Talk: Understanding Social Dynamics of Emergent Hashtag

This post is about a talk titled, “#Bigbirds Never Die: Understanding Social Dynamics of Emergent Hashtag” by Dr. Yu-Ru Lin in the ISP Colloquium Series. You may browse all such posts under the Talks category in the archives.

Hashtags could be simply defined as words that are a prefixed by a “#” sign. They serve as a means to group meaningful messages together on social media. Twitter (and recently Facebook) makes it possible for users to search for specific hashtags to look at all the relevant posts on a topic. While Twitter wasn’t the first to use this concept, it has unarguably gained more popularity since its use on the micro-blogging site.

Dr. Lin’s research concerns with studying the rise of new hashtags (such as #bigbird) during the 2012 US Presidential Election debates. She presents an analysis on the emergence and evolution of such hashtags and in turn the topics that they represent. Posts were analyzed during the periods when new never-before-used hashtags were created, used and shared by other people.

Since different people may be tweeting on the same topic around the same time, we can have several different candidates (eg. #bigbird, #supportbird, #savebigbird etc.) but a few gain more popularity amongst the fellow tweeters (or twitterers, take your pick!). Dr. Lin and her colleagues put them into two classes: ‘winners’ and ‘also-rans’. A ‘winner’ hashtag is considered to be the one that emerges more quickly and is sustained for longer periods of time.

Now the question to be asked is that what factors are influential in making a hashtag, a ‘winner’? Here are two of the important results from the study:

  • A hashtag is adopted faster when re-tweeted more. It also depends on the size of the audience that gets to read them.
  • More replies and diversity amongst the tweeters using them imply longer persistence.

I think that apart from the results above (which should be studied carefully by people involved in making promotional campaigns etc.), there is a lot more to take back from research like this. It not only gives us insights into the dynamics that come into play on social networks (which may be interesting to the social sciences researchers) but also give us tools and methods to analyze big data. It serves as example data-driven computational and statistical approaches to make sense of the conversations on social networking sites like Twitter.

Further Reading

  1. Y.-R. Lin, D. Margolin, B. Keegan, A. Baronchelli and D. Lazer, #Bigbirds Never Die: Understanding Social Dynamics of Emergent Hashtag, In Proceedings of the 7th International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM 2013), 2013. Available: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1303.7144v1.pdf

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