Are social networks an obvious channel for viral marketing? New research from HP Labs casts light through the cloud of hype

Bernardo A. Huberman,  Daniel M. Romero, and Fang Wu of HP Labs have released a research paper called Social networks that matter: Twitter under the microscope (PDF).  They have divided the people in any given Twitter user”s network into:

a. Friends – anyone who a user has directed a post to at least twice.

b. Followers and followees – everyone else in the user’s network.

One interesting finding is that

…even though users declare that they follow many people using Twitter, they only keep in touch with a small number of them. Hence, while the social network created by the declared followers and followees appears to be very dense, in reality the more influential network of friends suggests that the social network is sparse.

The authors conclude that

…users with many actual friends tend to post more updates than users with few actual friends. On the other hand, users with many followers or followees post updates more infrequently than those with few followers or followees. Many people, including scholars, advertisers and political activists, see online social networks as an opportunity to study the propagation of ideas, the formation of social bonds and viral marketing, among others. This view should be tempered by our findings that a link between any two people does not necessarily imply an interaction between them. As we showed in the case of Twitter, most of the links declared within Twitter were meaningless from an interaction point of view. Thus the need to find the hidden social network; the one that matters when trying to rely on word of mouth to spread an idea, a belief, or a trend.

Easier said than done, but this certainly improves our understanding of the challenges facing viral marketing. Watts and Peretti’s mathematical model for viral campaigns seems ever more sensible in this context.

Josh Bernoff blogs about new research from Forrester which clearly shows where social networks (and blogs) rank when it comes to credibility.


  1. […] quite the trendy buzzwords among PR firms these days, but Josh’s chart above together with HP Lab’s paper on social networks shows that the valuable part of people’s networks is (a) smaller than it appears and (b) […]

  2. kbenterprises said

    i like the upcoming twitter metrics:

    but i also think we need some criteria to measure whats really going on. that’s where I’m twisting my mind on on

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