googlead166c37c697d4d3.html Glenn Ashton Author Blog: Who tweets what? The power of the Tweet Elite


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Who tweets what? The power of the Tweet Elite

Tweeters are people, and people like knowing how they shape up compared to others. Do you know if you stand a chance to trigger a retweet cascade? Do you have a few or a lot of followers, compared to others? What kind of information in your tweets stands the best chance of being retweeted? How long do your tweets last before they die?

To answer these questions, we will examine the entrails of a modern day chicken, courtesy of Yahoo Research. Romans during the heyday of ancient Rome were superstitious, and men – called auspex – would examine the entrails of chickens to determine the future. Sacred chickens were also used in a slightly different way – sacred cake would be crumbled before the sacred chickens – if they ate it, it was a good omen, but if they did not, it was a bad omen.

In 294 BC the Romans were at war with the Carthaginians, and a consul on  board a Roman warship had sacred cake crumbled before the chickens, to see if the sea battle he was about to launch would be successful. When the chickens refused to eat the cake, the angry consul had them thrown overboard, remarking that if the darn chickens were not hungry they could at least drink.

Unfortunately for the consul, the chickens were right the first time: the Carthaginians whipped him in the sea battle. He shoulda listened to the chickens!
Heather Armstrong - Top Blogger

If you are a blogger, then perhaps you should listen to a more modern chicken. Yahoo Research has completed a study of the way the world of Twitter works. Yahoo examined a subset of 260 million tweets containing URLs (from the total 5 billion tweets sent during the 7 months - 28 weeks or so - ending March 2010, through the Twitter stream of data they call the Twitter firehose).

Their major finding has been reported on by the media: That only half of one percent (0.5%) of the Twitter users were read by 50% of Twitter readers.

Yahoo also had some other interesting findings.

The Top 10

Who are the top 10 most-followed tweeters? They were individuals (mostly celebrities), not media or other companies. Move aside, CNN, here comes Ladygaga and Oprah!

Bloggers rule!
Narcissus - an Elite tweeter?

Another finding was the important role played by bloggers, authors, journalists, and subject matter experts – in many cases they have more followers than movie stars or senators or other elected officials.

But Twitter is the world of ordinary people

But Twitter remains the communication tool of the millions of ordinary people - the massive majority of activity on Twitter comes from ordinary people, tweeting their friends and relatives.

Yahoo classified users into "elite" and "ordinary" users, and the elite users into four groups: media, celebrities, organizations and bloggers.

Middlemen stand between the Stars and the Masses

They found that the elite were followed by many, but the information tweeted by the elite tweeters not surprisingly reached the masses through a large group of intermediaries.  So the traditional middlemen play a big role in the world of Twitter.

Does past project future for Twitter retweet cascades?

The answer, Yahoo found, was No. Just because a tweeter caused a cascade of retweets does not mean that same tweeter would cause future retweet cascades. So it seems that no group of tweeters has a lock on creating retweet cascades.  That leaves it open to other tweeters to strive for creating future retweet cascades – good news: maybe one day you could boast of starting a retweet cascade.

How do you stack up against the average friends or followers of tweeters?

The median is 100 – but some tweeters had several hundred thousand friends, and a small number had millions of followers. So, don't lose heart just because your average followers is less than a thousand – if you've built up to 100 followers you're doing pretty well (kinda average, but still pretty good). If you've only got about 30 or so followers, you've got some work to do...

If I follow you will you follow me?

Tweeters are not the most faithful people.

There is generally a very low reciprocity of following your followers – around 20%. You can use that as a rule of thumb – if you are being followed by about about 20% of the number of people that you follow, you're doing OK compared to the Twitter world as a whole. And you can relax – no need for any Twitter follower envy!

Of course, if you find that only say 1 in 20 (5%) are following you, then either you should cut back on the number of people you are following, or you should sharpen up your twitters and the content of your messages to attract more followers.
Taylor Smith

Of course, this only applies if you want to be an average tweeter - Yahoo discovered that many of the most-followed individuals follow in the footsteps of Narcissus – they don't follow many people themselves.  

Intermediaries – who send tweets on to at least one other user (there are just under 500,000 of them, of whom 99% were ordinary users and not elites) had an average of 534 followers while randomly sampled users only had an average of 34. Ashton Kutcher is the intermediary for 100,000 users!

Who tweets the most?

Most tweets come from ordinary people, but the members of the elites outpaced ordinary people (who originated an average of 6 URLs each compared to over 1,000 URLs for media tweeters). So the elites are much, much more active in adding URLs to their tweets than you and I.

The Top 5 Celebrity tweeters

They are (in order) Ashton Kutcher (!/APLUSK), now  replacing Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half men; Ladygaga; TheEllenShow – Ellen DeGeneres; Taylor Swift; and Oprah.
Ashton Kutcher - Number 1 Tweeter

The Top Media Tweeters

CNN shades out the NY Times, with TIME coming in as Number 5.

The Top Organization Tweeters

Google reigns, with Starbucks Number 2 and Twitter as Number 3. JoinRed, the charitable arm of U2's Bono, also stars.

The Top 5 Blogger Tweeters

The order is Mashable and Problogger (US blogs), then two Brazil blogs, and Number 5 is Heather Armstrong (the mommy blogger with 1 ½ million followers!). Her blog name of Dooce comes from her mispelling of Dude; the 36-year old lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Who listens to whom?

It's very incestuous – Yahoo found that celebrities largely listen to celebrities, bloggers to bloggers, and media to media.

The media are the most active users of Twitter but only 15% of media tweets are read by ordinary people (most of whom read the 0.5% or talk to their friends).

Retweets, we had a few

Bloggers sent out 93 retweets per person, while ordinary users only sent out an average of just over 1 retweet each. However, ordinary people send out the overwhelming majority of retweets (46 million in the 28 weeks, compared to less than half a million retweets by bloggers). So ordinary people are the king of tweeting volumes by far and of retweeting volumes.

What is tweeted?

The most read is world news, then US news, business and sports, followed by smaller categories.

What tweets have the longest lives?

Videos, music and consumer goods live long lives as tweets; most other tweets die young (most within the day of their birth).

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