Analyzed: The Half Life of a Popular Tweet is less than 1 day [Sad But True]

[Guest article by Lakshmanan Narayan, founder of Eyes And Feet]

You’ve finally got that viral tweet! Something about your start up or product is finally tweeted by a high klout tweetaholic.You have your eyes glued to half a dozen screens that show you retweets, mentions and twitter searches for your company/URL/product/keyword. It looks great – for about 42 minutes, or at best a few hours. And then…Poof!


You head to bed, hoping to know that a resurgence in interest happened while you were asleep. The morning brings no great joy. It’s almost like, barring that 1 hour in the limelight, your ‘tweet de resistance’ never existed.
Don’t be disappointed! It happens to the best, as this tale of three tweets illustrates
Here’s what we did:

  1. Headed over to Tweetmeme and hand picked a few popular (over 7 days) stories from multiple categories (technology, entertainment, etc)
  2. Filtered and selected relatively timeless stories – stories whose value doesn’t depreciate with time. Typically, this would mean ‘non news’ because a news story’s value naturally depreciates but an interesting video on cats doesn’t.
  3. Filtered again to select stories that are anchored in a URL, i.e. stories that you would expect to find only at one unique URL. A YouTube video won’t pass this test as there is a high propensity to embed a video on one’s own blog. Hence, the same piece of content might go viral from multiple URLs. While this is great, it doesn’t work for this study as…
  4. We used Backtweets to query the number of tweets referencing a given URL in a given day, and did this for the few days since the URL first appeared in twitter. We’d have loved to provide a higher level of granularity (every hour) – but Backtweets (basic & free option) doesn’t offer this.

Here are the ones that we finally selected:
A) Periodic Table of the Elements
Over 2,500 mentions in a week!
This story debuted on August 21st, peaked on August 23rd and then dropped. Interestingly, there seems to be a second surge in interest – not unsurprising considering that it wasn’t initially tweeted from any well known account – guess it was just time before someone with more followers picked it up! Here are the numbers:

B) Why working from home is both awesome and horrible
Over 8,500 mentions in half a week!
This one was initially tweeted by @oatmeal. With over 80,000 followers and a reputation for posting stellar content, this is (almost) as good as it gets. Plus, this content isn’t time bound in any way- there’s no expiry date on its ability to elicit a chuckle. However, after peaking at over 3,000 tweets a day, the volume rapidly dropped to under 25% of that, as this chart illustrates.

Moving to as good as it gets…
From the stables of someone who’s almost always trending on twitter: Justin Bieber!
C) Be a part of Justin’s Movie | Bieber Fever
Considering that this was encouraging people to apply for a role in Justin Bieber video, this is as viral as it can get. And how: over 25,000 mentions in half a week! Here’s how this one did – from when it first tweeted on August 24th. Don’t miss the super rapid decline.

Admittedly, there is no rigorous statistical analysis on the above data. It’s fairly obvious, though, that tweet volume declines quite rapidly – to less than 50% of it’s maximum – in less than a day.


  • Don’t be disappointed when your tweet vanishes into the sunset faster than it rode in. In fact, if you’re not Justin Bieber, you may get a second lease of life if it gets picked up by someone more ‘powerful’.
  • Continue to focus on creating timeless content. As you can imagine, a news story will drop even faster as it gets outdated, so giving a spin on a news story or a product announcement won’t make the grade. All the links profiled here are timeless (OK, not the Bieber one – but it was timeless for the period studied, unlike a "Justin in Miami, fans go berserk" news story)
  • Important for start-ups: Don’t fool yourself into thinking "if only X would tweet about me, everything would fall in place". Happy tweeting!

What’s your opinion?

[Reproduced from author’s blog.]

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