C'mon get happy (on Twitter)

Want to be more popular on Twitter?

It turns out that the best way to attract new followers on Twitter is to tweet positive messages, write clearly and re-tweet interesting bits of news, a new study claims. With the success of a Twitter account measured by the number of followers it has managed to attract, insights into how to snare a bigger audience are keenly followed by the Twitterati. Previous research had suggested that following, and being followed by, influential users like celebrities and the frequency and timing of tweets were the key to growing a following on the site. But it appears from the latest study that it is the content of tweets that has the most important effect.

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta studied half a million tweets by more than 500 Twitter users over 15 months. They gauged whether posts were positive or negative by looking for 2,800 emotive terms, including common acronyms, like LOL, emoticons and slang and swear words. Giving each term a score on a scale of positivity, they then assessed whether the Twitter users who used each term shrank or grew their numbers of followers. Findings showed that the Twitter users who posted the most cheerful messages, whose tweets were the most easily readable and who re-tweeted news gained the most followers. Those egotistical Twitter users who liked to tell the world and its dog about their travails on the morning commute tended to not be so popular.

Lead researcher C.J. Hutto told New Scientist: ‘Twitter is used quite heavily as a news medium. ‘My weak connections on Twitter care less about what I had for breakfast than they do about this neat bit of news I discovered.’ Another key factor in growing a following on the microblogging site was how well users engaged with their followers. Mr Hutto told New Scientist how users who mentioned followers and replied and favorited their tweets had ‘positive follower growth’.

On the other hand, those who merely pronounced to nobody in particular suffered from ‘dramatically suppressed growth rates,’ he added. To assess the clearness of tweeters’ messages, Mr Hutto and his colleagues put together a ‘Tweet Reading Difficulty Index’. They found that users whose tweets scored better on their index also grew their number of followers. ‘When deciding whether or not to follow a virtual stranger, we found Twitter users seek out well-written over poorly written content,’ Mr Hutto said. ‘People rely on linguistic cues like spelling and vocabulary to compensate for the lack of traditional contextual cues available in face-to-face settings.’

Here is the abstract from their paper, “A Longitudinal Study of Follow Predictors on Twitter”:

Follower count is important to Twitter users: it can indicate popularity and prestige. Yet, holistically, little is understood about what factors – like social behavior, message content, and network structure – lead to more followers. Such in-formation could help technologists design and build tools that help users grow their audiences. In this paper, we study 507 Twitter users and a half-million of their tweets over 15 months. Marrying a longitudinal approach with a negative binomial auto-regression model, we find that variables for message content, social behavior, and network structure should be given equal consideration when predicting link formations on Twitter. To our knowledge, this is the first longitudinal study of follow predictors, and the first to show that the relative contributions of social behavior and mes-sage content are just as impactful as factors related to social network structure for predicting growth of online social networks. We conclude with practical and theoretical impli-cations for designing social media technologies.

The study is available to download for free and the researchers will present their findings at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris in April.

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