Wednesday, November 02, 2011

JESSIE J IS TOTES AMAZEBALLS - or How Hits Happen on Twitter

Trending Topics (TTs) are one of the most mysterious aspects of Twitter.  How do they start, how do they grow, what takes off...  These are all questions that have puzzled marketers at some time.

Twitter promote TTs as one of the most useful aspects of the service - allowing people to see what people are talking about to get early warning of breaking stories.  Recently I've noticed TTs becoming more and more driven by pop culture, and not about news at all - the band One Direction seem to inspire at least one a day - and when one particularly strange one JESSIE J IS TOTES AMAZEBALLS trended in the UK last week I decided to investigate how it had started and become popular.

(I should say that I've seen Jessie J and I agree that she's pretty amazeballs, but totes?  That's probably over-doing it a bit.  Maybe after a couple more years)

To do this I used the analysis tool Radian6, which has access to the entire Twitter firehose - that is all tweets sent.

In all cases I've hidden the identities of the Twitter users, but I'll show the Tweets.

The phrase got a sudden flurry of Tweets on 27th October, to hit a peak of about 18,000 for the day:

According to my analysis, this was the first tweet, in minute 1 a user - with 1144 followers - tweeted:

It was then picked up by friends, first slowly, and then it started to gather steam, rising from 1 tweet a minute (TPM) to hit 14 tweets a minute by the 7th minute.  In this time the first Tweeter Tweeted other versions 6 times.

I show the number of TPS for the first 90 minutes here

It continued to be re-tweeted, but it did not rise above 21 TPM until the 40th minute, when it suddenly started to hit 45 TPM on the 43rd minute.

What happened was that on the 40th minute it was tweeted by someone with 13,978 followers

and then in the 42nd minute by someone with 94,090 follwers.

(This last user is pretty amazing - a 23 year old from Ireland who 'loves Rihanna more than my mother'...)

This last one was re-tweeted more than 100 times, and the TPS started rising to hit 45, and then a few minutes later 51.

It then declined again, until it hit an absolute peak of 68 TPS in the 67th minute.  I think thiw was caused by two tweets by users with nearly 12,000 followers each, in the 63rd minute.  I also think that by that time it had hit the TTs, so other Jessie J fans had seen it and spontaneously joined in the fun.

So what does this all mean?

1 - Twitter works organically, but can be swayed by very popular users if they are in the mood.  If you're a brand it helps to have some of these people; if you're a digital PR person it's essential to have either lots of followers yourself, or be on very good terms with people who do.  But also the messages must be relevant to your followers.

2 - This can de-value Twitter's reputation.  How so?  Because they trade on the TTs as a serious, useful service. It's mentioned a lot in their presentations to agencies, and other companies, for example Nielsen, put a lot of store in the top trending topics.  People are now actively starting to manipulate them - although there's not evidence that Jessie J's people were involved in this - and it's potentally going to be akin to SEO spam.

Twitter already block words in TTs - all the main swear words (I think) and other words like 'Assange' (once 'Sweden' was trending because it was ruled that Assange could be extradited there, but 'Assange', a word that featured in all the 'Sweden' Tweets, didn't appear).  If Twitter can block these, why not address some of the other abuses?  Block TTs in block capitals?

Or even do 'Trends among Friends' - i.e. just trends within who you follow.  That would be a better solution!


Trish said...

Thanks for giving us a mention! It's always pretty cool to see how others are using our platform.

All the best,
Trish, Community Manager | Radian6

Alex said...

The Assange/Sweden paradox might be explained away by considering one facet of how Trending Topics works. TT doesn't look so much at the number of mentions as the rate of increase in mentions. Assange is mentioned frequently already but Sweden less so. So when tweets about Assange+Sweden start taking off, Sweden is the word that is on the steepest rise, rather than Assange, so Sweden makes it into the TTs.

Dan said...

Very good point Alex - I hadn't thought of that.

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