January 14, 2011

timing matters: #lessambitiousmovies, katy perry and digital fashion

Robin Sloan dissects the rise of the last week’s Twitter trend #LessAmbitiousMovies, not only ending the debate about who started it first, but providing a interesting and visually compelling data point in the ongoing discussion about engagement v. reach. If you haven’t read the post, here’s the quick summary: this particular trending topic was sparked by the engaged audiences of two users with five figure followings, and was only mildly impacted by Katy Perry, with her 5.2mm followers. Sloan’s argument is compelling: “Getting a great hashtag in front of the right audience is more important than getting it in front of a big audience.”

But if you look at the tweets per minute chart (understandably but frustratingly missing a labeled Y axis), the “Katy Perry bump” comes six hours after the organic spike sparked by Lizz Winstead and Barracks O’Bama. Not to take anything away from Winstead and O’Bama (and their smart and attractive set of followers), but could it be that by the time Katy Perry got around to it, the bulk of her 5.2mm followers were already bored with #LessAmbitiousMovies? I’m no rocket surgeon, but it seems to me that answering that question could be challenging. You’d need to know if a decent chunk of her followers had acted on (RT’d, fav’d, posted one of their own) or even just seen tweets with the hashtag #LessAmbitiousMovies.

Influence isn’t just about the right audience…it’s also about timing. Trending topics are digital fashion: they each have their own creation source, breeding ground and lifespan. So while it’s obviously true that Katy Perry didn’t create the #LessAmbitiousMovies spike, I’ll argue that her ability to send it spiking a second time was naturally limited. By the time she got around to the hashtag six hours after the big spike, it was too late. #LessAmbitiousMovies had peaked, and her audience was on to the new new thing.