Twitter Trending Topics: Driven by mainstream media

Any of you who use Twitter for your social networking will have heard of Twitter Trending Topics which create a lot of interest and further spread the word on what everybody is currently looking at. Here at OSM we publish a weekly story on popular Twitter trending topics but have you ever wondered where those trends come from and how they’re made up.

Ben Parr over on Mashable reports on a new study by HP’s Social Computing Research Group that looked into the anatomy of trending topics. The research was gathered by looking at a total of 16.2 million Twitter tweets over 2 months during 2010. The study covered 3,361 various trending topics and looked at data collected from Twitter’s API at 20-minute intervals.

One of the findings was that the algorithm that measures the trending topics takes more notice of the actual subject and how far it spreads rather than the regularity of the tweets or who tweeted it. Apparently retweets make up 31% of Twitter Trending Topics. The really significant factor though, is that 72% of those retweets come from major media sources such as The Telegraph, The Huffington Post or ESPN.

It was found then that traditional media sources still establish the most-discussed topics rather than the trending topics creating what’s reported in the media. The report from HP concluded, “What proves to be more important in determining trends is the retweets by other users, which is more related to the content that is being shared than the attributes of the users. Furthermore, we found that the content that trended was largely news from traditional media sources, which are then amplified by repeated retweets on Twitter to generate trends.”

You may also be surprised at just how briefly trending topics actually trend for, with very few lasting longer than 40 minutes at the top. For more on this check out the Mashable link above or you can see the whole report from HP, ‘Trends in Social Media: Persistence and Decay,’ below this story. You can also read the HP blog about this report here. Meanwhile if you’re a Twitter enthusiast you may be interested in an article by Jenna Wortham on The New York Times, with news about how Twitter wants to become multilingual faster.

Are you surprised that traditional media is the driving force of Twitter Trending Topics or any of the other findings in the study? Why not let us know with your comments.