Replies and Retweets on Twitter

Sept 2010

When a tweet generates a reply (aka @) or a retweet (aka RT), it suggests the tweet has resonated enough with someone that it sparks a conversation or encourages someone to share it with their followers.

Given the power of the reply and the RT, we thought it would be interesting to explore how many tweets actually generate a reaction. We also wanted to collect more insight into the characteristics of these reactions. For example, what is the timeframe for a retweet to happen?

To carry out the research, Sysomos examined 1.2 billion tweets posted in the last two months.

29% of Tweets Generate a Reaction

We found that 29% of all tweets produced a reaction - a reply or a retweet. Of this group of tweets, 19.3% were retweets and the rest replies. This means that of the 1.2 billion tweets we examined, 6%, (or 72 million) were retweets.

Most Retweets Happen in the First Hour

We discovered that 92.4% of all retweets happen within the first hour of the original tweet being published, while an additional 1.63% of retweets happen in the second hour, and 0.94% take place in the third hour.

This means that if a tweet is not retweeted in the first hour, it is very likely that it will not be retweeted.

The graph below shows the fraction of tweets from the second hour onwards - the x-axis shows the time in hours since the original tweet, while the vertical axis shows the fraction of retweets within a particular hour. The 92.4% of all retweets, which happen within the first hour, are not displayed in the chart. 1.63% of retweets happen in the second hour, and 0.94% take place in the third hour.

Most Replies Also Happen in the First Hour

When examining replies, there is a similar pattern to how retweets behave. We found that 96.9% of @ replies happen within the first hour of the original tweet being published, while an additional 0.88% of replies happen in the second hour. After that, reply activity dramatically declines.

Only 1.53% of Twitter Conversation are Three Levels Deep

We also examined the distance between an original tweet and the replies it attracts. Of all tweets that generated a reply, 85% have only one reply. Another 10.7% attracted a reply to the original reply - the conversation was two levels deep.

Only 1.53% of Twitter conversations are three levels deep - after the original tweet, there is a reply, reply to the reply, and reply to the reply of reply.

The chart below shows how the fraction of Twitter conversations (on vertical axis) with respect to how long the conversation lasted (on horizontal axis). It shows that only a small number of users actually have the ability to engage on Twitter in a significant way.

Appendix: Additional Data

The table below shows the fraction of retweets as number of hours since the original tweet.

The table below shows the fraction of @ replies as number of hours since the original tweet.

The video below shows a sample visualization of tweets and their retweets over time. The spiral represents the time axis. Each blue dot is a tweet, with the size of the blue dot representing the number of retweets and replies to that tweet. Each green line shows a retweet to the original tweet and each orange line shows @reply to the original tweet.

About Sysomos

Sysomos is the social intelligence company backed by data science that gives businesses immediate context to the hundreds of millions of conversations happening online every day. The Sysomos social intelligence platform continuously decodes these conversations and news stories to give marketers real-time answers about what their customers think and feel. More than 1,400 global brands and agencies including United Health Group, 3M, Boeing, Edelman, Genetech, Marriott and Ogilvy trust Sysomos for their social intelligence. Sysomos has offices in seven cities worldwide, including London, New York, San Francisco and Toronto. 


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