Social Computing Labs in California produced an excellent abstract: www.hpl.hp.com/research/scl/papers/trends/trends_web.pdf
Social media is getting a lot of press. Lady GaGa drove millions of people to give to AIDS by a series of tweets within a campaign. The organization raised $34 million — 10 times more than they had ever raised before. That is very impressive.
But most twitter is, well, twitter.
So when I read the above abstract, I was fascinated with the algorithms they used to understand what made a trend and how that trend decayed. You can read the article for yourself — the math is well beyond my simple mind. The overall learning was: “…we find that the resonance of the content with the users of the social network plays a major role in causing trends.” Put another way a little further into the abstract: “Some users generate content that resonates very strongly with their followers thus causing the content to propagate and gain popularity.”
Twitter trends are based on viral activity. The number of times the tweets is retweeted and commented on and the words within the tweets that are repeated in all of the millions of tweets at that moment. The researchers found that most popular topics decay after 20 minutes… 20 minutes! While that may sound ridiculous — that is the reality of social media. It’s fast and short lived. The other thing that they found was that the strongest trends in twitter popularity were supported by traditional media. Justin Bieber’s movie reviews are big — but then the media loves Justin Bieber.
As I was reading the report, it occurred to me that the trends said something about our culture. We can watch what’s interesting to people by watching twitter trends. For instance, today is George Harrison’s birthday — and it’s all over twitter. But Libya, New Zealand and the, perhaps, Canadian election — all top news stories — do not appear in the top tweets.
The number of followers is another interesting view into the interest in twitter and the power of marketing.
Lady GaGa has 8.2 million followers. BBC World has 100,000. Justin Bieber has 7.4 million followers. CBC has 52,000. 5.1 million people follow Oprah and 1.3 million follow Newsweek. Almost 700,000 people follow facebook — someone will have to explain that to me.
Well, famous nutty people get attention and ordinary, boring people want to follow them (Britney Spears has 6.9 followers). While content is king — some content is unexplainable.
The other interesting factor that the research came up with was that number of followers and number of tweets did not impact trends. Basically content is king. The trends (once you get past the paid tweets) occur because people are interested in the content and they want to share it. So as I write this, designer John Galliano is facing sexual assault charges and Google is declaring war on content farms. If you check back in a few minutes, you’ll see a complete different list of trends. It’s like being able to listen in to all the conversations at a ginormous cocktail party at once.
It’s difficult to ascertain the impact of social media — or, at times, even to determine which social media interfaces to use. Many people are taking a “Let;’s be everywhere all the time approach.” Which, frankly, I think is ineffective. While you don’t “pay” placement costs — there is a fee to update, follow, track and evaluate. My gut tells me (and experience) that few people are setting social media goals and tracking them. Most often they see it as free promotion. But wasting ones time is never free.
Social media is here to stay. But so is print, TV and radio. In face, I’d even argue that blogs have their place. I’m pretty sure that twitter or other micro blogging sites will not replace well thought research or journalism. Telling stories, sharing news lives. But they live in different forms. We collect information. Twitter does that with aplomb. We explore interesting features. Think of all the hits on You Tube after the Super Bowl and the Grammies. I can see the highlights without wasting 2 hours (wait a minute — I may still waste 2 hours but it will be at the discretion of my direction to a search engine.) Facebook picks up the slack for families and friends.
But in your business or organizational communication strategy, I challenge you to be strategic about your social media engagement — set goals, track results and evaluate.