People Tweet To Build Followers Rather Than Just Broadcast Their Thoughts
May 29, 2013

People Tweet To Build Followers Rather Than Just Broadcast Their Thoughts

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

According to a pair of marketing professors, Twitter may become just another broadcast media like television or radio, dominated by businesses and celebrities supplying content and messages of self-promotion.

Andrew T. Stephen, assistant professor of business administration at University of Pittsburgh, and Olivier Toubia, a business professor at Columbia University, decided to investigate if Twitter users are motivated by a desire to broadcast their thoughts or by their desire to accumulate followers, according to their report in the journal Marketing Science.

They began by selecting 2,500 Twitter users who had at least 13 people who had chosen to receive their tweets, commonly referred to as “followers.” The researchers selected non-corporate, non-celebrity users who were not sending out messages for commercial purposes. The users were then divided in half, with a control group and an experimental group. The researchers then tracked the participants´ daily number of followers and message activity over a period of two months.

Along with the help of undergraduate research assistants, Stephen and Toubia then created 100 Twitter accounts with realistic-looking names, locations and users they followed, like Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. To complete the illusion, the team then had the created accounts follow each other and send out simple tweets like -- “It´s a pretty day today” or “The sky is blue.”

Over the next two months, the team used the new accounts to follow the users in the experimental group, eventually increasing each user´s list of followers by 100. They then watched these accounts to see how an increased audience size affected the test subjects´ activity.

Users with the lowest number of followers initially showed no change in their tweeting habits while those with the most followers did not exhibit much change as well, most likely because 100 additional followers were “a drop in the bucket” for these more popular users, Stephen said in a statement.

However, for users in the middle, the team noted considerable changes in tweeting activity.

“Users with 13 to 26 followers did increase activity,” Stephen said, adding that these users seemed encouraged by the apparent increase in popularity.

Those with 62 to 245 followers showed just the opposite behavior and posted less frequently as their follower count increased. Stephen speculated that these users wanted to preserve their middling status by trying to avoid posting anything that might cost them followers.

“As they get more followers,” he said, “they want to be careful about what they post.”

The duo concluded through their research that many users were more interested in increasing their follower count than expressing their thoughts.

Because active users tend to gain followers over time and users tend to post less as they gain followers, Twitter users are going to post less as time passes, according to Stephen. However commercial entities and celebrities will continue to post information at a rate that is more independent of their follower count.

“So what it becomes is another advertising channel, a broadcast medium, as opposed to a socially interactive one,” Stephen said.

The authors noted that the current influx of new users to Twitter is currently preventing a shift like this from occurring.