A study "Trends in Social Media: Persistence and Decay" by HP examined how popular subjects get to be listed among the top "trending" topics on Twitter. The conclusion is that mainstream media outlets, and not prolific tweeters, appear to dictate what topics trend on Twitter.
"You might expect the most prolific tweeters or those with most followers would be most responsible for creating such trends," says Bernardo Huberman, of HP. But that turns out not to be the case.
In a new paper, Huberman and three fellow researchers demonstrate that "user activity and number of followers do not contribute strongly to trend creation and its propagation."
"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." concluded Huberman.
The study found that trending topics are usually the result of retweets -- items passed from one individual's network of followers to another's. 31% of tweets of trending topics are retweets, their analysis showed.
Over a period of 40 days in the fall of 2010, they collected data from Twitter's own search API. From the resulting sample of 16.32 million tweets, they identified 22 users who were the source of the most retweets when a topic was 'trending'. Of those 22, 72% were Twitter streams run by mainstream media outfits such as CNN, the New York Times, El Pais and the BBC.
Although popular, most of these sites have millions of followers fewer than highly-followed tweeters such as Ashton Kutcher, Barack Obama or Lady Gaga.
Similarly, the research showed that just having an active Twitter account was not a factor in creating a trend.
[tags]tweets,trending topics,social media,social networking,retweet,tweeters,nyt,ashton kutcher,lady gaga,el pais [/tags]