LeBron, Twitter Phenomenon

Some of the data and arguments included in this post were first incorporated into Peter Kafka’s July 8, 2010 post entitled “LeBron James and the Giant Twitter Link” (http://bit.ly/9Hh2Mh).

As was widely reported, LeBron James made his initial foray into the world of Twitter last week and had quickly amassed a following of close to 300,000 followers. While many reports and posts had analyzed the diffusion of LeBron’s original tweet and the speed with which he has gained followers, the data we have here at betaworks provides us with unique insights into the awesome distribution surrounding LeBron’s first tweets and its lessons for the Twitter universe in general. LeBron’s tweet, despite a dearth of initial followers, serves as an extreme counterexample to the common misconception that “More followers equals more clicks.” As the LeBron example shows, and what we know from other betaworks data, relevance of message and follower engagement are for more important.


With the simplest of messages…

Check http://bit.ly/apxlxx (lebronjames.com) for updated info on my decision.

…LeBron’s bit.ly link had one of the most popular first days ever, both in terms of the volume and velocity of clicks by individual users.

The velocity profile (though not the absolute level) for the first hour of the shortened link is fairly typical of popular links – they peak soon after being published, drop sharply over the next ten minutes, and then decline slowly but steadily. LeBron’s shortened link is unique because of its sheer magnitude coupled with the fact that his number of Twitter followers is relatively low (more on this point later). Furthermore, people’s interest just doesn’t seem to die; 24 hours later, the link still gets about 50 clicks a minute. Below are some statistics on the massive click-storm unleashed by that single tweet.

Total followers 24 hours after post ~300,000
Total bit.ly clicks 24 hours after post ~180,000
% of first day’s clicks within first hour ~25% (compared to ~50% for a typical popular tweet)
Peak velocity ~3,000 clicks per minute (reached almost immediately)
Time to 50% of peak velocity ~5 minutes
Time to 25% of peak velocity ~14 minutes
Time to 12.5% of peak velocity ~39 minutes

LeBron’s Lessons

LeBron’s post puts in clear focus the importance of tweet relevance to potential readers and the idea that it is better to have fewer dedicated followers than more disinterested followers.

With all the hoopla surrounding LeBron – Decision 2010, sports writers and fans had whipped themselves into a frenzy, jumping on any and every piece of LeBron-related news on which they can get their hands. LeBron’s post, table scraps in terms of its informational content, was consumed ravenously by a large swath of people precisely because they were starving for anything at that moment. At another time, as popular as LeBron may be, it is unlikely that the same type of tweet with so little actual news would have generated the same kind of response.

The other lesson we drew is that it is a far better strategy to ensure that your readers actually care about your posts than to amass an ever-growing legion of followers who couldn’t care less. LeBron started with almost no followers, yet the response was crazy.

These patterns and lessons bolster the thesis behind one of betaworks’ companies, SocialFlow. SocialFlow provides a tool for Twitter publishers to ensure that their posts go out when their followers actually care about the content with the proven ability to increase click-through rates and follower-retention. Examining the SocialFlow data, the cliche seen in the response to LeBron’s post, of quality (relevance) over quantity, plays out again and again; one of their clients that focuses on cycling and has about 17,500 followers generates a higher number of clicks, not just a higher click-through rate, than do some Twitter accounts that gained over a million followers because of their placement on suggested lists. In the world of micro-blogging, relevance and quality beat quantity any day.

Though he didn’t sign on with our hometown Knicks, we still appreciate LeBron for the important insights he has highlighted as a Twitter Phenomenon.

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