The number of followers a Twitter user has doesn't directly correlate as an indicator of influence, new research by Meeyoung Cha of the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany demonstrates.
After looking at data from 52 million Twitter accounts including a more detailed look at the 6 million "active users" (or roughly 8.6 percent of the user base), Cha found that popular users with large number of followers "are not necessarily influential in terms of spawning retweets or mentions."
The data in the paper also provides a number of interesting points related to how followers interact with the Twitter service, and how influence and fame don't always match up.
The most-followed users span a wide variety of public figures and news sources. They were news sources (CNN, New York Times), politicians (Barack Obama), athletes (Shaquille O'Neal), as well as celebrities like actors, writers, musicians, and models (Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears). The most retweeted users were content aggregation services (Mashable, TwitterTips, TweetMeme), businessmen (Guy Kawasaki), and news sites (The New York Times, The Onion). The most-mentioned users were mostly celebrities. Ordinary users showed a great passion for celebrities, regularly posting messages to them or mentioning them, without necessarily retweeting their posts. Most influential users can hold significant influence over a variety of topics. The top Twitter users had a disproportionate amount of influence, which was indicated by a power-law distribution Mainstream news organizations consistently spawned a high level of retweets over diverse topics. In contrast, celebrities were better at inducing mentions from their audience. Influence is not gained spontaneously or accidentally, but through concerted effort. In order to gain and maintain influence, users need to keep great personal involvement.
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