Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Study Shows How Social Media Amplifies Mass Media

Posted by Tom Foremski - March 28, 2011

Social media is touted by many as a way to get around the gatekeepers of media, the traditional old order of mass media setting the agenda for society has been tipped onto its head.

Not really.

A study from Yahoo! Research "Who Says What to Whom on Twitter | Yahoo! Research" found this:

We find a striking concentration of attention on Twitter—roughly 50% of tweets consumed are generated by just 20K elite users—where the media produces the most information, but celebrities are the most followed.

And as for diversity of opinion?

We also find significant homophily within categories: celebrities listen to celebrities, while bloggers listen to bloggers etc...

It's an interesting scientific paper. I stress scientific because the analysis is made through statistical analysis of large numbers of people and according to well tested academic principles. These are not the pontifications of social media "gurus".

Proof for Two-Step Flow Theory

The study analyzed 5 billion tweets and examined the relationship between users.

It found that there are about 20,000 "elite" users that are the source for 50% of Tweets but they rely on a large number of intermediaries, about 500K.

Interestingly, these results are all broadly consistent with the original conception of the two-step flow, advanced over 50 years ago, which emphasized that opinion leaders were "distributed in all occupational groups, and on every social and economic level"...

... given, in fact, that a service like Twitter was likely unimaginable at the time it is remarkable how well the theory agrees with our observations.

Mass media continues to exhibit its mass effect even in a world full of lots of competing media:

Although audience attention has indeed fragmented among a wider pool of content producers than classical models of mass media, attention remains highly concentrated, where roughly 0.05% of the population accounts for almost half of all attention.

There's lots more of interest in the paper, such as:

We find that the longest-lived URLs are dominated by content such as videos and music, which are continually being rediscovered by Twitter users and appear to persist indefinitely.


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