Trending Topics Come from Mainstream Media, not Influencers

Influencers, beware: your mystical Twitter powers might be little more than smoke and mirrors. You’d like to think that you have something to do with those trending topics you see on the right-hand panel of, but a new study from HP suggests that you’re little more than an amplifier for the mainstream media.

Researchers at HP did a study of trending topics, and found that the mainstream media was a driving force in creating trends on Twitter.

The paper discovered that trending topics don’t necessarily start with the user with the most followers or activity – instead, it revealed that the mainstream media often acts as “feeders” of trends, starting them on their journey to becoming a trending topic. Regular Twitter users and influencers more often than not act as filters and amplifiers of these trends.

Digging into the numbers, you get a good understanding of just what Twitter accounts should really be called influencers. Retweets made up a significant portion (31%) of trending topics, and was a more direct indicator of when a topic would take off than who was tweeting or how often. Using data from over 15 million tweets in the fall of 2010, HP’s researchers found that of the 22 most-retweeted sources of trending topics, 72% were mainstream media Twitter accounts – like the BBC, New York Times and CNN.

The paper also showed that it is possible to predict when a trend would become a long-term trending topic based on how diverse its audience is.

So, not to take the feather out of your cap if you call yourself a social media guru or a Twitter influencer, but maybe you should double-check just how influential you really are… and start reading more of the mainstream-sourced news on Twitter.