MIT researchers have published some fascinating data on how Twitter grew during its first few years of existence. According to the research, Twitter’s “U.S. growth relied primarily on media attention, geographic proximity of users”.
The story gets particularly interesting when the researchers realized that media attention wasn’t simply a reflection of Twitter’s growth, but a cause of it:
González and Toole said their model of Twitter contagion didn’t fit Cha’s data until they added media influence, based on the number of news stories appearing weekly in Google News searches, data they acquired using Google Insights for Search, which provides historical search-engine data.
This jives with our experience building on Twitter’s API. In late 2008 we founded the Shorty Awards to honor the top content creators on Twitter (now it covers all social media platforms). The Shorty Awards became a trending topic on Twitter within 24 hours of launch, but Twitter itself wasn’t all that big at the time — only 1/3rd the size of Wordpress.com according to Compete. However, since journalists were relying on Twitter to find sources and communicate with each other, they noticed the Shorty Awards, which were quickly covered in the New York Times, BBC and Wall Street Journal without even sending out a press release.
After seeing how many journalists were using Twitter at the Shorty Awards we were inspired to create Muck Rack in 2009 to bring you, as we put it, “Tomorrow’s newspaper, today” — since you could follow second-by-second how journalists at each paper were using Twitter to do their job. We recently followed this with Muck Rack Pro to help journalists communicate with each other, PR people and sources over social media.
If you’re trying to build the next global communications platform, you might want to try to get journalists to use it to do their jobs. Perhaps this is why Google+ and Facebook are both aggressively courting journalists.