An Exploration of Retweets and Replies

When a tweet generates a reply (aka @) or a retweet (aka RT), it suggests the tweet creates enough interest 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 decided to explore how many tweets actually generate a reaction. We also wanted to collect more insight into the characteristics of these reactions. For example, over what period of time does a retweet happen?

To do this research, Sysomos examined 1.2 billion tweets posted in the past two months. The complete report can be found here.

We found that 29% of 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.

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

This means that if a tweet is not retweeted in the first hour, it is not likely to be retweeted at all.

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.

This is the latest in a series of special reports that Sysomos has published. The complete collection can be found here.

17 Comments on “An Exploration of Retweets and Replies”

  1. As i just tweeted, I am curious about this data. I don’t believe that the percentages can be placed upon every twitter user. I’m not saying you are but i feel that is how other may interpret it.

    What interests me is how you break this reporting structure down to represent different types of users taking into account several variables, no. of followers, number of tweets and also your own authority ranking. There are other variables out there, time of day would be another interesting one but one step at a time.

    Time of day is interesting because if i am sharing one of my own articles i will often post the same tweet perhaps 3 to 4 times over a 2 day cycle but at different times. The reason for this is simply because many people might have missed it. As i have analysed where my followers are in the world, a large proportion are based in the US so there is difference in time zones that could affect response.

    All in all i think this is great top line report but would definitely be interested to delve deeper!


  2. Hi Rhys,

    I totally agree with you that there are several other factors that have direct effect on the response to tweets, and time is definitely one of them. As the community manager for Sysomos I often repost our blog posts a few times during the day to compensate for things like time zones. As well, many Twitter users follow a lot of people, so it’s very easy for a tweet to get missed in someones timeline and by putting the tweet out again it gives it a better chance of being seen.
    Also, Guy Kawasaki is notoriously quoted for saying that he does the same because he says that it helps his tweets get seen more leading to more traffic.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

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  4. “Also, Guy Kawasaki is notoriously quoted for saying that he does the same because he says that it helps his tweets get seen more leading to more traffic.”

    It also has tempted me many a time to unfollow him. If I wasn’t worried that one day he’d tweet something I didn’t want to miss, I probably would do it. (although if it really was that earth-shattering, I’m sure someone else I follow would retweet it for me in that first hour. 😉

    The point, I guess, to this comment being, that unless you’ve got something that people really, really want, retweeting the same thing too many times can backfire. It’s a tightrope we all walk.

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  8. Rather than looking at the number of replies & retweets, a much better methodology is to look at the number of clicks that a link posted inside a tweet gets.

    When I post a link (using my powered shortener) Approximately 5% of my 600 followers will click the link. Retweets and responses are much more rare than clicks. If anybody clicks the link, the tweet was not ignored, but according to this study they were.

    Regularly I’ll tweet something, then a day or two later, I’ll have somebody ask me IRL about something mentioned tweet. So despite a lack of twitter responses and retweets, clearly the tweet was read by a “lurker”. But according to the standard of this study they were ignored.

    Finally, I have my tweets set to funnel into Facebook, which despite having 1/3 of the followers there, it’s far more likely that a tweet will receive a response or a “Like”. This study doesn’t consider that either.

    Shameless trawling for more followers: Follow Me on Twitter @HKoren

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