A View from Erica Naone

What Makes a Lasting Twitter Message?

Who tweets isn’t as important as what they tweet.

  • February 9, 2011

Sometimes, an idea sweeps Twitter, touching the conversation of millions of people. Many other times, ideas disappear almost as soon as they appear. Researchers at the social computing lab at HP Labs in Palo Alto and Stanford University recently wrote a paper analyzing what makes gives a topic on Twitter lasting popularity.

Twitter tracks these subjects of conversation in a “trending topics” list, and the researchers collected this data every 20 minutes for 40 days. They also collected tweets mentioning these topics every 20 minutes. They put the data together and studied it to draw conclusions about what makes a topic last.

Most trending topics disappear again fairly quickly, the researchers found, fizzling out within 20 to 40 minutes. Some, however, last for days.

The researchers write:

When we considered the impact of the users of the network, we discovered that the number of followers and tweet-rate of users are not the attributes that cause trends. What proves to be more important in determining trends is the retweets by other users, which is more related to the content that is being shared than the attributes of the users.

There are some people whose comments are so influential that they can launch trends almost single-handedly, but the researchers found that these topics actually tended to burn out quickly. Really, the most lasting topics were those that engaged a lot of different people, including comments from a large number of authors. In many of these cases, people were commenting on news items being discussed in traditional media.

According to the researchers:

This illustrates that social media, far from being an alternate source of news, functions more as a filter and an amplifier for interesting news from traditional media.

Hear more about Twitter at EmTech MIT 2017.

Register now

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.