It's not how you think. A Boston research group called the Web Ecology Project has analyzed 12 of the service's most popular users over the course of a 10-day period, in order to understand how influence works on Twitter. The result of the 18-page report (PDF)? It doesn't matter how often you tweet. It matters why you tweet, and the role you play in followers' feeds. (Below, the ratio of tweets to reactions.)
Consider news agents like CNN (@CNN) or Mashable (@mashable). They tweet regularly to provide news material, but the amount that they're retweeted, replied@, or mentioned goes in cycles that are entirely discrete from their tweets. That seems to indicate that people are following the issues, not the actual news agents themselves. Stay on a hot issue, and the popularity of you tweets stays high. How do we know? Because CNN Breaking News (@CNNBRK) is a separate Twitter stream from regular old CNN—and even though it tweets very infrequently, it generates a lot of conversation. (Below, the raw data.)
As the study notes, people with cult-of-personality status—Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk), Shaq (@THE_REAL_SHAQ), iJustine (@ijustine), MCHammer (@MCHammer), and a Massachusetts cat named Sockington (@sockington)—get a lot of mentions and replies, but not a lot of retweets. Seems like they're not saying anything terribly interesting or profound, but other Twitter users are constantly in pursuit of a mention back. (They rarely get them.)
What about business personalities? Wine expert Gary Vanyerchuk (@garyvee), Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan), and Robert Scoble (@Scobleizer) tweet like crazy—much more than the other personalities in the survey. Presumably their tweets are a mixture of news, promotions, and sporadic opinions, and their work pays off: after each tweet goes out, there is a correlated uptick in retweets, replies and mentions. The good news: even if you don't have the celebrity of Ashton or the currency of Barack Obama, you can still generate more meaningful conversation—a mixture of retweets, @replies, and mentions—than more famous feeds.
The Web Ecology Project, which published the report, categorizes popular users by the ration of followers to followees. There are "conversationalists" like Scoble who have lots of both, "Materialists" like the news feeds who follow few but retain lots of followers, and then, of course, spammers, who follow tons of people and aren't followed by anyone. What's interesting: the ratio of followers to followees "does not represent an accurate measurement of influence on Twitter," meaning that all the extra legwork of being a conversationalist might not be worth much. Another real takeaway: making your brand work on Twitter is a combination takes a combination of news tweets, opinionated outbursts, and plain shilling. Read the report here.
[Via Web Ecology Project]