I try to keep in the habit of running 2 or 3 times a week, before I head off to work. And as I run, I typically listen to a podcast (it keeps my mind of the fact that I can’t breathe, my legs are killing me, and I’m not as fit as I think I am!).
This week, I heard a refreshed version of a Freakonomics podcast that examined the usage behavior of Twitter users. Duncan Watts, formerly of Yahoo! Research and now Principal Researcher at Microsoft’s NYC Lab.
His data shows that roughly 50% of URLs consumed are generated by less than 0.05% of Twitter users – a so called “elite” group of 20,000 users, and that 15% of tweets received by “ordinary” users come directly from media organizations. So although Twitter is praised for democratizing communication, it seems that it’s actually redistributing the focus, rather than broadening it as much as expected.
Duncan’s research also details the value of the half a million or so “Intermediaries” who spread the information widely through the Twitterverse by retweeting the links from the elite users. In effect, people are relying on these Intermediaries to identify and pass-on relevant and useful information – much like the newspaper editor of old.
It’s unlikely that you’ll ever be an elite user, but there’s tremendous value in becoming one of the intermediaries by “curating” the tweets of others. And more to the point, it’s definitely possible to become one within your own industry or sphere of influence. So take a look at your personal or professional Twitter strategy,and think about how you become one of those powerful Intermediaries that everyone looks to for their daily update.
The original paper, titled “Who Says What to Whom on Twitter”, has more details on the full research, and some additional conclusions on the type of information that is shared on Twitter (note that the paper is from April 2011, but I’m sure the basic findings are still sound).