Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The season finale! The end of my experiment with metrics

Recap: I'm at the end of a month-long experiment tracking the Top 500+ Twitter users (based on Followers). I decided to look at the growth rate of these accounts to see what, if anything, it indicated about Twitter culture.

Here are last week's fastest growing accounts with the SU indicating Twitterers who have been placed on Twitter's Suggested User list.

Fastest growing Twitter accounts (5/18/09-5/24/09):
  1. The Best @s (@BestAt) 406% SU
  2. Rob Riggle (@RobRiggle) 208% SU
  3. Dwight Howard (@DwightHoward) 150% SU
  4. Ethan Suplee (@EthanSuplee) 137% SU
  5. Sarah Brown (@SarahBrown10) 98% SU
  6. John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) 95% SU
  7. Dr. Sanjay Gupta (@SanjayGuptaCNN) 92% SU
  8. Bill Simmons (@SportsGuy33) 86% SU
  9. Moby (@TheLittleIdiot) 82% SU
  10. Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) 74% SU
  11. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@KAJ33) 74% SU
  12. Roger Erik Tinch (@CineVegas) 74% SU
  13. David Archuleta (@DavidArchie) 69%
  14. Next to Normal (@N2NBroadway) 65% SU
  15. Jack Gray (@JackGrayCNN) 64% SU
  16. Justin Timberlae (@JTimberlake) 63%
  17. Billy Ray Cyrus (@BillyRayCyrus) 54%
  18. White House (@WhiteHouse) 54% SU
  19. Rania Ab Abdullah (@QueenRania) 49% SU
  20. Michael Ausiello (@EWAusielloFiles) 49% SU
SU=Twitter's Sugested User
This week, the growth rates were down from the three previous weeks and ordinary (non-SU) Twitterers returned to being 15% of the list, up from 5% last week. I think this might be due to Twitter slowing down the new additions to the Suggested Users list which has grown from 20 users in February to 226 in May.

I've also noticed that although Suggested Users dominate the fastest growing Twitter accounts, users are being selective, they are not choosing "all" and adding the whole entire roster. Suggested Users seem to have their fastest growth rate in new Followers in the second & third week after being added to the list.

Here are the fastest, naturally growing accounts:
Fastest organically growing Twitter accounts (5/18/09-5/24/09):
  1. David Archuleta (@DavidArchie) 69%
  2. Justin Timberlake (@JTimberlake) 63%
  3. Billy Ray Cyrus (@BillyRayCyrus) 54%
  4. Jordin Sparks (@TheRealJordin) 33%
  5. 106 & Park (@106AndPark) 33%
  6. Emily Osment (@EmilyOsment) 32%
  7. Paris Hilton (@BabyGirlParis) 31%
  8. Stephen Colbert (@StephenTColbert) 23% (Faux account)
  9. Kristen Stewart (@KristenStewart9) 23%
  10. Rev. Run (@RevRunWisdom) 22%
  11. Eminem (@Eminem) 22%
  12. Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) 22%
  13. Katie Price/Jordan (@MissKatiePrice) 22%
  14. Pink (@Pink) 21%
  15. Stephanie Pratt (@StephaniePratt) 19%
  16. Busta Rhymes (@BusaBusss) 19%
  17. Katt Williams (@KattPackAllDay) 18%
  18. Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) 17%
  19. Kid Cudi (@KidCudi) 17%
  20. Brandi Cyrus (@TheBrandiCyrus) 17%
As in previous weeks, the fastest, organically growing Twitter accounts are dominated by pop culture figures, specifically young actors & singers (pop & hip-hop/rap) with much a larger representation of women and African-Americans than on the Suggested User "hot" list. It's an interesting contrast between those people Twitter wants to promote and pop culture figures that new users are seeking out on their own.

And, as noted last week, growth in Follower numbers for the Top 500+ Twitter accounts continues to slow down. Like last week, a slightly higher 75% of the top accounts had a weekly growth rate of 10% or lower with 4.6% accounts having 0 or negative growth.

This has been an interesting, if time-consuming, project and I'll have a blog post about general conclusions I can make after this four week project. I haven't decided whether to continue to collect the data but, as far as this blog is concerned, I'll move on to other topics or, at least, other aspects of Twitter...and the rest of life!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

If Twitter's Suggested User list is PBS, then the Most Popular list is MySpace

Recap: I'm in the middle of a month-long experiment tracking the Top 500+ Twitter users (based on Followers). I decided to look at the growth rate of these accounts to see what, if anything, it indicated about Twitter culture.

Fastest growing Twitter accounts (5/11/09-5/17/09)
  1. Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) 995% SU
  2. Jack Gray (@JackGrayCNN) 432% SU
  3. Rania Al Abdulah (@QueenRania) 392% SU
  4. Moby (@TheLittleIdiot) 372% SU
  5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@KAJ33) 344% SU
  6. Roger Erik Tinch (@CineVegas) 273% SU
  7. Bill Simmons (@SportsGuy33) 235% SU
  8. Next to Normal (@N2NBroadway) 192% SU
  9. Michael Ausiello (@EWAusielloFiles)141% SU
  10. John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) 121% SU
  11. White House (@WhiteHouse) 104% SU
  12. Life.Com (@Life) 76% SU
  13. Counting Crows (@CountingCrows) 75% SU
  14. Wyclef Jean (@Wyclef) 71% SU
  15. Roc4Life (@Roc4Life) 71% SU
  16. Health Magazine (@GoodHealth) 70% SU
  17. Joel Stein (@TheJoelStein) 67% SU
  18. ExecTweets (@ExecTweets) 61% SU
  19. Gov. Schwarzengger (@Schwarzenegger) 61% SU
  20. Justin Timberlake (@JTimberlake) 56%
SU=Twitter's Sugested User
Once again we see the overwhelming dominance of the Twitter's list of 223 Suggested Users in influencing the fastest growing accounts on Twitter. And it seems to be growing. On the 4/26 and 5/3 lists, 85% of the Top 20 were SUs while on the 5/10 and 5/17 lists, it's grown to be 95% of the list. 

If you're interested in reading more about the influence being on the Suggested User list has upon popularity on Twitter, Ben Lorica did a more focused analysis and wrote it up on the O'Reilly Radar blog: Being a Suggested User Leads to Thousands of Twitter Followers.

Now on to the list of the fastest growing Twitter accounts that don't benefit from this extra publicity:
Fastest organically growing Twitter accounts (5/11/09-5/17/09):
  1. Justin Timberlake (@JTimberlake) 56%
  2. Pink (@Pink) 40%
  3. Lauren Conrad (@LaurenConrad) 39%
  4. Katie Price Jordan (@MissKatiePrice) 38%
  5. Paris Hilton (@BabyGirlParis) 34%
  6. Emily Osment (@EmilyOsment) 30%
  7. Mark Cuban (@MCuban) 26%
  8. Stephanie Pratt (@StephaniePratt) 25%
  9. Rev. Run (@RevRunWisdom) 23%
  10. Jordin Sparks (@TheRealJordin) 22%
  11. Brody Jenner (@BrodyJenner) 22%
  12. Drizzy Drake (@Drakkardnoir) 21%
  13. Trey Songz (@SongzYuuup) 21%
  14. Matthew Perry (@LangfordPerry) 20%
  15. Russell Simmons (@UncleRush) 20%
  16. Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) 20%
  17. Adam Sandler (@AdamSandler) 19% (faux account)
  18. Khloe Kardashian (@KhloeKardashian) 18%
  19. Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) 18%
  20. Keri Hilson (@MissKeriBaby) 17%

There are a lot of the same user accounts as in last week's alternate Top 20 list, mostly pop culture TV/Movie/Music/Reality show celebrities. It is clear that this list is composed of
more women, more African-Americans and younger personalities than the Suggested Users list which has more politicians, journalists, sports personalities and media outlets, all of which are absent from the popular list. If Twitter's Suggested User list is like PBS, then the popular list is like MySpace.

And, as noted last week in general in the Top 500+ accounts, growth in Follower numbers is slowing down considerably. Like last week, 74% of the top accounts had a weekly growth rate of 10% or lower with 3.4% of that being 0 or negative growth. The median rate of growth rose slightly from 7.01% (5/10) to 7.11% (5/17).

Note: I should mention that there were some fast-rising names on this week's Top 500+ list that I couldn't include in my calculations because Twitterholic & TwitterCounter had only started tracking these accounts last week so no comparison was possible. Several of these names would probably have had a place on the popular list and they include accounts of Adrienne Bailon (@Adrienne_Bailon), Lindsay Lohan (@LiDLo) (faux account), Katt Williams (@KattPackAllDay), DJ Drama (@DJDrama), Dwight Howard (@DwightHoward), and Busta Rhymes (@BusaBusss).

Later this week, I hope to write a blog entry on the increase of African-American artists into the ranks of top users of Twitter.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Twitter growth slowdown?

Recap: I'm in the middle of a month-long experiment tracking the Top 500+ Twitter users (based on Followers). I decided to look at the growth rate of the accounts to see what, if anything, it indicated about Twitter culture.

Last week, it became apparent that the Twitter list of Suggested Users (found under the "Find People" tab on Twitter) almost completely accounted for the rapid growth of the fastest growing Twitter accounts. Here is the most recent list:

Fastest growing Twitter accounts (5/4/09-5/10/09):
  1. Justin Timberlake (@JTimberlake361%
  2. Good Health (@GoodHealth355% SU
  3. Life (@Life) 254% SU
  4. Counting Crows (@CountingCrows) 210% SU
  5. ExecTweets (@ExecTweets172% SU
  6. Wyclef Jean (@Wyclef164% SU
  7. White House (@WhiteHouse118% SU
  8. Joel Stein (@TheJoelStein) 115% SU
  9. iTunes Movie Trailers(@iTunesTrailers105% SU
  10. Roc4Life (@Roc4Life92% SU
  11. Kevin Nealon (@Kevin_Nealon84% SU
  12. Jack Welch (@Jack_Welch) 83% SU
  13. Nick Swisher (@NickSwisher79% SU
  14. UNHCR Refugee News (@Refugees75% SU
  15. Serena Williams (@SerenaJWilliams71% SU
  16. John Green (@RealJohnGreen62% SU
  17. Fantastic (@ShowDavida60% SU
  18. Soraya Darabi (@Sorayad59% SU
  19. Mano Menezes (@ManoMenezes55% SU
  20. Etsy (@Etsy) 55% SU
SU=Twitter's Sugested User
Almost all of these accounts were added to the Twitter Suggested Users list in the past 2 weeks. Since the Suggested User list is such an overwhelming influence in determing which accounts grew the fastest, I eliminated the 208 names of Twitterers selected by Twitter staff and got this alternate list of the fastest growing accounts not affected by a SU recommendation:
Fastest organically growing Twitter accounts (5/4/09-5/10/09):
  1. Justin Timberlake (@JTimberlake361%
  2. Pink (@Pink50%
  3. Ben Stiller (@Ben_Stiller48%
  4. Joy Behar (@JoyVBehar42%
  5. Paris Hilton (@BabyGirlParis39% 
  6. Emily Osment (@EmilyOsment36%
  7. Lauren Conrad (@LaurenConrad31%
  8. Drizzy Drake (@DrakkarNoir28%
  9. Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano28%
  10. Matthew Perry (@LangfordPerry27%
  11. Trey Songz (@SongzYuuup26%
  12. Lauren London (@MsLaurenLondon) 23%
  13. Russell Simmons (@UncleRush22%
  14. Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman22%
  15. Terrence J (@TerrenceJ10621%
  16. Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman21%
  17. Khloe Kardashian (@KhloeKardashian21 %
  18. Nathan Fillion (@NathanFillion) 20%
  19. Lil Wayne (@WeezyOfficial) 19% (account has recently been hacked)
  20. Keri Hilson (@MissKeriBaby18%
There are a lot of the same user accounts as in last week's alternate Top 20 list, mostly pop culture TV/Movie/Music/Reality show celebrities. But in general, in the Top 500+ accounts, growth in Follower numbers is slowing down considerably. 

As far as I've been able to determine, from its creation in March 2006 to September 2008 Twitter growth was marked by a slow but steady increase in both the number of Twitter accounts and the number of Followers in the majority of accounts that are not protected (that is, Followers admitted by approval only). 

During Summer 2008, Twitter started growing faster and this growth took off during the latter part of the Presidential Election (October 2008). This increase accelerated even faster between December 2008-midApril 2009 as Twitter received both media attention--news shows, newspaper/website articles, Twitter founders' appearances on Oprah, The View & The Colbert Report--as well as an influx of aggressive Internet Marketers and ECommerce business people eager to put Twitter to work for them through Auto-Following strategies.

But, if the largest accounts are a reflection of trends on Twitter in general, this exponential growth rate in account size is slowing done considerably. 

Last week, 74% of the Top 500+ accounts had a growth rate of 10% or lower compared to 56% (5/3/09), 50% (4/26/09) and 34% (4/19/09). 

Median rate of growth for the Top 500+ accounts fell from 13.35% (4/19/09) > 10.67% (4/26/09) > 9.29% (5/3/09) > 7.01% (5/10/09). 

This slowing down or "plateauing" is most evident in accounts that have existed for six months or longer.

I can see a few possible reasons to account for the slowdown in growth of account size:
  1. The saturation of media coverage has led to a decrease in creation of new Twitter accounts
  2. Twitterers are cutting down on the number of people they follow (downsizing)
  3. People are choosing to go broader in their selection of people to follow (few celebrities & "top" names, more fellow users)
  4. Twitters who aggressively try to build high Follower numbers are slowing down their efforts (due to influx of celebrities & new Following number limits imposed by Twitter)
These are just hypotheses based on a highly selective group of Twitters I've studied over a very short period of time. But it could signal that growth in Twitter is slowing down or has reached a plateau. 

No doubt it is likely Twitter will experience bursts of rapid growth in the future as it becomes more mainstream, more well-known people publicly talk about their Twitter use or Twitter increasingly becomes a source for breaking news. We'll see if this slowing down trend continues over the next two weeks of this project or whether it is just an anomaly.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Hot Twitterers: A Different View

Yesterday I posted a blog entry about last week's fastest growing Twitter accounts pulled from the Top 500+ Twitter users (by Follower numbers). It was obvious how dominated the list was by accounts recommended via Twitter's Suggested User option, a tool which offers new users suggestions about people/groups they might follow. 

I thought I'd weed out all of those accounts which had gotten the equivalent of a unpaid boost and see which accounts were growing organically at the fastest pace. This list paints quite a different picture of the current swing of popularity on this social network:
Fastest organically growing Twitter accounts (4/26/09-5/3/09):
  1. Matthew Perry (@LangfordPerry) 1002%
  2. Russell Simmons (@UncleRush) 135%
  3. Lauren Conrad (was @LCLaurenConrad, now @LaurenConrad) 133%
  4. Paris Hilton (@BabyGirlParis) 94%
  5. Timbaland (@Timbaland) 63%
  6. Brody Jenner (@BrodyJenner) 52%
  7. Steve Buscemi (@Steve_Buscemi) 52%
  8. Terrence J (@TerrenceJ106) 49%
  9. Trey Songz (@SongzYuuup) 48%
  10. Lauren London (@MsLaurenLondon) 44%
  11. Eminem (@Eminem) 44%
  12. Seth Rogen (@Seth_Rogen) 39%
  13. Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) 39%
  14. Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) 38%
  15. Chis Brown (@FreeChrisBrown) 35% (Probably faux account)
  16. Keri Hilson (@MissKeriBaby) 31%
  17. Lil Wayne (@WeezyOfficial) 31%
  18. Rafinha Bastos (@RafinhaBastos) 31%
  19. Rachel Bilson (@Rachel_Bilson) 30%
  20. Taylor Swift (@TaySwift) 30% (Another faux account)
Once you take out the Twitter staff's favorites, the hot accounts have a completely different focus. Rather being composed of journalists, charities, established artists & tech companies, you have a mix of comedians, musicians, rappers, off-beat artists, and reality show celebrities. Plus a few people I have absolutely no idea what they do because their bios provide very little information on them.

It's hard not to notice how much more diverse this list is with much more African-American representation. Although a recent report by Comscore highlights the fact that the demographics of Twitter are growing in the 45-54 year old range, what & who is hot at Twitter, when not influenced by Twitter Suggested Users, definitely skews more towards urban pop (TV & music) culture rather than mainstream Hollywood or Bay Area tech scenes, the blogosphere or the marketplace.

An odd thing to note is how @Timbaland's account is growing despite the fact he has not posted a Tweet since 9/9/07 and how @Rachel_Bilson has yet to post a single Tweet! Yet, she has over 45K people who want to follow her once she starts Tweeting. 

There is a significant segment of Twitter users who are actively seeking out celebrities they want to hear from, regardless of whether they are currently active or whether their account might be actually written by an imposter (there are several Taylor Swift accounts & I doubt Chris Brown is writing @FreeChrisBrown!).

Again, these are accounts pulled from the largest Twitter accounts as indicated by Twitter, Twitter Counter, Twitterholic & WeFollow. In a small poll we ran, the bulk of Twitter users focus on their immediate network of friends rather than these larger, celebrity users. 

Still, tracking this data allows us to see some changing trends on Twitter as the Top Users change from tech/VC guys to bloggers to social media consultants to Internet marketers and now to musicians & reality show celebrities.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Twitter Metric Experiment Week #1

Okay, so I've been running through different kinds of comparisons using Twitter stats (see entries below) to see what can be learned about social networks based on the available data. Here is last week's data of the most popular Twitterers.

Fastest growing Twitter accounts (4/26/09-5/3/09):
  1. UNHCR Refugee News (@Refugees) 5,446% SU
  2. Soraya Durabi (@SorayaD) 2,424% SU
  3. CDC Emergency (@CDCEmergency) 1,270% SU
  4. Matthew Perry (@LangfordPerry) 1,000% 
  5. NFL (@NFL) 787% SU
  6. Kevin Nealon (@Kevin_Nealon) 719% SU
  7. Fantastico (@ShowDavida) 457% SU
  8. John Green (@RealJohnGreen) 395% SU
  9. Adam Wilson (@UWBCI) 337% SU
  10. MC Thumbtack (@ABigVictory) 317% SU
  11. iTunes MovieTrailers (@iTunesTrailers) 302% SU
  12. Mano Menezes (@ManoMenezes) 299% SU
  13. The Real Paula Abdul (@PaulaAbdul) 282% SU
  14. Chris Anderson (@TEDChris) 211% SU  
  15. Etsy (@Etsy) 145% SU
  16. Russell Simmons (@UncleRush) 135%
  17. Lauren Conrad (@LCLaurenConrad) 133%
  18. Lakers (@Lakers) 120% SU
  19. Paul Feig (@PaulFeig) 119% SU
  20. Digg 2000 (@Digg_2000) 111% SU
SU=Twitter's Suggested User
Just looking over yesterday's practice run and this list what is immediately obvious is what an impact being selected by Twitter to be put on the Suggested User list can have on an account, especially an initially small account like @Refugees which grew from 697 Followers to 38,656 in just a week. It makes a huge impact for the first & second week after an account is listed and though it will still bring accounts new Followers afterwards, the change will be less dramatic. 

It was well accepted & acknowledged that the Suggested User list (begun in February 2009) is influential in building a following on Twitter but I had no idea what a dominating influence it was. Since the data is already gathered, tomorrow I will post an "alternative" list of the fastest growing accounts that grew without the benefit of Twitter sponsorship. This list might tell a different story of what garners attention & popularity at the current moment.

As I've said, I'm not a statistician and this has been extremely time-consuming. I'm committed to running this exercise for four weeks and then will assess what, if anything, I've learned. Your contributions and thoughts are most welcome!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

High Flying Twitterers

I was going to "unveil" this tomorrow but let's give this experiment a practice run today. Trying to find new ways to use numbers, I thought I might find out which accounts were growing the fastest by follower numbers. You could call this Twitter Momentum or Twitter Velocity.

Here is highest growth rate among the most popular Twitter users:

Fastest growing Twitter accounts (4/19/09-4/26/09):
  1. Gayle King (@KingGayle) 501%
  2. Steve Agree (@SteveAgee) 490% SU
  3. Lakers (@Lakers) 457% SU
  4. Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) 339% SU
  5. Joe Trippi (@JoeTrippi) 332% SU
  6. Kevin Spacey (@KevinSpacey) 280% SU
  7. Kimberly Cole (@KimberlyCole1) 219% SU
  8. Joy Behar (@JoyVBehar) 218%
  9. Larry King (@KingsThings) 174% SU
  10. Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) 162%
  11. Jerry Brown (@JerryBrown2010) 150% SU
  12. Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) 142% SU
  13. Ashley Tisdale (@AshleyTisdale) 139% SU
  14. Joe Sebok (@JoeSebok) 124% SU
  15. Mariah Carey (@MariahCarey) 124% SU
  16. Dick Costolo (@DickC) 108% SU
  17. People Magazine (@PeopleMag) 101% SU
  18. Matisyahu (@Matisyahu) 91% SU
  19. EW Pop Watch (@EWPopWatch) 90% SU
  20. John Legend (@JohnLegend) 82% SU
SU=Twitter's Suggested Users

To find a manageable amount of accounts with accurate figures, I limited myself to the Top 500 Twitterers in terms of follower numbers (over 30K followers) and used a combination of Twitter, TwitterCounter, TwitterHolic & WeFollow to both locate these names and trace follower numbers. I'm actually collecting records on the Top 1000 Twitterers (over 19K Followers) to have background data for the user group I'm focusing on.

Ideally, there would be one searchable database that contained distinct accounts for each follower over time but that only exists at Twitter HQ and, as I was told when I asked, @Twitter doesn't see any benefit to the user to share this information with researchers.

As you can see, because of the user group I was drawing from, this list mainly includes celebrities with a few exceptions. I'm going to wait until I post last week's list tomorrow to draw some initial conclusions except I'll say it's a shame other NBA teams didn't follow the @Lakers lead and galvanize their fans using Twitter...that account just exploded in terms of growth with the playoff series.

And for those who say I must have too much time on my hands and I'm not a statistics person, you're both right. But since I am currently unemployed, why not use part of my free time to experiment with the limited metrics that are available to see what they can reveal about the way people grow & develop their social networks over time?

A Metric Experiment

When I listen to webinars or go to events regarding Social Media & Business, I hear A LOT about the need for solid metrics to see how successful efforts are (ROI). I've railed against this avalanche of opinion because I think statistics are flattening & superficial. It's hard to pick up nuances & the subtlety of complex human behavior by assigning a number to it.

I'm a qualitative researcher which means that I normally gather information through participant observation (being with people), interviews (talking with people) & content analysis (talking with texts).

Qualitative research is sometimes viewed by number-focused people as being more "fuzzy" and it's true that there is more room for interpretation. It's an art as much as a science. But qualititative analysis does have methods and is not merely subjective opinion but is based on theoretical constructs, methodological procedures and previous work in the field.

That said...Twitter is a hard subject for qualitative analysis. While I can refer to individuals, a Tweet or the tone of a conversation on the network, Tweets can be considered personal communication even though they are published on a public forum (unless the user has protected updates). There is not the expectation of privacy but people often behave as if they are writing to specific individuals alone (although they are not Direct Messages). An argument can be made that consent should be asked not only before analyzing someone's Tweets but before even ReTweeting or copying a message. Privacy & consent of internet communication has long been an area of debate and some issues still remain unresolved.

So, the past month I've been searching for alternative ways of using the numbers & statistics that are available for insight into Twitter culture. Lots of time, mistakes & false starts later, I'm ready to throw out one attempt later today. Consider it my practice run!