Over the last 24 hours we’ve received a bunch of inquiries from journalists regarding Donald Trump’s surge of twitter followers on the account, @realdonaldtrump. Along this subject, there has been some easily disprovable information going viral. Considering that SocialRank focuses on granular audience data, we thought we might put together a quick post that shows some real facts about Donald Trump’s followers.
@realDonaldTrump has gained over 5 mil followers in less than 3 days. Take a look- mostly bots. He’s getting ready for something. #resist
The viral posts above by @txmockingjay and @th3j35t3r appear to be the start of the misinformation. The claim that Trump’s follower base increased by 5M is easily disproved by the greatest tool ever created, the Wayback Machine. Using the site, users can see that @realDonaldTrump had 30.6M followers on May 26th (3 days before the post). Nonetheless, @th3j35t3r and @txmockingjay’s tweets aren’t completely wrong as there has been an odd surge of fake/bot accounts following @realDonaldTrump’s account in the past month.
This newsworthy data was highlighted in early February; Mashable’s Kerry Flynn wrote an article using SocialRank data that showed that out of the 24.1M followers @realDonaldTrump had, 5M of them were egg accounts (i.e. no profile photo). Now, as of May 22nd (the last time @realDonaldTrump data fully ran in the system), he has just under 31M followers and 9.1M of them are eggs. This means that out of the 7M new followers, over 4M of them are eggs. Whereas in February his egg accounts made up 20% of his followers, they now make up almost 33% of his followers. Needless to say, this is a very big change in a short time.
Perhaps even more shocking is that in May alone, 927k egg accounts followed @realdonaldtrump. Out of this number, 711k (77%) have never posted. Additionally, each egg account has an average of only 1.6 followers. This begs the question – why are there so many meaningless followers?
We think that the rise of these accounts could be explained by two things:
1) Someone is buying followers for @realDonaldTrump’s account.
2) Being added to the “who to follow” list really juiced the number of egg accounts following him.
Here is some other interesting data that we found on the 9.1M egg followers:
55.8% (5,077,800) never tweeted
17.2% (1,565,200) recently tweeted (i.e. in last 90 days)
27% (2,457,000) haven’t recently tweeted (tweeted but not in the last 90 days)
95.74% of the egg followers have under 25 followers
Top 10 most popular hashtags in posts by the 9.1M egg followers:
In 1967, programmer Mel Conway wrote a paper called “How Do Committees Invent?” and submitted it to the Harvard Business Review, who promptly rejected it. Luckily for us, the paper eventually ended up getting published the following year in a tech magazine that was popular at the time.
Hidden in this paper was a pretty big idea that gained a lot of fame in the engineering community. This big idea is called Conway’s Law, which goes like this:
“Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.”
Put in other words, a product will mirror the communications structure in which it arose. To reduce it even further: product and culture end up looking a lot like each other. In 2007, research by management theorists at Harvard Business School found strong evidence in support of this.
GitHub: A Case Study
One classic illustration of Conway’s Law resides in the very fabric of tech startup GitHub. In a series of posts, longtime employee Zach Holman summed up GitHub’s culture in three guidelines (paraphrased below):
1. Set your own hours.
2. Avoid meetings.
3. To get creative, get in the zone.
At GitHub, a $100mm+ company, this means that much of the non-essential communication takes place in chat rooms so as to keep distractions minimal. It means that the company hosts happy hours, sponsors gym memberships, and organizes teaching workshops. In fact, for its first two years, GitHub didn’t even have an office — employees worked remotely (and many still do).
Why is this important, and what type of culture, exactly, is GitHub trying to build? Holman puts it this way:
“We want employees to be in the zone as often as possible. Mandating specific times they need to be in the office hurts the chances of that. Forcing me in the office at 9am will never, ever get me in the zone, but half of GitHub may very well work best in the morning.”
Or, in the words of Ryan Tomayko, another early GitHub employee, “Your team should work like an open-source project.” Funny, because a lot of open source projects are powered by GitHub. GitHub is a lightweight, cloud-based tool that programmers use to work on code together. Software for collaboration and open-source projects. Just like the culture and communications structure it has built, GitHub the product is asynchronous and distributed — that is, teamwork anywhere, anytime.
If you want a slightly more tongue-in-cheek exploration of Conway’s Law in action, observe the sketch below, courtesy of Manuel Cornet:
According to Cornet’s very data-driven graphs above, Amazon the company is culturally as hierarchical as the product (which is essentially a hierarchy of categories and subcategories containing things you totally need to buy). Google the company is culturally just as structured yet cross-dependent and cross-referencing as Google’s products. And Microsoft, well, yeah.
However, while Conway’s Law explains in some ways the relationship between culture and product, it’s missing a crucial piece: How does this alignment between product and culture get cemented? How does it become formalized, reinforced, and calcified?
Through branding. Namely, through monopolizing language and imagery.
The Startup T-Shirt Phenomenon
A couple years ago, Owen Thomas wrote a profile on Palo Alto, the “small California town where billion-dollar dreams are made.” This is the prototypical startup town, where companies like Google, PayPal, and Facebook got their start, and where many notable tech bigwigs call home. In what is pretty typical of the tech scene these days, you’ll see a lot of branded t-shirts. Thomas makes special note of this fact:
“You’ll often see Palantir employees walking around in polo shirts with the company logo.”
But startup t-shirts on their own aren’t evidence of any reinforcement of Conway’s Law. They are just the tip of the iceberg. In his essay The Anthropology of Mid-Sized Startups, Kevin Simler points to the t-shirts as a small piece of “the many rituals I’ve seen startups use to reinforce trust, solidarity, and company (or team) pride.” He lists out a handful of other ways in which this team-building ritualization happens: team sports, themed dress-up days, wall art, shared meals, and other activities.
We can break these reinforcing rituals down into two categories: images and language. Many successful businesses use these two levers to reinforce both internally and externally their culture as well as their product. One company in particular does a great job of this: Dropbox.
Dropbox and Freedom
Dropbox allows you to save, store, and access your files from anywhere you want. Wherever you go, all your documents, files, songs, and videos are with you. When Dropbox first came out back in 2007, this was freedom for people who had previously been tethered to their floppy disks, CDs, USB drives, and other easily-lost and easily-damaged storage devices.
The images Dropbox uses to represent itself entirely embody this idea of freedom. The company is renowned for its artful, humanistic use of illustrations, instead of the pseudo-industrial aesthetic common with other startups. Even their Error 404 page keeps with the “freedom” branding — you land on the design team’s interpretation of MC Escher’s impossible cube.
(If you want to nerd out further, more examples here, here, and here).
This “freedom” ethic definitely extends down into the culture of the company. The organizational structure is largely flat and engineering-driven. Dropbox is renowned for its “You’re smart, figure it out” mentality, its wildly creative hack weeks, and its recruitment videos starring muppets with MacBooks.
To some extent, CEO Drew Houston seems to have deliberately designed for this:
“One of the biggest challenges to growth has been something banal– inter-office communication. When the team was small enough to fit in one room, information just spreads naturally. But as we grew larger we had to start deliberately trying to figure out how to get the right info in the right people’s’ hands.”
Dropbox’s product is all about freeing users; Dropbox’s communications structure is all about freeing employees; and Dropbox’s branding simply reinforces all of this to employees, users, investors, and journalists through imagery and language.
Branding Blind Spots
But all cohesive systems have blind spots; the very strengths they are designed to highlight can create glaring weaknesses. Organizations are no exception.
For example, Uber has gotten itself in trouble countless times in the past year. Perhaps by necessity, a company challenging a highly entrenched incumbent (taxi industry) has a highly efficiency-oriented product, a by-any-means-necessary culture, and sleek corporate branding. The blind side of this product and organizational design might be the reports of sabotaging competitors and naysayers. GitHub and Dropbox have also recently had to respond to their own cultural “blind spots” (GitHub’s institutionalized hostility towards women; Dropbox’s fortification of “frat boy culture”).
The lesson for businesses? Be very deliberate and rigorous about the culture you want to build, because it will show in the product. Then reinforce through authentic branding. In the oft-quoted words of Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, “Your culture is your brand.” In this case, your culture might be your product, too.
We now leave you with an illustration of what SocialRank is all about — feel free to overanalyze it in the comments section:
As our productivity begins to wane around 6pm on most evenings at the SocialRank office, we turn to FIFA 15 for a break. If addictiveness is an indicator of a great product, the world’s most popular sports video game might also be its most well-designed. While mashing buttons on our XBOX controllers and waxing poetic on the new season of South Park, we become the unsuspecting targets of some of the most shrewd marketing ever: the game’s soundtrack.
At almost every possible stopping point in the game (pressing pause, navigating to the main menu, waiting for the game to load), a new track from some unknown British band begins to play. While mostly unrecognizable at first, these songs gain familiarity the more we play the game. Months later, these same songs begin magically appearing on our favorite indie radio stations and music blogs.
We suspected that there was something of a “FIFA Bump” going on. The artists appearing on the game’s famously awesome soundtrack were going on to make it big. In an interview with Pitchfork, EA’s music exec Steve Schnur seems to agree with this theory:
“ […] FIFA has introduced the Black Keys, K’naan, Chromeo, Datarock, MGMT, Lykke Li, Bloc Party, The Ting Tings, Franz Ferdinand, Foster The People, Ladytron, Robyn, Shiny Toy Guns, Damian Marley, Airborne Toxic Event, Matt & Kim, the Temper Trap, Two Door Cinema Club, Grouplove, Imagine Dragons, Crystal Fighters, Kimbra and plenty more […] Their labels, publishers and the artists themselves believe that their appearance in our soundtrack was key.”
The FIFA Bump
In late 2011, a young Los Angeles-based pop band with only one album to their name blew up out of seemingly nowhere. By October of that year, Foster the People had played a set on Saturday Night Live, signed a record deal, and got some love from Sirius XM. They also had a song prominently featured on FIFA 12, which was released on September 27, 2011.
We wanted to see what shape this rise in popularity took, so we looked at Youtube search trends for “Foster the People” between 2008 and 2014. It turns out that the band’s popularity peaked in the immediate aftermath of FIFA 12’s release, and then waned at the start of the new year:
Correlating one band’s popularity with the release of a FIFA game, though, is not very convincing evidence.
So we looked at the aggregated popularity levels of every artist featured in the FIFA 12 game (as determined by Youtube search trends). The peak in this graph fell on the exact week following the release of FIFA 12:
The FIFA 12 soundtrack featured other up-and-coming artists such as Grouplove, Kasabian, and Spank Rock. These artists also saw a bump in their popularity during this time. We observed a similar pattern when viewing the same data for artists from all subsequent versions of the FIFA video game: on average, an artist’s popularity hit its high point during the week of FIFA’s release date.
Explaining the Virality of FIFA’s Soundtrack
What should we make of the phenomenon of the “FIFA Bump?” As Schnur suggests, maybe the video game’s wide appeal and distribution do much of the legwork; artists appearing on the soundtrack simply get brought along for the ride.
Intuitively, this makes sense. Under normal circumstances, a song has a 35% likelihood of being skipped within its first 30 seconds of play (according to a Music Machinery analysis of Spotify data). However, in FIFA, the same twenty-some tracks play in the background repeatedly, and so they receive more opportunities to grow on listeners. If someone really doesn’t like a particular song, he has to go into the game’s settings and manually disable it.
The Zimmerman Effect
But there’s another explanation that involves a legend in the world of viral content.
Neetzan Zimmerman gained acclaim during his time at Gawker for developing a comprehensive system to track the flow of content as it moved up from small blog to slightly bigger blog and teetered on the cusp of going viral. The idea was to take content that had already demonstrated strong appeal to a smaller audience, and then to give that content the right “push” (packaging and distribution) for it to go viral. Zimmerman easily and consistently topped Gawker’s leaderboard for getting the most page views on his posts.
Through this perspective, Foster the People’s success looks a bit different. The band didn’t explode because of appearing on FIFA’s soundtrack. Rather, the band’s popularity was a runaway train gaining steam. Foster the People had already seen one of its songs go viral in the music blog world, was featured in Nylon magazine’s online advertising campaign, and played a set at Coachella.
Schnur and his staff certainly knew this: his team brings with it decades of experience in music marketing and album launches. They very shrewdly picked up on Foster the People (as well as other up-and-comers), capitalizing on and extending momentum that already existed. We could also call this the BuzzFeed/HuffPo Effect, but using someone’s last name sounds more legitimate.
(Of course, there remains the possibility that the FIFA game franchise itself rides the annual boom-bust cycle of album releases and artist launches.)
Building for Simplicity & Depth
At first glance, we might think that Schnur and the music team only filter artists by viral factor. But the type of music that makes it onto the game is actually quite predictable and appears to optimize for a pretty specific profile. Over 65% of the artists on FIFA soundtracks from the past 4 years are UK/USA-based, and over 70% are labeled by Wikipedia as “pop,” “synthpop,” or “indie rock.” The rest is an eclectic mix of everything ranging from Brazilian funk to German hip-hop.
The FIFA soundtrack is just a microcosm for everything the FIFA video game franchise has been doing right over the past several years. Product development steers away from lowest-common-denominator gimmicks and instead caters to the game’s biggest fans. In an interview with Polygon, producer Santiago Jaramillo put it this way:
“I think the main thing that keeps us ahead of the curve is focusing on the right thing. So, staying away from gimmicky features that sound marketable, are costly and at the end of the day, our end fans — it’s not what they want […] What people want more than anything is a solid, good fabric of gameplay experience that focuses on the fundamentals. […] It’s a simple, simple game, but when you add depth to that simplicity, that’s when you create the gameplay experience that FIFA has been able to do.”
And one of the many ways the game’s developers have added depth is to relentlessly pursue a product-market fit for every touch point within the game, from gameplay to presentation to music. What you get as a result is a deep product with growth and marketing built-in: a vocal fanbase, a catchy soundtrack that isn’t just Nicki Minaj remixes, and simple design with subcutaneous complexity. This is what really allows the “FIFA Bump” to work as well as it does. The product “markets itself.”
Case in point — a goals compilation video (pulling from user-submitted content) gets shared on Facebook 2,150 times and liked 22,000+ times in less than 2 hours:
From 2003 to 2010, the famously skeptical magician duo Penn & Teller hosted a Showtime series called Penn & Teller: Bullshit. During each 30-minute episode, the two magicians sought to “hunt down as many purveyors of bullshit” as possible. Since the series aired during the rapid rise of Dasani and Aquafina, Penn & Teller decided to run several blind taste tests taking aim at overpriced bottled water.
Their hypothesis: that, at best, we can’t tell the difference between tap water and bottled water; at worst, we like tap water more than bottled water.
The duo took their experiment to a trendy Southern California restaurant, where they enlisted a (fake) water sommelier. The sommelier brought guests a water tasting menu, listing luxury bottled waters such as “L’Eau de Robinet” and “Agua de Culo.” After sampling them, most patrons were wow-ed by how good the water tasted:
“Definitely better than tap water […] It’s got a flavor that, it almost feels like a beverage other than water, but without sugar or any additives.”
“Seems smoother than tap water.”
“Better than LA County water!”
In actuality, all this luxury water was sourced from a garden hose out back behind the restaurant. And L’Eau de Robinet and Agua de Culo weren’t real designer waters: one is the French word for “tap water” and the other the Spanish for “ass water.”
Patrons placed a high value on the water simply because it was bottled and packaged to appear fancy.
In another blind experiment run by ABC’s Good Morning America in 2001, the show’s producers pitted tap water against water giants Poland Spring, 0-2, and Evian. The results: New York City tap water won out by a comfortable margin.
This is the state of the bizarre multibillion-a-year bottled water market. The evidence is inconclusive as to whether bottled water actually tastes better or is healthier than tap water. Yet designer water brands have been able to, through clever marketing and distribution, transform a public good into a product sold at a thousand-percent markup.
All of this is pretty astounding stuff when you consider that, in 1975, the bottled water industry was almost non-existent. Back then, the average American consumed 1.2 gallons of bottled water:
35 years later, Americans have come to drink 28.3 gallons of bottled water per capita, which is now second only to carbonated soft drinks.
There are many variables at play that have contributed to the phenomenon of half-finished bottles of water strewn across office space (see: drinking more water, eating organic, simple convenience). But to limit the discussion to just these would be to overly simplify a trend that has a pretty intriguing back story.
In the mid-1970s, French mineral water brand Perrier launched a massive marketing campaign in the United States to bring the company’s signature bubbly water to American shores. Soda sales were slowing down, and Americans were becoming more and more health-conscious. As previously mentioned, though, people didn’t really drink much bottled water in 1975. While Deer Park and Poland Spring were around back then, their sales numbers weren’t great (Poland Spring was actually on the verge of bankruptcy).
So the marketers and copywriters at Perrier came up with a genius angle for selling water: they called it “Earth’s First Soft Drink”:
Future Perrier ads would tout how natural, pure, youthful, and straight-from-the-earth their bubbly water was. Other bottled water brands followed suit, and this positioning is still pretty common — just search for “bottled water ad” on Google Images and you’ll see bottles of water wrapped in leaves or overlooking a valley or something to that effect. Other “growth hacks” used by bottled water brands: rousing public fear of tap water with ads calling it poisonous; and creating/sponsoring national campaigns to urge people to drink more water.
Clever marketing and brand positioning played a large role in the emergence of bottled water in the United States. However, the industry would not have reached the heights that it had without “Big Bev” and the scale of distribution at its disposal.
Economies of Scale
Around the turn of the century, big food & beverage companies made their splashy entrance. In 1994, PepsiCo introduced their own bottled water brand, Aquafina. Then Coca-Cola launched Dasani in 1999. These two brands stood to compete with Perrier, Deer Park, and Poland Spring (all of which had been acquired by Nestle by then). In part due to massive food & beverage corporations now entering the space, bottled water has become even more lucrative. Between 2000 and 2010, bottled water consumption per capita grew by an average of 11% per year.
The bottled water market is now dominated by the same people who sell us fizzy sugar water and ovaltine:
The economies of scale available to these giant corporations have allowed them to achieve relatively easily a level of distribution that smaller companies haven’t been able to replicate. Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Nestle have wisely leveraged their existingdistributioncontracts with airports, convenience stores, and the like to make their bottled water ubiquitous. And when you have the ability to distribute and market widely, who cares if the product isn’t mind-blowing?
Disruptive marketing combined with economies of scale have created a feedback loop that has imprinted on our cultural consciousness the idea that it is normal, healthy, and convenient to treat bottled water like it’s a “lifestyle” drink. Over at his brilliant blog Melting Asphalt, Kevin Simler explains the concept of cultural imprinting:
“Cultural imprinting is the mechanism whereby an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural meanings — which in turn changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product. Whether you drink Corona or Heineken or Budweiser “says” something about you. But you aren’t in control of that message; it just sits there, out in the world, having been imprinted on the broader culture by an ad campaign. It’s then up to you to decide whether you want to align yourself with it. Do you want to be seen as a “chill” person? Then bring Corona to a party.”
This is particularly important to keep in mind when thinking about how all these bottled waters have branded, packaged, and sold themselves. Fiji Water is an “artesian aquifer water” that is “untouched” by human waste. Poland Spring is “green”. Smartwater is sexy. Dasani and Aquafina are pure, splashy fun. Which personality do you want to be associated with?
But, as Penn & Teller showed us, when we’re primed to think a certain way about something in fancy packaging, we tend to fall for the sleight-of-hand. So what if Fiji Water was found to have more arsenic in it than Cleveland tap water? Or that Poland Spring was sued for using groundwater instead of water coming from a natural spring? Or that Dasani and Aquafina were both found to be sourced from tap water?
What a weird concept indeed. However convenient bottled water is, the demand for it has been largely manufactured by the people selling it.
But don’t mind us at the SocialRank office as we continue to stock our fridges with Fiji. That shit is great.
The World Cup was the most social sporting event since the dawn of social media. It trumped the Super Bowl and the Olympics in terms of engagement, tweets, Facebook likes–the whole nine yards. 16 million tweets were exchanged during the Brazil-Chile game alone (389,000 per minute). Tim Howard became an overnight superstar/sensation via social media: #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave. Even the soccer stars themselves turned to social media to explain, confess, and counter negative press (ex: Luis Suárez).
Now that the World Cup has ended, we collected the number of followers from each of the 32 participating teams from before the event and compared it to the number of followers from each of the teams after the event. The follower count for each of the teams increased significantly throughout the tournament.
There is a saying that if you go around tooting your own horn all the time, eventually people won’t even hear it anymore. However, when someone says something good about you, that often carries more weight than anything you say about yourself. This concept applies to brands when promoting their message to followers and fans on social networks. We’ve seen a recent trend of brands, using Twitter’s Promoted Tweets product, doing something called a “Promoted Retweet.” We’d like to discuss what this is, show some examples, and explore whether or not it is right for your brand.
What is a Promoted Retweet?
We assume you know what a Promoted Tweet is, but just in case you don’t, a Promoted Tweet is one of Twitter’s advertising products that allows you to expand your Tweets’ reach with advanced targeting and tools. It is a very effective tool to help you get your message out to a wider audience.
So what is a Promoted Retweet then? A Promoted Retweet is when, instead of promoting its own tweet, a brand promotes another handle’s tweet (usually about them). This can be a happy customer, a celebrity, a brand partnership, an ambassador or someone else. And it can be a great way to let other people see what customers or users are saying and thinking about your service or product. We’ve seen a few of these in recent weeks and thought it was interesting to dig in and understand it better.
How do Promoted Retweets works?
The public details are scarce about Promoted Retweets. In the Twitter Ads Policy page it explicitly says – “Do not include another person’s content in Twitter Ads without the person’s permission. Create your own Tweets, or get permission from the authors of the Tweets and Retweets you use.” We’ve also heard that unless you are a managed account, it is very hard to execute a Promoted Retweet. If you go to your Promoted Tweets in Twitter’s Ads product and hover over a RT, you’ll get a non-selectable grey overlay. That being said, there are a few steps if you want to do a Promoted Retweet campaign (and have Twitter’s permission).
Step 1: In order to begin a Promoted Retweet campaign, the brand must get permission (via email) from the handle that tweeted the content that it wants to promote and retweet. This involves the brand saying that they (enter their @handle) approves Brand X (brand X’s @handle) of using this tweet from date x to date y.
Step 2: Once you get this in writing, you should forward this email to your account manager at Twitter so they can whitelist this tweet/account.
Step 3: Once it is confirmed and the account/tweet is whitelisted, when you log back into the ads product this time the RT will be available to promote as well.
What are some Promoted Retweet Examples?
@RelateIQ + @DanielleMorrill
Promoted Retweet examples were few and far between, but when Alex, our co-founder, saw a Promoted Retweet from @RelateIQ, we decided to write this post. RelateIQ took a tweet from @DanielleMorrill that said “I spend more time in RelateIQ than Facebook” and promoted it. The responses were great, establishing authentic brand engagement and arguably performed better than any tweet RelateIQ could promote that they wrote themselves.
@Katyperry + @ParamountPics
Example number two comes from a collaboration between @KatyPerry and @ParamountPics. This is a different example of a Promoted Retweet, using a celebrity/influencer to amplify the message. Katy had a movie coming out with Paramount Pictures and Paramount was leveraging her celebrity status so that people would notice and click when it was promoted into their stream.
@NBA + @CiscoSystems
The third example of a Promoted Retweet is when the @NBA and @CiscoSystems teamed up around the NBA Finals. While Cisco is a very large company, it doesn’t have the instant brand recognition that the NBA does. Cisco used Promoted Retweets to amplify their partnership with the NBA.
@MLB + @Pepsi
The fourth example, we actually just saw today. This is a promoted tweet by @Pepsi with content from @MLB around the All-Star Game. Pepsi is one of the sponsors for the All-Star Game, and the Promoted Retweet allows Pepsi to stay in the picture, but have the focus remain on baseball/the event at hand. It is a more discreet method of brand marketing.
Are Promoted Retweets right for your brand?
That’s a great question. The answer is, it depends on your brand and your goals for promoting a tweet. If you are a brand that has customers, clients or users and you are looking to do general advertising then Promoted Retweets can let your happy customers, clients and users do the talking for you. If you are doing very specific advertising, trying to convert people to click on something specific, a Promoted Retweet might not be the best way to accomplish this. We think Promoted Retweets are an interesting and exciting new type of way to promote your brand and look forward to seeing more of these in our feed.
We don’t have access to Promoted Retweets on Twitter, but if we did here is what we would do: