by Peter Gloor*

In this post, I would like to explore whether Twitter can really help an aspiring leader to change the world, promote a cause or further their own career. I will start by looking at the Twitter behaviour of the world’s most famous people, and then identify some characteristics of the most active or prominent tweeters.

In a project with GDI Switzerland, we have used prominence in Wikipedia to identify the most influential people in the (English-speaking) world. The metric we used for this is called ‘reach-2’; i.e. the number of people one can reach in two degrees of separation.

Then we looked at the correlations between the reach-2 Wikipedia rank and the Twitter scores among the top 100,000 most influential people on Wikipedia. There is a moderate correlation of 0.3 between Wikipedia reach-2 score and followers on Twitter, as more influential people not surprisingly tend to have more followers. There is zero correlation, however, between the number of tweets of a person and their real-world influence measured through reach-2. The conclusion: you can tweet as much as you want, but it won’t make you more influential!

The list of the most followed tweeters is dominated by the entertainment sector. The top 20 are listed below:


Name Twitter Follower
Katy Perry 105704538
Justin Bieber 102737326
Barack Obama 96468561
Taylor Swift 85604763
Rihanna 81333384
Ellen DeGeneres 74979901
Lady Gaga 72837019
Justin Timberlake 62988786
Cristiano Ronaldo 62726679
Kim Kardashian 56591054
Britney Spears 55887840
Ariana Grande 54645815
Selena Gomez 53737379
Demi Lovato 50930613
Jimmy Fallon 49528047
Shakira 48820531
Jennifer Lopez 43784074
Donald Trump 41625028
Bill Gates 40391342
Oprah Winfrey 39542153

The empress and emperor of the Twitter universe are singers and actors Katy Perry and Justin Bieber; Barack Obama and Donald Trump are the only politicians in the top 20. There is just one entrepreneur among the top 20 – Bill Gates, who completes the list together with Oprah Winfrey.

An analysis of the professions on the list of the top 30,000 tweeters by reach-2 confirms the leading position of actors and musicians.

Profession Twitter Profiles
Actor 9040
Musician 5843
Football Player 4424
Singer 3424
Politician 2629
Writer 2309
Journalist 2015
Model 1138

It seems that the world of Twitter is a world of appearance, and not of substance. Glory beats power, at least on Twitter; actors, musicians, athletes and singers come before politicians. People with real impact and diligent workers behind the scenes, such as entrepreneurs, teachers, engineers, scientists, and researchers, are missing on this top eight list of most popular Twitter professions. Note that this is based on the self-description of people, and it seems we prefer to be seen as actors and models rather than linguists, theoretical physicists or skateboarders (there are nine of each on our list).

We found a significant correlation of 0.5 between the number of times tweets are liked and the number of Twitter friends – Twitter friends are the people you follow. So it seems die-hard Twitter users and addicts with many Twitter friends are nice to each other and read and ‘like’ each other’s tweets, which seems to indicate the existence of a Twitter echo chamber.

To further understand the characteristics of different Twitter profiles, we looked at some leaders in different categories. The most active tweeter in our analysis was a UK photographer, video artist and poet, who has tweeted 1.5 million times; on average, 42 tweets per hour. She posts original poems and pictures; she is also the 12th most liked tweeter in our analysis, which means others like her tweet a lot. She has amassed 1.7 million followers.

The second most active tweeter in our analysis is clickbait – a Twitter bot that tries to lure readers to a website loaded with ads. It has spewed out 1.5 million tweets along the way.  The same is true for the fourth most active Twitter user, which masquerades as a radio station, but in reality is also click-bait trying to collect click-throughs for ad money. The third most active tweeter in our sample is the UK’s BT help desk, which has produced 1.46 million tweets of customer advice, leading to at least 127,000 followers.

Another typical profile among the cohort of a few hundred thousand tweets are self-promoting marketers, who follow a few thousand people, with the same number of people following them back, leading to an echo chamber of Twitter noise. These people check their followers obsessively and also tend to like each others’ tweets, resulting in a mirage of Twitter popularity.

Looking at the ranking by Twitter likes, the tweets by the music band ‘icarusaccount’  garnered the most likes, with 226,000 followers. It has posted about 8,000 original poetic lyrics, which have amassed more than 1.9 million likes. Number two on our list, however, seems to be of the self-promoting marketer category, an Indian who has (re)tweeted 800,000 times, mostly retweets about Indian politics, leading to more than 900,000 likes. Similarly, number three, a Japanese with more than 500,000 tweets, mostly retweets of baseball pictures and movies, has almost 900,000 likes, most likely coming from a small echo chamber. Thus, it seems that while there are a few genuine content creators, such as the most active video artist and poet and the most liked music band, a large number of Twitter users, be it bots or real people, tweet into an echo chamber, never to be read or only by a small group of like-minded individuals.

So the conclusion is that Twitter can help you spread your ideas, but it will not persuade anybody to accept your ideas! Opinions are made on other media, be it YouTube videos, newspaper articles or more elaborate blog posts – like this one!

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* Peter A. Gloor is a Research Scientist at the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT’s Sloan School of Management where he leads a project exploring Collaborative Innovation Networks. He is founder and Chief Creative Officer of Social Network Analysis software company galaxyadvisors. He is also a Honorary Professor at the University of Cologne, Distinguished Visiting Professor at P. Universidad Cattolica Santiago de Chile, and a lecturer at Aalto University Helsinki.

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