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Professor tracks re-tweets of news agencies to help reach readers on Twitter

Courtesy of EurekAlert
Courtesy of EurekAlert

A professor’s research aims to assist news organizations in becoming more effective in how they reach out to their readers via Twitter.

Sudha Ram, a UA professor of management information systems, has developed a model that tracks the propagation of news articles through the social networking site.

The model collected six months of tweets from 12 different news agencies and tracked how people re-tweeted them.

The goal of the project, Ram said, is to help news agencies optimize their use of Twitter, and to measure how well their stories are making an impact.

“When [the news agencies] publish the article on their website, they often tweet about it, and people who read these articles also tweet about the same articles, so they’ll put the URL of the article in a tweet,” Ram said. “These tweets propagate because other users re-tweet them or reply to them, and that gets seen by more people. All these tweets and re-tweets cause a lot of cascades; it’s like dropping a stone in a pond.”

Ram said the project measured how long people would continue to spread the news articles, and how quickly the articles spread.

“We wanted to know how much participation there is from re-tweeting from followers,” she said.

The number of followers on an account is not, on its own, an accurate measure of the impact that account will have when tweeting a story, Ram added. Much more important is the amount of participation the account gets from its followers.

“We found that New York Times and Mashable have long lifespans,” Ram said. “Washington Post and Wired have a lower lifespan … but we also found that with Washington Post and Mashable, that the news spread really fast even if they don’t have a very long lifespan, so you might do well on one measure and not so well on another measure.”

Ram said the data the project has gathered will be helpful to news agencies in determining their impact on Twitter, and finding how they can improve. She added that just having followers doesn’t mean the news is actually spreading.

“Most news agencies today really don’t understand how to measure how well they’re doing on Twitter,” she added. “They think that if you get a lot of followers, that’s good. Well it’s good, but it’s not enough — you’ve got to engage the followers as well and have them tweeting about you. Just getting followers doesn’t mean that your news is actually spreading because people might just read your news and not tweet about it.”

Ram said the study will allow news agencies to examine all the different variables in the propagation of their stories on Twitter.

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