Twitter Study: Sponsored Celebrity Tweets Might Be A Bad Investment For Brands

Research scientist Duncan Watts and his team at Yahoo! Research have published an interesting study that looks at the effect of elite users – celebrities, media outlets, organisations and power bloggers – and ‘ordinary’ users (everybody else) on the network.

Taking their information from Twitter lists, the research hoped to prove a difficult field of communication theory known as Lasswell’s Maxim, which ponders “who says what to whom in which channel with what effect”.

In other words: at the thick end, who influences who? And what does this mean for brands looking to utilise Twitter for marketing?

Who Says What To Whom On Twitter?

In each of the four elite categories, specific users were sampled that were deemed highly representative of their niche. This included Barack Obama, Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton as celebrities, CNN and the New York Times in media, Amnesty International and Yahoo! themselves under organisations, plus a number of well-established bloggers, including Chris Brogan, BoingBoing, Copyblogger, Shoemoney, Gizmodo and Mashable.

Some of the findings from the research confirm previous studies and suspicions, namely:

  • Approximately 50% of tweets consumed are generated by just 20,000 elite users
  • Media outlets produce the most information, while celebrities are the most followed
  • Celebrities by and large tend to only follow other celebrities, and this holds true for most media outlets and bloggers, too
  • Bloggers rebroadcast more information than the other elite users

Speaking at SES New York earlier this week, Duncan Watts provided deeper insights for Twitter marketers, including the eye-opening suggestion that money spent by marketers on celebrity ‘sponsored tweets’ – such as the rumoured $10,000 paid to the likes of Kim Kardashian – might be a bad investment.

“They don’t pay attention to others. The media is focused on media. The only people who care about anyone else are the organizations – they are on Twitter, not to only to tell people about things, but to listen and to get feedback,” explains Watts, who proposes that ‘ordinary influencers’ nurtured correctly could provide a better ROI.

“Give up on predicting individual events,” he says, ”Focus on the typical event size. Try to optimize many, many times.”

For more detail, download the report in full PDF glory here.

(Hat tips: Yahoo! Research, Duncan Watts,