How do people decide whether or not to read a tweet?

Tuesday, Nov 4, 2014

It turns out that an existing relationship with the author of the tweet is one of the main factors influencing how someone decides whether or not to read a tweet. At the same time,  a large number associated with a tweet can also make the tweet more attractive to readers.

Our latest Open Access research has discovered how much effect the information about a tweet has on whether people decide to read it or not.

By showing hundreds of Twitter users the information about two tweets but not the tweets themselves, and then asking the users which tweet they would like to read, we have been able to look at which information is more important when users are deciding to read a tweet.

We looked at two different types of information:

  1. Simple numbers that describe the tweet, such as the number of retweets it has, or numbers that describe the author, such as how many followers they have, or how many tweets they’ve written.

  2. Whether a relationship between the reader and the author is important, and whether that relationship was best shown through subtle hints, or direct information.

When readers can see only one piece of information, the case is clear: they’d rather read the tweet written by someone they are following. Readers can easily recognise the usernames, names, and profile images of people they already follow, and are likely to choose to read content written by someone they follow (instead of content written by a stranger) around 75% of the time. If all they can see is a piece of numerical information, they would rather read the tweet with the highest number, no matter what that number is. The effect is strongest with the number of retweets, followed by the number of followers, but even for the number of following and number of tweets written the effect is significant.

When readers can see two pieces of information, one about their relationship with the author, and one numerical, there are two cases to look at. When the author they follow also has a high numerical value, readers will choose that tweet in around 80% of the cases. When the author they already follow has a lower numerical value, it is still the existing relationship that is more of a draw. Readers would rather read a tweet from someone they know that has a low number of retweets, than one from a stranger with a high number of retweets.

This work offers an understanding of how the decision-making process works on Twitter when users are skimming their timelines for something to read, and has particular implications for the display and promotion of non-timeline content within content streams. For instance, readers may pay more attention to adverts and promoted content if the link between themselves and the author is highlighted.

Previous results  from an early experiment were published at SocialCom. The results in this new paper are from a modified and expanded version of this earlier experiment.