Thursday, November 09, 2017

What Is the Influence of Your Tweets?

What is the real-world impact of Twitter? It seems that one well-placed tweet can #makeAmericaGreatAgain – at least it got Donald Trump elected as US President, or did it?  One year after his election, even the Russian press says Trump did not “Make America Great Again”.

In this post I would like to explore if Twitter really can help an aspiring leader to change the world, promote a cause, or further his or her own career. I will start by looking at the Twitter behavior of the World’s most famous people, and then identify some characteristics of the most active or prominent twitterers.

In a project with GDI Switzerland we have used prominence in Wikipedia to identify the most influential people in the (English speaking) world. Wikipedia’s notability criteria are a robust mechanism to filter out the most notable 800,000 people. We have then constructed the network among these 800,000 people by linking two people, if their Wikipedia pages are mutually linked. (We call this a bi-directional link). The more central somebody in this network is by number of links, and the more popular her/his friends – in this case the people pages she/he is linked to – the more important that person is. The list below shows the most influential people on the world by this metric, which we call “reach-2”, i.e. how many people can one reach in two degrees of separation.


Name
reach_2
followers
Num tweets
barack obama
117,384
96,468,561
15,474
george bush
96,034
292,618
77
donald j. trump
82,783
41,625,028
36,273
bill clinton
75,089
9,008,717
645
Queen Elizabeth II
72,315
51,230
949
hillary clinton
69,449
19,461,949
9,949
Bob dylan
53,199
342,708
608
vladimir putin
52,902
772,890
1,721
elton john
51,989
649,167
2,528
Steven Spielberg
51,428



The top nine most influential people are all current or former heads of state, plus two world-famous musicians, the tenth does not tweet. Those nine influential leaders however have widely differing numbers of followers. While Queen Elizabeth only has 50,000 followers, Barack Obama not only leads the field with 96 million followers, he also has double the number of followers than his Twitter-trigger-happy successor as US President.
The list of the most followed Twitterers is quite different from the Wikipedia list of World influencers. The top 20 most followed Twitterers are listed below:

Name
Num Followers
katy perry
105,704,538
justin bieber
102,737,326
barack obama
96,468,561
taylor swift
85,604,763
rihanna
81,333,384
ellen degeneres
74,979,901
lady gaga
72,837,019
justin timberlake
62,988,786
cristiano ronaldo
62,726,679
kim kardashian
56,591,054
britney spears
55,887,840
ariana grande
54,645,815
selena gomez
53,737,379
demi lovato
50,930,613
jimmy fallon
49,528,047
shakira
48,878,622
jennifer lopez
43,816,866
donald j. trump
41,625,028
bill gates
40,432,413
oprah winfrey
39,542,724

The empress and emperor of the Twitter universe are singers and actors Katy Perry and Justin Bieber, followed by former politician Barack Obama. With the exception of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, all others of the most followed Twitterers are musicians and actors. There is just one entrepreneur among the top 20 most followed Twitterers, Bill Gates, who rounds up the top-20 list together with Oprah Winfrey.

Counting the professions on the list of the top 30,000 twitterers by reach-2 confirms the leading position of actors and musicians. 

Profession
Number Profiles
actor
9040
musician
5843
football player
4424
singer
3424
politician
2629
writer
2309
journalist
2015
model
1138

It seems that the world of Twitter is a world of appearance, and not of substance. Glory beats power, at least on Twitter, actors, musicians, athletes and singers come before politicians. People with real impact, and diligent workers behind the scene, like entrepreneurs, teachers, engineers, scientists, and researchers are totally missing on this top eight list of most popular Twitter professions. Note that this is based on the self-description of people, and it seems we prefer to be seen as actors and models to being perceived as linguists, theoretical physicists or skateboarders (there are 9 of each on our list).

We also looked at the correlations between the reach-2 Wikipedia rank and the Twitter scores among the top most 100,000 influential people on Wikipedia. There is a moderate correlation of 0.3 between Wikipedia reach-2 score and followers on Twitter, more influential people not surprisingly tend to have more followers, but there are prominent exceptions such as Queen Elizabeth and Bob Dylan who have comparatively few followers on Twitter. There is zero correlation however between the number of Tweets of a person and her/his real-world influence measured through reach-2. The conclusion is: You can tweet as much as you want, it will not make you more influential!

There is one significant correlation however of 0.5 between the number of times your tweets have been liked, and the number of your Twitter friends – Twitter friends are the people whom you follow. So it seems die-hard Twitter users and addicts with many Twitter friends are nice to each other, and read and “like” each other’s tweets, which seems to indicate the existence of a Twitter “echo chamber”.

To further understand the characteristics of different Twitter profiles, we looked at some leaders in different categories. The most active Twitterer in our analysis was a UK photographer, video artist, and poet who has tweeted 1,5 million times, this means she sends on average 42 tweets per hour. She posts original poems and pictures, she is also the 12th most liked Twitterer in our analysis, this means others like her tweets a lot. This way she has amassed 1.7 Million followers.
The second most active Twitterer in our analysis is clickbait, that means a Twitter bot which is trying to lure readers to a web site loaded with ads; it has spewed out 1.5 million tweets along the way.  The same is true for the forth most active Twitter user, who is masquerading as a radio station, but in truth is also click-bait trying to collect click-throughs for ad money. The third-most active Twitterer in our sample is the BT help desk who has been tweeting 1.46 million tweets of customer advice, leading to at least 127,000 followers. 

Another typical profile among the "a few hundred thousand tweets cohort" are self-promoting marketers, who follow a few thousand people, with the same number of people following them back, leading to an echo chamber of Twitter noise. These people obsessively check their followers, and also tend to like each others’ tweets, resulting in a mirage of Twitter popularity.

Looking at the ranking by Twitter “likes”, the tweets by the music band “icarusaccount”  garnered the most likes, with 226,000 followers. They are posting original poetic lyrics, about 8000 of them, which amassed over 1.9 million likes. Number two on our list, however, seems to be of the self-promoting marketer category, an Indian who has (re)tweeted 800,000 times leading to over 900,000 likes, mostly retweets about Indian politics. Similarly number three, a Japanese with over 500,000 tweets, mostly retweets of baseball pictures and movies, which got almost 900,000 likes, most likely coming from a small echo chamber. Thus, it seems while there are a few genuine content creators, like the most active video artist and poet, and the most liked music band, a large part of the Twitter users, be it bots or real people, is tweeting into an echo chamber, never to be read, or if at all, by a small group of likeminded individuals.

So I think the conclusion is that Twitter can help you spread your ideas, but it will not convince anybody to accept your ideas! Opinions are made on other media, be it YouTube videos, newspaper articles, or more elaborate blog posts – like this one!

If you want to know about your Twitter influence, try our transparencyengine.org