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Twitter celebrates 10 years since its first tweet – How far has it come? by Neil Ferber

Category : Figure It Out

At 9.50pm PST on 21st March 2006, the founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, posted his first tweet "just setting up my twttr". Not a particularly inspiring start, but since then Twitter has seen some phenomenal growth and reach with some memorable moments. In this blog, I take a look at some of the key milestones and records that Twitter has seen over the first 10 years of its life.

Tweeters

From its official launch in July 2006 to now, there have been an estimated 1.3 billion accounts created. There is still an active user community of around 320m that post around 6000 tweets per second, corresponding to around 200 billion tweets per year. That’s the same as 29 tweets for every single person on the planet.

To try and understand better the numbers at play, let’s consider the demographics of Twitter users. Not surprising as a social media platform, the user base is concentrated in the younger age groups, with over 50% of users under 35 years old.

Figure 1: The distribution of twitter users across age groups.

One feature of Twitter is the rise in the number of people with millions of followers, who can then share their personal thoughts to large numbers of people instantly.

So who are the top user accounts in terms of followers on Twitter? These results may surprise some:

Rank

Account

Followers
(mil)

1

Katy Perry @katyperry

85

2

Justin Bieber @justinbieber

77

3

Taylor Swift @taylorswift13

73

4

Barack Obama @BarackObama

71

5

YouTube @Youtube

61

 

Reviewing all the accounts which have more than 20 million followers, we can see that the most followed accounts are dominated by music, sport and celebrities. (SocialBakers.com)

Figure 2: Categories of Twitter accounts with more than 20m followers

So the popularity of music, celebrity and sport across most followed Twitter accounts as well as peak Twitter activity aligns well with the larger number of Millennial and Generation Y users.

Outside this, it seems general popularity or global following do not necessarily indicate a larger number of Twitter followers. The Pope, the leader of an estimated 1 billion Roman Catholics, has less than 9m followers on Twitter, whereas footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and reality TV star Kim Kardashian both have over 40m followers.

Traffic

More recent analysis suggests that growth in active users has slowed dramatically, even suggesting a decline in average tweets per day, although this has been denied by Twitter. However, the records for peak Twitter usage continue to be broken, with Leonardo DiCaprio’s recent Oscar win creating a peak of 440,000 tweets/min.

So with that in mind, what sort of trigger leads to the explosion in Twitter activity? Let’s have a look at recent events that aroused intense Twitter traffic, as they are the most popular trigger for peaks in Twitter usage.

The US Airways crash in New York City’s Hudson River in January 2009 heralded Twitter’s arrival as a prominent news breaking social media network. Since then, the volume of event-based tweets and retweets has grown.

In 2010 the FIFA World Cup football match between Japan and Cameroon generated nearly 3000 tweets/sec, subsequently bettered by Los Angeles Lakers when they won the NBA Basketball finals in the same year.

For events, the trend in total tweets and peak volume of tweets has shown yearly growth. The overall peak moment for Twitter volume is quoted as August 3, 2013 in Japan, when 143,199 tweets per second were recorded during a television screening of the movie Castle in the Sky.

When considering total tweets or peak volume for events, the following tables show the record breaking topics that have been tweeted about since 2010.

Date

Event

Total Tweets (millions)

Jan-13

Superbowl 47

24

Jul-14

Football World Cup - Germany / Brazil

36

Oct-15

Filipino Daytime TV Drama Episode

41

 

Date

Event

Peak Tweets (tweets/min)

Jun-10

World Cup – Cameroon / Japan (peak)

174,000

Jun-10

NBA Final (peak)

185,100

Jan-15

Superbowl - Final minute

395,000

Feb-16

DiCaprio wins Oscar

440,000

Scanning through these statistics of the most tweeted topics, there is clearly a strong emphasis on sporting events with wide-scale appeal, or those involving TV or popular celebrities.

Tweets

When it comes to individual tweets, the most retweeted tweet ever came from Ellen DeGeneres in March 2014. The star-studded ‘selfie’ tweet at the Oscars of that year produced 3.3 million retweets.

This beat the previous record of the image of Barack Obama with his wife, following his re-election in 2012, which garnered 780,000 retweets.

The next three most retweeted tweets were about people who tragically died. These were a tribute for Glee star Cory Monteith, the actor Paul Walker’s death and Justin Bieber’s tribute to a fan that had died of cancer.

2016

It would seem then that the combination of a popular event, appealing to the most active and numerous Twitter demographics, with celebrity engagement, provides the ingredients for ever bigger ‘Twitter events’.

So can we use this information to predict what sort of event could be the new record holder in 2016? The bar has been set high by the Oscars, but by combining our insight and a view to key events in the year ahead, if Usain Bolt makes it to the 200m final at the Rio Olympics, or if Donald Trump becomes President of the USA, prepare for Twitter meltdown.

About the author

Neil Ferber
Neil Ferber
As an experienced analytics consultant, I utilise analytics for business insight and decision-making to identify and implement business and process improvement. I have delivered insight-driven change primarily in Central Government, Financial Services and Utilities. My interests include digital transformation, process modelling and simulation, and data visualisation to deliver insight and change.

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