News outlets which have been blaming social media might want to rethink things a little as they are the biggest drivers of trends on Twitter, not individual posters, no matter how influential.
A recent study by HP’s Social Computing Lab analysed 16.32 million tweets for over a month and found that over 31 per cent of trending tweets are re-tweets, and that this was given a push by influential tweeters with a large following and high frequency.
However, the influencers themselves are not usually able to start a trend, and conversations still usually begin around stories published by news media outlets, with links leading to stories. According to HP, outlets like CNN, the BBC, New York Times and ESPN accounted for 72 per cent of the most re-tweets on the microblogging platform, accounting for more content than any influencer’s individual tweet.
“You might expect the most prolific tweeters or those with most followers would be most responsible for creating such trends,” said Bernardo Huberman, HP senior fellow and Director of HP Labs’ Social Computing Research Group, in the company blog. He added, “We found that mainstream media play a role in most trending topics and actually act as feeders of these trends. Twitter users then seem to be acting more as filter and amplifier of traditional media in most cases.”
No matter the source, Twitter trends typically do not last long, with only a few surviving beyond 40 minutes as a trending topic, according to HP Labs. The more diverse the audience, the greater the topic’s chance for longevity, Huberman said.
“We showed that the distribution of long-time trends is predictable, as is as the total number of tweets and their growth over time,” he added.
“In traditional media, being on the news for several days is enough to start a conversation about that topic. In social media, a few hours might do as well, but we have no evidence yet that it is the case,” Huberman said, adding, “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. Furthermore, we found that the content that trended was largely news from traditional media sources, which are then amplified by repeated retweets on Twitter to generate trends.”