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Duncan Watts

Everyone's an Influencer: Quantifying Influence on Twitter
Duncan Watts, Principal Research Scientist, Yahoo Inc.

In this paper we investigate the attributes and relative influence of 1.6M Twitter users by tracking 74 million diffusion events that took place on the Twitter follower graph over a two month interval in 2009. Unsurprisingly, we find that the largest cascades tend to be generated by users who have been influential in the past and who have a large number of followers. We also find that URLs that were rated more interesting and/or elicited more positive feelings by workers on Mechanical Turk were more likely to spread. In spite of these intuitive results, however, we find that predictions of which particular user or URL will generate large cascades are relatively unreliable.

We conclude, therefore, that word of- mouth diffusion can only be harnessed reliably by targeting large numbers of potential influencers, thereby capturing average effects. Finally, we consider a family of hypothetical marketing strategies, defined by the relative cost of identifying versus compensating potential influencers. We find that although under some circumstances, the most influential users are also the most cost-effective, under a wide range of plausible assumptions the most cost-effective performance can be realized using ordinary influencers' individuals who exert average or even less-than-average influence.


Duncan Watts is a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research, where he directs the Human Social Dynamics group. He is also an adjunct senior research fellow at Columbia University, and an external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute and Nuffield College, Oxford.

His research on social networks and collective dynamics has appeared in a wide range of journals, from Nature, Science, and Physical Review Letters to the American Journal of Sociology. He is also the author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (W.W. Norton, 2003) and Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness (Princeton University Press, 1999). He holds a B.Sc. in Physics from the University of New South Wales, and Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University.

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