How is it that certain topics manage to get more attention than others, thus “bubbling to the top" and changing the agenda of an online community?
Today, Dr. Bernardo A. Huberman, the director of HP Labs’ Social Computing Lab, released research on the nature of user influence on social media networks such as Twitter. After analyzing 22 million tweets, Dr. Huberman and his co-authors calculated a novel measure of influence for individual users and developed a corresponding algorithm that automatically identifies particularly influential users.
The algorithm described in the research is unique in that it incorporates what the authors call “passivity.”
The study found that a large majority of Twitter users act as passive information consumers and rarely forward (“retweet”) content to the network. To become influential, users must not only catch the attention of their followers; they must also overcome their followers’ predisposition to remain passive.
FAQs about the research
What were the key findings?
According to the research, it is important to separate the concept of “influence” from “popularity.” While a user on Twitter may have a large number of followers, his or her influence is more strongly associated with their engagement with the network, rather than the raw number of followers or retweets.
To automatically identify influencers, the authors devised an algorithm called the IP Algorithm. This algorithm assigns a relative influence score and passivity score to every user:
- “Passivity” is a measure of how difficult it is for other users to influence him or her
- “Influence” depends on both the quantity and quality of the user's audience
The paper concludes: “This study shows that the correlation between popularity and influence is weaker than it might be expected. This is a reflection of the fact that for information to propagate in a network, individuals need to forward it to the other members, thus having to actively engage rather than passively read it and cease to act on it.”
What users were identified as being “most influential”?
The research presents four specific case studies showing four applications of the new algorithm. During the limited time period that data collection took place, users with the most IP-influence were:
Why is HP conducting research on social media?
HP believes that information is becoming the greatest resource we have for addressing problems in business and society. Social media is increasingly becoming many people's interface to IT, and these media interactions produce an enormous amount of data. However, data isn't necessarily information. Creating software, hardware, and services that can automatically analyze enormous data sets and help people make informed decisions is an extremely challenging technical task and an area of focus at HP Labs.
HP is the world's largest technology company and HP Labs is its advanced research group.
Has HP published other social media research?
This is not the first report that Dr. Huberman and his fellow researchers have published on the subject of Twitter and social media. Earlier this year, Dr. Huberman and Dr. Asur at the Social Computing Lab released a report that found Twitter to be a surprisingly accurate predictor of the box office success of Hollywood film releases. For more of HP’s research in this area, visit the Social Computing Lab.
Influence and Passivity in Social Media - HP Labs Research