Maximize Your Brand’s Reach On Twitter Using Social Network Analysis

This post by Randy Olson is an entry to our $4,000 Blogging Contest. Randy is a third-year Computer Science & Engineering Ph.D. student at Michigan State University working in Dr. Chris Adami’s research lab.

According to an August 2013 PEW report, 18% of all internet users use Twitter on a regular basis. That equates to roughly 500 million people signing into Twitter to check the latest tweets, news, and celebrity gossip every day. It’s no surprise that brand marketers have taken an interest in connecting to even a small fraction of those 500 million users with the hope of increasing sales and their brand’s reputation.

However, like most online social networks, Twitter has proven to be an amorphous entity that even the best social network analysts struggle to understand. How can we make sense of the massive amount of information on Twitter? More importantly, how can we learn from this information to better market our brands on Twitter?

In this guide, we’re going to walk through how we can use Hashtagify.me and some basic social network analysis techniques to identify the key hashtags in a network, and properly use the hashtags in our tweets to maximize our brand’s reach on Twitter.

What can Twitter hashtags do for our brand?

Some brand marketers may be wondering why hashtags are even worthwhile. Hashtags use up our limited tweet characters and make the tweet awkward to read. Why not focus on writing a clear yet concise tweet that explains the product and why it’s worth considering?

First and foremost, hashtags are the primary method on Twitter to connect to people we don’t know: if we don’t use hashtags, the only users that see our tweets are the ones that follow us. Any brand marketer who’s used Twitter before can testify how difficult it is to build a loyal following there.

The data about tweet engagement is even more eye opening. Here’s a rundown of the relevant points:

  • If we tweet more than 6 times a day, people are less likely to pay attention to our tweets
  • Shorter tweets (< 100 characters) receive more attention than longer tweets
  • Tweets with hashtags receive 2X more attention than tweets without hashtags
  • Tweets with only 1-2 hashtags receive more attention than tweets with 3+ hashtags

This means that if we want to maximize engagement with our tweets, we need to tweet fewer than 7 times a day, be short yet to-the-point, and include 1-2 relevant and popular hashtags in our tweet. That’s an awful lot to consider for a 100-character message, isn’t it? Fortunately, Hashtagify.me can help us making that whole process a breeze.

In my previous post, I covered how to identify networks of related hashtags on Twitter by taking a look at the Big Ten college football network. Let’s move on to identifying the key hashtags in that network.

How to identify key hashtags in a network

The most popular hashtags in a network aren’t necessarily the best hashtags to use for that network. From the analysis in the previous post, we saw that #Michigan was the most used hashtag. If we used #Michigan, we’d be reaching a large number of people, but we would be missing people that follow other sports teams, and instead we would reach many others who are interested in things Michigan, but not in sports. Instead, we want to identify the hashtags that are both popular and used frequently with several other popular hashtags in the network. In social network analysis terms, we want to find the hashtags that are most central to the network.

Fortunately, several smart people have already worked out this problem for us. They found two mathematical tools, called eigenvector centrality and betweenness centrality measures, that help us find the most central nodes in a network; they are both described nicely in this article on network centrality measures.

In short:

  • High eigenvector centrality hashtags are the major influencers of the network
  • High betweenness centrality hashtags are responsible for spreading information between different communities in the network

In this case study, we want to find the hashtags that have a large influence on the entire Big Ten network and tend to spread information to all of the other school’s sports teams. Just our luck, the open source software Gephi has built-in tools to calculate both of these centrality measures, so all we have to do is click a couple buttons to compute them – after importing the data there, of course. If you’re not familiar with Gephi, there are some great guides explaining how to import data into Gephi, how to use Gephi’s data laboratory, and how to calculate network statistics in the data laboratory.

After doing that, this is the final result we got for our Big Ten football hashtags:

Big_Ten_football_Twitter_hashtags_eigenvector_centrality

Big Ten football Twitter hashtags eigenvector centrality

Big_Ten_football-Twitter_hashtags_betweenness_centrality

Big Ten football Twitter hashtags betweenness centrality

As expected from the network visualization we made earlier, #B1G is the most influential hashtag in the Big Ten network. #BigTen and #Buckeyes also seem to be reasonable choices to use for hashtags, but we only have room for one other hashtag if we want to keep the number of hashtags to the ideal of 2. So #B1G and #BigTen it is!

Fun fact: It’s especially interesting to note here that some of the most popular hashtags in the Big Ten network, such as #Michigan, #Huskers, and #Badgers, have about the same influence in the network as the least popular hashtag, #B1GFootball. This just goes to show how in online social networks, size isn’t everything!

If we now go back to Hashtagify.me and compare the Big Ten network’s most influential hashtag’s popularity over time, we make another great finding: #B1G is the only hashtag that hasn’t been tanking in popularity since the end of the primary college football season. Now we know for sure that #B1G is the best hashtag to include in our tweets if we want to get the most attention from the Big Ten network on Twitter.

#B1G popularity over time

Popularity_Over_Time_B1G

Learning how to use the key hashtags with Hashtagify.me

Now that we’ve decided that #B1G is the best hashtag to use for our marketing purposes, we need to learn how to use the hashtag: Each online network has their own social norms and inside jokes. If we barge in with a tweet blatantly advertising our brand, we’re more likely to anger the network than make them want to consider our products. That’s where another handy Hashtagify.me tool comes in: hashtag top influencers.

Top_Influencers_B1G

#B1G top influencers

@BigTenNetwork is clearly the most influential Twitter user for the #B1G hashtag, so they’re likely the best user to learn the social norms from. We can take a quick scroll through their tweets to see what kind of tweet receives attention with the #B1G hashtag. Here’s one successful tweet that received over a hundred Retweets and Favorites:

A quick check shows that most of the successful tweets have minimal text, a large picture of something related to Big Ten sports, and are usually congratulating a sports team on their victory. There are several creative ways to construct a tweet that could market your own brand while fitting this profile, but I’ll leave that to you as the brand marketer!

As if all that weren’t enough, Hashtagify.me takes it to the next level by even telling you when the hashtag is used the most.

Time_Usage_B1G

#B1G hashtag usage patterns

We see some fairly clear trends here: #B1G is used the most on Saturdays and Sundays in the mornings before 10am EST and in the evenings after 6pm EST. Although we could employ a strategy of trying to stand out by tweeting when fewer people are tweeting on the hashtag (between 11am and 5pm EST), most likely the people who follow #B1G will only check Twitter for it during the hours that it’s normally used. As such, we should tweet when #B1G is used the most to connect with more users.

What are you waiting for?

Stop missing out on potential customers by sending out tweets with the wrong hashtags at the wrong times. Start using Hashtagify.me today so you can maximize your brand’s reach on Twitter. And don’t forget to share this post!

  • http://90DayEntrepreneur.com/ Brandon Schaefer

    Randy, you scored a touchdown with this article. Way to cover everything… I can tell you spent some time putting this together.