag useful? What difference does tagging your tweets make?
There seemed to me to be a good way of finding out: give up the hashtag for a month and see what happened. So throughout July I’ve gone cold turkey on #mrx – I’ve not used the tag or retweeted things posted on it. I kept on tweeting, often about research, but I didn’t use the #mrx tag (or any of the other research tags out there, which I use far less anyway).
This is anec-data, not hard numbers. July was a strange month anyway – two extended breaks from the web due to holidays and to a bout of flu. So listing declines in new followers, Klout scores and their ilk, and overall activity would be misleading – not wholly attributable to the #mrx ban. Instead you’re getting my impressions of what changed when I quit #mrx.
What difference does a tag make? Let’s see.
NOBODY NOTICED: If anyone noticed that I wasn’t posting to the #mrx stream, they kept it to themselves. On the one hand it would be self-important to expect otherwise, on the other hand this is good – for all the bonhomie on #mrx it’s still a work-related stream not a social club.
IF YOU DON’T TAG, THEY WON’T TAG: I kept posting research-related links, and they kept getting the odd retweet. But there was never a situation where someone retweeted my link and added the tag. It suggests to me that adding something to a stream is very much the originator’s prerogative – it’s not common to ‘edit’ tag streams like this.
SAME RETWEETS, DIFFERENT PEOPLE: I felt like I got fewer retweets for linked content than usual, but I also felt that the pattern of these RTs changed. Research “civilians” – the friends, music writers and all-round interesting non-researchers who make up a lot of my followers – seemed to RT my social media or research links a bit more. Actual researchers paid them less attention.
PLAYING TO THE GALLERY: I also noticed a shift in emphasis in what I tweeted. Pieces about meat-and-potatoes research developments – methodologies, inside-baseball conference talk, and so on – became less appealing because I wasn’t able to put the figleaf of the “#mrx” tag on to warn “normal” readers that this might be a bit boring for them. Some might say this improved the content of the stream…
PROMOTIONAL EFFORTS: I felt the lack of an #mrx tag particularly strongly when posting stuff from the Brainjuicer blog I write. Normally a certain amount of promotion of a new post with the #mrx tag is par for the course – everyone does it – but the ban meant I had to work harder to get the posts read and probably pimp them a bit more strongly outside the tag. I did OK, in that hits on the blog (mostly driven by Twitter) didn’t drop off. But this was the one time I really missed #mrx.
READ VS WRITE: One thing I wondered starting off the experiment was if not being a participant in #mrx would reduce its value to me as a feed. But I kept on reading and got a lot of use out of it. Again, this seemed to me a positive sign – that the stream has value beyond a simple reinforcement loop.
So what to conclude? I think #mrx has a use and foundation beyond just being a place research chatterboxes hang out. I also think that the tag makes life easier if you ARE one of those chatterboxes – it’s easier to promote stuff and get people talking. This is how a tag is surely meant to work, so not particularly surprising. On the other hand, #mrx – like any taxonomic creation – can be a bit self-limiting: without the crutch of the hashtag you might post a wider and better range of things. The trick is – to get Zen for a moment - to use a tag like #mrx as if you weren’t using it. See you on Twitter, grasshopper.