Memetic Twitter Handles

Posted on: October 20th, 2011

NOTE: While the situation surrounding the events were truly sad in nature, this article is strictly related to Twitter observations and how they relate to memetics. Nothing political is intended.

Background

When big news hits an area, “faux” Twitter handles can pop up. With the recent escape of some exotic animals in Zanesville, Ohio, several personas were created. The “animals” tweeting were: @ZanesvilleBear, @ZanesvilleLion and @ZanesvilleWolf.

There were several others that followed, but these seemed to be the most popular. The animals were released on Tuesday evening and once news broke of the situation, Twitter handles did as well.

Spread

At a news conference on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the escape occurred, a briefing was held in which it was discovered that all but 3 animals were accounted for.

The three animals were a bear, a lion, and a monkey. @ZanesvilleWolf should therefore have been dead, but not true.

Was reported dead...tweeted #AllDogsGoToHeaven.

With a quick turnaround, a tweet was sent stating “Last week, the pack was all, ‘Oh, what a lame Monkey costume you have there. You did that for last Halloween.’ #lookatmenow” @ZanesvilleWolf was back.

Experiment

I hypothesized that with the latest news of a monkey still on the loose, I could create a new handle and gain followers just as the previous animals had done.

After all, no one knew a monkey had escaped. The main goal with the experiment was to see if a latecomer to a meme could have success.

I created the Twitter handle: @ZanesvilleChimp. In five minutes I had gained 4 followers. I was excited. I threw out some #MonkeyBusiness tweets, being sure to reply to @ZanesvilleBear and @ZanesvilleLion, hoping for a retweet.

No dice. A few hours in and I was still at 4 followers. I was following twice as many people as were following me…it was time to shut the experiment down.

The sad results of my experiment.

My hypothesis was incorrect, or so I thought. Until I discovered the handle @HerpesMonkey. Created shortly after the news was released that the escaped monkey was infected with Herpes B, @HerpesMonkey had found a way to break through the Twitterverse.

Only 19 hours after the handle was created, @HerpesMonkey had over 800 followers, almost as many as the other animals. So what attributed to the actual success of a latecomer to a meme?

The successful monkey.

Like other memes, fidelity and fecundity play a major role along with proper naming, teaming up, cultural references and luck.

Analysis

Fidelity – Qualities of the handle that enable it to be readily copied and passed from mind to mind relatively intact, very little to do with the truth and are often successful because they are memorable, rather than because they are important or useful.

Fecundity – Refers to the rate at which an idea or pattern is copied and spread, quicker expansion, higher attention, replication, and distribution, timing/location.

In this situation, fecundity can be measured by the amount of followers each handle gained.

Most Popular Award...must be the glasses.

Proper Naming – It’s clear that early adopters will have the most success (Bear, Wolf, Lion) but Monkey proved that latecomers can have success too.

With Bear, Wolf and Lion, there is the common naming convention – ZanesvilleName – which creates descriptors to specifically identify the situation (exception of HerpesMonkey whose name is memorable).

Teaming Up – A common thread for each of the popular handles was the “teaming up” factor. All handles referred to alike handles and vice versa.

In doing this, followers gained a feeling that all handles were escaping together and actively participating with one another. This active participation links the handles to each other, creating follower overlap.

Following the most people out of listed handles.

Situation-specific References – The other common thread was references to Zanesville, evading police, hiding and lamenting the loss of fellow animal comrades.

When breaking news would come in about putting down another animal, the handles would respond accordingly.

Luck – Although not a quantitative characteristic, the handles became popular with a bit of luck. By chance, when the first briefing aired on television, it was reported that a bear, a lion and a monkey were still on the loose.

It was then changed to just a wolf and a monkey with Herpes B. Oddly enough, those were the main handles that were created surrounding the event.

Conclusion

Many different characteristics and circumstances go into the success or failure of a “faux” Twitter handle. It takes a major event, quick turnaround and a sprinkle of luck to gain any steam.

At the first publishing of this post, the follower counts are as follows: @ZanesvilleBear – 1,406; @ZanesvilleWolf – 1,392; @ZanesvilleLion – 1,954; and @HerpesMonkey – 815 (only animal not accounted for, authorities say possibly eaten by @ZanesvilleLion).

For more on meme research and memetics, head to whatsameme.com.

If you followed the event, what do you think led to the large following of the handles listed?

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