The Atlantic Asks What Good is Twitter? – SKDK Digital Unearths the Impact of a Single Tweet

What Good is Twitter is a question recently explored by The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson in a piece entitled “The Unbearable Lightness of Tweeting.” Thompson delves into this question by looking at the reach of an article he published on the previous Monday, as measured by how many actually took the time to visit The Atlantic to read the full piece. Here’s the tweet in question:


And here’s Thompson’s aha moment:

“By Friday morning, it had about 155,260 impressions. According to the new Tweet activity dashboard, 2.9 percent of those users clicked the image, and 1.1 percent retweeted or favored it … but just 1 percent clicked on the link to actually read my story. One percent. Even worse, of the 9,017 people who clicked somewhere, anywhere on my message, just one in six of those clicks actually went to The Atlantic website. Quantitatively speaking, my viral tweet had the click-through rate of a digital display ad in East Asia.” – Derek Thompson, Sr. Editor, The Atlantic

It is not lost on us that Thompson specifically poses this question because he was hopeful that his tweet would result in click through to the actual article onThe Atlantic’s website. In other words, Thompson had high hopes that his article would have an increased conversion rate to The Atlantic website. And if we look at a key statistic from Pew Research Center’s 2014 Social Media Update – the fact that 23% of online adults currently use Twitter, up from 18% in August 2013 – perhaps that should have been the case.

Except, well, Twitter is a social media platform and the most valuable takeaway, in our view, is the way the message is shared beyond Derek’s 27.8k followers. So we took a look at the life of Thompson’s tweet specifically focusing on the social share. Our analysis sampled 1,000 of the 1,204 total retweets, here’s what we learned.

On Reach

We appreciate the number of impressions data point of 155,260 times the tweet was seen but wanted to also focus on the sum of @DKThomp’s followers and those who retweeted the tweet, also known as the reach. That number was an impressive 2,525,331.


On Depth

Depth is defined as the chain of retweet meaning how far each retweet travelled in terms of impact. The max depth of Thompson’s tweet was 10 effectively meaning the original tweet was retweeted by 10 chains or followers of followers. Take a look below.


On Lifespan

Everyone loves when a tweet gains momentum riding the wave of shares. But do you ever sit down and think just how long a given tweet’s life span actually is? Leaving no stone unturned we took a look at the lifespan of Thompson’s original tweet. Starting first with the half time between the current tweets activity and its 500th uniform random retweet within Twitter ecosystsem. For example, if an organization’s tweet is posted at 12pm and the uniform random 500th tweet is posted at 1pm then the tweets half-life will be one hour. We are happy to report the half-life of Thompson’s tweet as 10 hours and 13 minutes after the original tweet was posted. Using the same methodology, we analyzed the tweet’s 80% life and found it at 2 days and 6 hours after the original tweet.


As we can see, there is much more to a tweet than the impressions it receives. Derek Thompson may not have been completely satisfied with the click-through rate of his tweet, but the lifespan of his post far exceeds the half-life of the average tweet. Considering the average tweet only has a half-life of four minutes, Thompson’s 10 hours and 13 minute half-life fares pretty well. The time it will take for Thompson’s tweet to fade away into irrelevance is longer than he might think.