When you hear the term “half-life,” you might think of nuclear physics; but it can also apply to the posts we write on Twitter.

The half-life of a tweet is an important metric which can be used by marketers to define and alter their overall social media strategy. It can be one of the best ways to measure the extent of engagement with the target audience. It is also a good exercise to make abundantly available social analytics data useful for your business.

But first, what is a half-life?
Usually when we talk about a half-life we reference the amount of time required for the amount of something to fall to half of its initial value.

While the term “half-life” can be used to describe any quantity which follows an exponential decay, it is most often used in social marketing for addressing the half-life of a link or social post (sometimes it is referred to as a shelf-life).

The interesting thing about the half-life of a tweet is that it has no initial value when it is first posted. As people read, favorite and retweet it, the tweet reaches its peak rate of engagement.

People in the Twittersphere have short attention spans, however, so after the tweet hits its peak rate of engagement, it declines exponentially. When we observe this half-life decay, what we are looking at is the aftermath of the engagement process.

In order to determine the half-life of the particular tweet, one needs to look retrospectively: first gather the engagement data then find the point in time when engagement reached its mean value.

How do you measure engagement of the tweet?
To simplify the calculations, we determine the engagement of the tweet as the total count of favorites and retweets received by the post through the time of the observation. On average, we followed the engagement of the tweet for 7 hours after it was first posted, then summed all the favorites and retweets to calculate total engagement.

Tweets have the shortest lifespan of postings across all social media platforms. This should come as no surprise; after all, the business model of Twitter is “quick thought sharing.”

In different industries there is a slight difference between the peak-point of half-life, but on average tweets half-life kick the bucket in 15 to 20 minutes, with the highest frequency at 16 minutes. This means that the typical tweet will reach half the value of its total engagement within the first 16 minutes after it was posted.

For news portals, the half-life is even shorter; it lies within the five to ten minute interval. This can easily be explained by the high volume of tweets they post per day (every 10 to 20 minutes), as well as their large readership.

Half-Life Chart 1_NewsTweets
For a better comparison we followed the tweets from news portals with similar engagement. Both sets of tweets performed alike, hitting 50% of their engagement in the interval between five and ten minutes.

There is one more interesting finding: the half-life of the tweets is correlated with their total engagement. In other words, the higher the total engagement earned from your tweet, the longer the expected half-life. This is a great example of how the right content for your tweets can influence your performance.

Half-Life Chart 2_Engagement
For the chart above we looked at the tweets posted from the same account on the same weekday. What differs between them is the value of total engagement they have received. Tweets with lower engagement usually have a shorter half-life, meaning they reach their half-life and total engagement five to then minutes faster than tweets with higher engagement.

Therefore, in order to help your tweets secure a longer half-life you must:

  • Tweet frequently
  • Be thoughtful in your content development
  • Remember to include #hashtags and links
  • Schedule tweets that you think are particularly awesome to be published again every few days – this will give them a second chance at scoring even more engagement

Happy tweeting!

About the Author: Alexandra Rohlfs is the Marketing Analyst at Webs. Loves analytics and sunny days at the seashore. Get more from Alexandra on LinkedIn.


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