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Data Mining Reveals How Wording Influences Tweet Propagation

timothy posted about 8 months ago | from the you'll-never-believe-how-money-maker-#7-brings-tears-to-your-eyes dept.

Twitter 21

KentuckyFC (1144503) writes "One of the most widely shared tweets in history is Obama's "Four more years", posted after his second presidential election victory and currently retweeted 775,000 times. But how would different wording have influenced this tweet's popularity and the way it spread? It's easy to imagine that there's no way of telling what might have been in such an alternative universe. But a surprising phenomenon on Twitter has allowed data scientists to study this kind of alternative reality and work out the factors that make one tweet more popular than another. It turns out that the twitter stream contains a surprisingly large number of tweets from the same authors, pointing to the same content but with different messages. That's a natural experiment in which factors such as the author, the URL, the number of followers and so on are all held constant while the message varies. By studying these pairs of tweets, researchers can measure how well each performs and then determine which factors contribute to their popularity. These turn out to be things like the amount of information the tweet contains, the language it uses and even whether it includes a request for a retweet. The team has developed an algorithm that predicts which of a pair of tweets is more likely to be successful with greater accuracy than humans. And they've even set up a website where anybody can test their tweet-rating ability and thereby improve their chances of writing the perfect tweet."

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These things never work ... (1, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 8 months ago | (#47008705)

Someone comes along and claims to have the perfect formula for writing a book, or a song, or music.

They distill it down to its dreary essence, optimize based on what the focus groups say, and then produce utter dreck.

Some of the best movies, books, and songs would NOT have passed through these design by committee things. And many more which do pass through these things should have never seen the light of day.

Every time I see one of these things I think "OK, we'll see everything done like this for a while, people will hate it, and they'll move onto something else".

If this shit worked, there wouldn't be huge Hollywood films which fall on their face because nobody is interested. All it really does it make lowest common denominator stuff which nobody actually likes.

Re:These things never work ... (2)

iMadeGhostzilla (1851560) | about 8 months ago | (#47008821)

There's another value of this research: if you take the test, you can see how attuned you are to social media (group) thinking. I took the test and selected answers that I genuinely thought were more interesting for retweeting, and I got success rate of less than 30% -- worse than chance. That tells me if I had to do a social marketing campaign, I better not do it myself.

These things never work ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47009049)

Their are formulas for successful books, music, and if you hear the shit they play on radio, or go out and read romance novels, or any genre it is all predictable. I really have no idea what your talking about? Those standards or formulas have been in place for years, how many books have been rejected from publishers, how many bands have been rejected by labels, how many big production studios turned down a script, all because they didn't fit their formula. That includes idiotic censorship, 'this books content is something we cannot allow, change it', the same with music and scripts.

All of those which could have been popular, and sometimes go on to be infamous, because there are others out that support and will give those works a chance to be judged, usually by the same mindless twits aka general public, which will also reject it because it doesn't fit the status quo. And it isn't until years later that those works go on to be considered vital pieces.

Re:These things never work ... (2)

TheLink (130905) | about 8 months ago | (#47009357)

I think some of the stuff works. But many Hollywood films fail because the people making them don't care or have other agendas. Many movie makers live in a "different world" and are not in touch - for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

There are formulas and critics say too many movies nowadays are following the same formulas too strictly. http://www.slate.com/articles/... [slate.com]

It's not necessary to follow the formula that strictly for success: http://www.savethecat.com/beat... [savethecat.com]
(I also suspect movie makers in other places have different styles - Hong Kong, Bollywood)

But hey it works and most people won't care if most movies start following some formulaic structure. People will care if some idiot produces a superman movie where superman never flies.

Re:These things never work ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47009451)

Wait you mean pop music and huge hollywood films aren't written to a formula?

Lowest common denominator stuff seems to be very popular. How many super hero movies are we on now? What version of cod is running 8?

Re:These things never work ... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 8 months ago | (#47009905)

Wait you mean pop music and huge hollywood films aren't written to a formula?

Well, Ang Lee's Hulk, and pretty much anything by Uwe Boll demonstrate that, formulaic and lowest common denominator aren't necessarily going to be successful. And, not all pop music and Hollywood films are successful -- eg that John Carter movie.

Sometimes, you can take your boring ass formula and cheap pap too far, and then nobody likes it.

How many super hero movies are we on now?

Before X-Men, super hero movies were almost universally crap. Super hero movies which don't respect the original material are still crap -- if neither the comic book fans nor mainstream audiences like what you've done, you're pretty much going to tank.

When the comic companies themselves started having a hand in the movies, and insisting on a level of integrity to the original source, they succeeded in making movies which appealed to the nerds and the normals. When you can do that, you're not exactly just pandering to the lowest common denominator.

That Di$ney now owns Marvel, does make me question how much they'll follow the usual formula and release endlessly bad sequels until people just tune it out. But for now, based on the box office numbers, the Marvel stuff is holding great appeal, and is pretty far from lowest common denominator based on a tired formula. That non-comic book people are enjoying these movies means they've struck a good balance between the various aspects of it.

Hell, if they'd make Thor take his shirt off for at least 5 minutes/movie, they would likely increase their female audience. Because my wife sure as hell says she wants that. She says it doesn't have to be much, but that if Hemsworth isn't going to be shirtless she doesn't care.

And I would gladly accept that if it meant we got to see the super-hero movies in the theater. ;-)

Re:These things never work ... (1)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 8 months ago | (#47009495)

If this shit worked, there wouldn't be huge Hollywood films which fall on their face because nobody is interested. All it really does it make lowest common denominator stuff which nobody actually likes.

Yeah, and even if "these things" did work sometimes, there's little evidence here that this particular model is any good.

From TFA:

They found that humans successfully pick the more popular phrasing with an average accuracy of 61.3 per cent. âoeNot that high, but better than chance, indicating that it is somewhat possible for humans to predict greater message spread from different deliveries of the same information,â say Tan and co.


[T]his algorithm searched for various phrases, positive or negative sentiment, requests to share and so on. And this algorithm achieved the success rate of about 66 per cent, somewhat better than humans.

Seriously? They were comparing pairs of tweets. This sounds like a barely significant improvement over human intuition: the computer is only wrong 34% of the time on a true/false test, while humans are wrong 38-39%. Simply guessing randomly would be a 50% error rate. Doesn't sound very predictive to me.

I'm not saying the model isn't a statistically significant improvement over human intuition (which presumably it is -- haven't read through the details), but it definitely sounds like a marginal improvement. Moreover, how do we know that the characteristics singled out for this marginal improvement are the best strategies? It's far more likely that some other algorithm with other priorities could achieve the same success rate, and perhaps even higher.

Especially when you read their actual recommendations (from TFA):

So what is the secret of the perfect tweet? Tan and co say better tweets are ones that include more information clearly, use language that aligns with previous messages and with the community at which it is aimed and ones that mimic news headlines in their structure. Requesting followers to retweet also helps.

What "clearly" means here and what constitutes "more information" is somewhat ill-defined, so basically this amounts to "repeat yourself," "know your audience," and "if you want to get retweeted, it might help to request that people retweet."

Great. Thanks.

Re:These things never work ... (1)

Bob9113 (14996) | about 8 months ago | (#47012103)

If this shit worked, there wouldn't be huge Hollywood films which fall on their face because nobody is interested. All it really does it make lowest common denominator stuff which nobody actually likes.

You may be right about the objective quality of the product, but if this stuff didn't work, the lowest common denominator drek that nobody actually likes wouldn't sell so fast. You can't use this stuff to write Milton, but you can use it to sell the shit out of whatever syrupy self-help book Oprah is hawking this week.

Psychological operations aren't about influencing the most discriminating minds, and they're not about making everyone do exactly what you say. They're about nudging the masses far enough to tip the scale.

Other tweets had been considered (4, Funny)

nimbius (983462) | about 8 months ago | (#47008707)

"Four years, more please"
"remember when i killed an american in yemen because i can?"
"Guantanamo...why does that sound familiar"
"If uncle Joe says OK i guess gays are maybe kinda ok."
"I swear to god if i hear benghazi one more time..."
"I can haz budget?"

Good Information (2)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | about 8 months ago | (#47008723)

As a Social Media Strategy consultant, this information is very useful to me. I will study it closely.

Re:Good Information (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47009337)

As a Social Media Strategy consultant

I believe you have spelled "douchebag" incorrectly.

Re:Good Information (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47010937)

Twitter is the domain of narcissistic assholes.

Tried the page. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47008737)

Apparently, I am in a minority in that I do not reflexively favor excessive use of capital letters and exclamation marks. I also tend to pick the ones that get to the point (I had not realized it was possible to ramble when limited to 140 characters), which also makes me unpopular.

This tells me that my very low opinion of Twits was still based on an excess of optimism, I am correcting that error in my judgment.

The Perfect Tweet (2)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 8 months ago | (#47008745)

The twitter stream
a frog tumblr
the sound of retweets

omfg...my life's goal (1)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about 8 months ago | (#47008749)

to tweet to perfect tweet.

It's not working (1)

Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) | about 8 months ago | (#47008805)

The "compare two tweets" functionality is broken.
Submitting the form leads to a 403 Forbidden error.

Re:It's not working (1)

Piata (927858) | about 8 months ago | (#47008891)

As is the quiz. Either that or I'm really bad at picking good tweets as I'm 0/20.

One weird trick to getting more retweets (4, Funny)

CambodiaSam (1153015) | about 8 months ago | (#47008861)

Click on the ad to see the trick they don't want you to know about...

It is all about followers (3, Interesting)

mysterons (1472839) | about 8 months ago | (#47010441)

We did a study on predicting when a tweet would be retweeted (this paper cites us). The dominant factor is not what you write, but how many followers you have.

Basically, a famous person can write anything and it will be retweeted. An unknown person can write the same tweet and it will be ignored.

Link to paper:

Sasa Petrovic, Miles Osborne and Victor Lavrenko. RT to win! Predicting Message Propagation in Twitter. ICWSM, Barcelona, Spain. July 2011. http://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/... [ed.ac.uk]

Two words (1)

war4peace (1628283) | about 8 months ago | (#47010695)

Fuck Tweets.

Am I the only one (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#47010733)

Who remembers Nixon's supporters chanting "Four more years" at the 1972 Republican Convention (no, I wasn't there)...

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