The Twitter Effect

By Toward,

September 2011

The Twitter Effect

I’m fascinated by the ways in which we can interact with people through social media, building friendships with people we have not and may never meet in person. It's quite something, as is the speed with which we can now share content with others.

Last week a social media experience landed on my lap and the results proved just how powerful social media can be. It all started with a photo of New York. This photo to be precise...

The Twitter Effect -The picture that started it all

The picture that was at the centre of the Twitter Effect

On Tuesday I was sorting through my bookmarks, stumbled upon this pretty fantastic photo and tweeted it. In fact, I tweeted exactly this:

The tweet that kicked it off

I should probably share with you here that at the moment I sent that tweet I had 1,031 followers. The numbers become important a little later on. Within an hour or two I had been retweeted by about 20 people, most of whom I recognised as followers who I regularly interact with. So maybe between them they shared my tweet with around a couple of thousand or so extra people outside of my own followers. That alone is impressive I think.

That was that. Wednesday was a regular day. I tweeted as normal and nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary but little did I know in the 45 minute commute from work to home on Wednesday evening, someone had retweeted me and started what was the become the most interesting day I’d ever had on Twitter.

I got home and my phone instantly beeped with notifications. Apparently I had 45 mentions, that’s 45 tweets that included by Twitter username @RobertMills. I dismissed this as a mistake, until I checked Twitter. The NYC photo tweet from the previous day was being mentioned time and time again, retweet after retweet. So I went through them all and found out that my tweet had somehow reached the stream of a celebrity, an actor by the name of Matt Lucas (@RealMattLucas). Matt retweeted me so each of his 421,000 followers saw my ugly mug in their stream.

The Power of Celebrity

So the simple action of Matt Lucas rewteeting me led to a snowball affect of retweets and @ replies. They were constant and simply too many to reply to. Some were using the retweet function, others were writing RT and adding their own comment to the tweet and many were simply replying to me to say ‘wow’, ‘that photo turned my stomach’ and other such messages.

Without a celebrity retweeting me, there is no way it would have been shared with so many people and continued to be retweeted. This really goes to show how one person with many followers can help spread a message (or in this case a photo) without very little to no effort.

This isn’t a big surprise I suppose but I had never really experienced it first hand. Imagine the power and influence that you can have with such a large audience at the tip of your fingers. I think that this power and influence is scalable with Twitter so even if you have a small numbers of followers you can still influence and inspire them but when you start reaching follower numbers in excess of 400,000 it becomes a whole new ball game and then even beyond that there are celebrities like Lady Gaga who, as I write this, has 13,577,954 followers.

The Power of Social media

But Matt’s retweet was just the beginning, as well as all the retweets that followed I also noticed my follower numbers going up, quite rapidly. For ‘regular’ folk like me it takes a long time to gain a significant number of followers. My count rises and falls daily but always seems to be increasing, although little by little. I had a little surge when the book was released two months ago but more recently it had levelled off and was increasing by maybe 8 a week.

Within an hour after Matt’s retweet I had gained 30 followers. So I was at 1,061. By the next morning this was at 1,104 and as I write this it stands at 1,111. That’s 80 followers in 4 days, perhaps not huge numbers but still a lot more than my average.

But this begs the question, why did these people start following me? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining but I wonder how many of these will stay with me when they realise I don’t tweet amazing photos of New York all the time.

Was it because I was in some small way endorsed by a celebrity? Was it that they do expect similar photos/tweets from the future? Perhaps it is just that one advantage of Twitter is that we can follow (and indeed unfollow) with ease.

The detail is in the data

But let’s get back to the data which is where the real story can be found. I used a metrics/analysis tool called TwentyFeet and this tells me that in the last week my number of new followers was up 208% compared to the average week.

The twitter effect in a fancy graph

The numbers of tweets I was mentioned in last week was 187, this is a 160% increase. As for the retweets, well I can’t confirm the exact number now, it just says that it was retweeted by 100+ Twitter users but I do know from TwentyFeet that this is a whopping 544% increase from the week before!

Of the @ replies I was receiving one was from Trends UK that told me I was trending in the UK! Woot! I’m not sure how accurate this trend tool is but their tweet included a link to a site that showed what topics were trending in the UK and sure enough I was 5th on the list. To trend means you have to be included in a lot of tweets and the continuous stream of retweets and replies would suggest that there was some accuracy in this.

Rob trending on Twitter

Yesterday I had a message from @favstar that told me my NYC photo tweet had now been favourited by over 50 people.

The numbers prove that individually, celebrity and social media are powerful and influential entities. Bring them together and they are a force to be reckoned with. There are probably examples of similar experiences but on a much greater level but for me, what happened last week was out of the ordinary and a stark reminder that we should always think before we tweet.

After all, you never know who may end up reading it as we have little control once the tweet button has been clicked. If you've had a similar experience or want to add anything we'd love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.