Researchers who tried to figure out what factors influence a news story’s popularity on Twitter found that the news sources which are shared the most aren’t the ones featured most prominently on Google News.
The researchers concluded that the most significant predictor of whether a story will become widely shared on Twitter is the source of the publication. The Atlantic’s Megan Garber sized up the paper by noting, “Shareability is largely a function of reliability.”
The most-shared sources on Twitter are not big-name, legacy news outlets, researchers found. In other words, if you’re big on Twitter, you’re more likely to write for Mashable than Reuters.
The researchers compared the popularity of stories on Twitter with NewsKnife’s ranking of how news sites and journalists are featured on Google News. The researchers found that traditional news sources publish more, and thus have more overall tweets to all of their stories, but each story garnered fewer tweets on average.
A comparison shows that a NewsKnife top source such as The Christian Science Monitor received an average of 16 tweets in our dataset with several of its articles not getting any tweets. On the other hand, Mashable gained an average of nearly 1000 tweets with its least popular article still receiving 360 tweets. Highly ranked news blogs such as The Huffington Post perform relatively well in Twitter, possibly due to their active twitter accounts which share any article published on the site.
Here’s how prominent news sources on Google News compared to those that were the most shared in the researchers’ dataset (about 42,000 stories posted in one week in August 2011):
- Google News, as ranked by NewsKnife: Reuters, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, ABC News, Bloomberg, Christian Science Monitor, BBC News
- Most-shared on Twitter: Blog Maverick, Search Engine Land, Duct Tape Marketing, Seth’s Blog, Google Blog, AllFacebook, Mashable, Search Engine Watch
The researchers note that Twitter’s bias for technology-related stories is evident in the stories that are shared the most.
Garber, whose story today brought the February paper to my attention, interpreted the research as providing guidance for the “Platonic version of the news tweet” — one from a big-name publication, about technology, written in an objective manner, that cites someone or something with high name recognition. Researchers looked at all of those factors, but just one of those, publication source, correlated strongly with a story’s popularity on Twitter.