Last year I wrote about the kind of content that generates a lot of sharing activity on Twitter, with a list of 10 recommendations to generate retweets based upon statistical network analysis.
Some new research has taken that a step further in order to identify the news sites that actually generate the most sharing activity.
The study, conducted by the University of Arizona, found that sites such as the BBC, Mashable and the NY Times were the most popular when it came to getting content shared on Twitter.
The researchers analysed the Twitter activity of 12 major news organisations —the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, NPR, Reuters, Guardian, Forbes, Financial Times, Mashable, Arstechnica, Wired, and Bloomberg— over a 6 month period to determine how content is shared, and what content generates the most shares.
The research team measured what happened to a news article after it was shared on Twitter by the publisher. They were looking for things like the number of retweets, both from the source account itself, and then from the accounts of those that had retweeted the article. This game them an idea of how the content spread during its lifespan.
“The goal for a news agency is to have a lot of people reading and following your articles,” says Sudha Ram, the lead researcher on the project. “What we’ve done is use network analysis, which is quite different from just looking at the total number of tweets or total number of retweets. You’re starting to see, over time, how information is spreading.”
The findings provide good insight into both how content spreads on Twitter, and what kind of content spreads furthest for each publisher.
“This gives them good feedback, and it’s kind of a performance report for them,” Ram adds. “It gives them an idea about the reading habits of people online and how they like to consume news.”
Interestingly it was the BBC that came out on top in terms of both the number of users retweeting content, and the subsequent retweeting levels. BBC articles also had the highest chance of survival on Twitter, with 0.1 percent of articles surviving, through continual retweets, for three or more days. The researchers suggest that a big part of this success is that the main @bbcnews account is supported by both @bbcbreaking and @bbcworld.
Next highest in the league table were the New York Times and Mashable. Those performing worst included Forbes, Wired and Bloomberg.
It’s worth remembering however that the life cycle for any content on Twitter is very short. The research found that most sharing activity had ended within 72 hours of the article being published.
There is set to be a follow up study published in December that will look at the importance of engagement with followers rather than merely attracting as many followers as possible. A classic quality vs quantity debate.
“The term ‘social media’ refers to a lot of things. The first thing people think about is Facebook and then Twitter, but it’s so much more than that,” Ram explains. “It’s really all the various forums—the blogs, photo sharing sites, video sharing sites, microblogging, social bookmarking like Digg, Delicious and Reddit, and so on.”
Sadly at this time there were no suggestions as to why the BBC are so popular on Twitter, but the 10 tips I mentioned earlier may play a part. Hopefully Ram and her team will provide this kind of insight in future studies.