Want to be Retweeted? Add Hashtags to Your Tweets!

In a recent study, Bongwon Suh, Peter Pirolli, Ed H. Chi, and I examined what factors might affect retweetability of a tweet. We will report our findings in an upcoming paper this August in the Second IEEE International Conference on Social Computing [1]. In this post, I focus on a factor that we found to correlate with retweetability: hashtag.

Before I dive into the details, here is some information about the dataset that we used in our study: From Twitter’s Spritzer feed, we collected a random sample of public tweets from January 18, 2010 to March 8, 2010, yielding about 74 million tweets. That is, we collected about 1.5 million tweets per day, representing approximately 2-3% of 50 million tweets appearing on Twitter daily.

For each of these 74 million tweets, we scanned for a variety of retweet markers such as “RT @”, “RT:@”, “retweeting @”, “retweet @”, “via @”, “thx @”, “HT @”, and “r @” [2]. We found that there are about 8.24 million retweets, accounting for 11.1% of all the tweets. Next, we searched for those tweets and retweets that contain at least one hashtag. We found that 10.1% of tweets and 20.8% of retweets include hashtags, suggesting that a tweet with hashtags is more likely to get retweeted.

We further investigated whether the retweetability of a tweet has anything to do with the type of hashtag it contains. Analyzing the 74 million tweets, we identified the 20 most popular hashtags used in our tweets and the number of tweets containing each hashtag:

Rank Hashtag Number of Tweets

1 #nowplaying 355,147

2 #ff 224,760

3 #jobs 124,728

4 #fb 87,959

5 #tinychat 67,225

6 #vouconfessarque 51,578

7 #fail 49,248

8 #tcot 47,394

9 #1 47,373

10 #followfriday

39,986

11 #news 38,573
12 #shoutout

30,633

13 #tweetmyjobs

30,594

14 #bbb

28,590

15 #haiti

28,563

16 #letsbehonest

27,926

17 #iranelection

27,611

18 #quote

27,541

19 #followmejp

25,940

20 #follow

24,166

On the other hand, the following table shows the 20 most popular hashtags used in our 8.24 million retweets and the number of retweets containing each hashtag:

Rank Hashtag Number of Retweets
1 #ff 62,331

2 #vouconfessarque 43,628

3 #nowplaying 29,846

4 #tcot 18,527

5 #idothat2 16,583

6 #ohjustlikeme 16,531

7 #jafizisso 15,564

8 #haiti 13,829

9 #retweetthisif 12,602

10 #iranelection

12,334

11 #quote

11,475

12 #followfriday

11,170

13 #fb

10,994

14 #ihatequotes

9,982

15 #fail

9,759

16 #omgthatssotrue

9,286

17 #1

9,124

18 #terremotochile

8,892

19 #p2

8,719

20 #follow

8,084

As can be seen, these two lists of hashtags do not match each other exactly. For example, #jobs appears only in the first list, while #idothat2 appears only in the second list. That is, the fact that a hashtag is frequently used in the tweets does not guarantee that it is also frequently used in the reweets, and vice versa.

For each hashtag, we computed a retweet rate by dividing the number of retweets containing the hashtag by the number of tweets containing the hashtag. We then normalized the rate so that a value of 1.0 represents the average retweet rate of 11.1%. For example, for #nowplaying, the retweet rate of 0.75 was calculated as (29,846/355,147)*(74/8.24). A hashtag with a retweet rate higher than 1.0 indicates that, compared to the average case, the tweets containing this hashtag have a higher chance of getting retweeted. The following table shows the retweet rates for the 10 most popular hashtags used in our tweets:

Rank Hashtag Retweet Rate
1 #nowplaying 0.75
2 #ff 2.49
3 #jobs 0.16
4 #fb 1.12

5 #tinychat 0.04

6 #vouconfessarque 7.59

7 #fail 1.78

8 #tcot 3.51

9 #1 1.73

10 #followfriday

2.51

In the following plot, each point represents an individual hashtag. The X-axis is the popularity rank of hashtags based on how many tweets contain each hashtag. The Y-axis represents the retweet rates of hashtags as computed above.


From the figure, we see that the retweet rates vary greatly. Not all popular hashtags in tweets are popular in retweets. The type of hashtag does matter.

References
[1] Suh, B., Hong, L., Pirolli, P., and Chi, E. H. Want to be Retweeted? Large Scale Analytics on Factors Impacting Retweet in Twitter Network. To appear in SocialCom’10.
[2] boyd, d., Golder, S., and Lotan, G. Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter. Proc. HICSS’10, 1-10.

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