For its research, HP analyzed 16.32 million tweets on 3,361 different trending topics between September and October 2010. To get its data, it queried Twitter’s search API every 20 minutes.
HP discovered that Twitter’s Trending Topics algorithm cares more about the specific subject and reach of a tweet than who tweets it or how often it’s tweeted. Around 31% of trending topics are retweets. More importantly, 72% of those retweets come from mainstream media outlet like @cnnbrk or @nytimes. The Telegraph, ESPN, @breakingnews and The Huffington Post all made the list of top retweeted users in at least 50 different trending topics.
“What proves to be more important in determining trends is the retweets by other users, which is more related to the content that is being shared than the attributes of the users,” HP concludes in its research report. “Furthermore, we found that the content that trended was largely news from traditional media sources, which are then ampliﬁed by repeated retweets on Twitter to generate trends.”
Tweets from “influencers” have little effect on trending topics. Instead, trending topics often come from news stories tweeted from major news outlets. HP concludes that traditional media still starts the conversation around the most-discussed topics in social media, not the other way around.
HP’s researchers (led by HP Senior Fellow Bernardo Huberman) also analyzed the factors impacting the length of a trending topic on Twitter. It found that the very few trending topics stay at the top longer than 40 minutes. “We showed that the distribution of long-time trends is predictable, as is as the total number of tweets and their growth over time,” Huberman said in the company’s blog post.