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Follow the leader! Dynamics and Patterns of Activity among the Followers of the Main Italian Political Leaders during the 2013 General Election Campaign
Cristian Vaccari and Augusto Valeriani (University of Bologna)
Conference Paper
May 11, 2013

Politicians can communicate with citizens on social media in essentially two ways: directly, through messages that they broadcast to those users who “follow” or “like” them on a given platform, and indirectly, through messages that their supporters get from them and autonomously re-circulate to their own contacts on social media. Whereas the potential for direct communication lies essentially in the numbers of people who follow a politician on social media, the potential for indirect communication depends on how active, engaged, and connected the people are who follow that politician. This paper aims to shed light on these issues by investigating the levels of activity (number of tweets sent) and audiences (number of followers) of Twitter users who followed ten national party leaders during the Italian 2013 general election campaign. Analysis of more than 2 million accounts show that the vast majority of Twitter users who follow Italian politicians are rather inactive and have very small followings. Moreover, there is a negative relationship between the number of followers a politician has and their levels of activity, so that the most popular politicians have on average the least active and popular users, and vice versa. Users’ activity and followings are also very unevenly distributed, with very tiny minorities accounting for the vast majority of tweets and followers. While most Twitter political users thus seem to be relatively obscure lurkers, only a selected few have the potential to be influencers. We analyze who these “power users” are through a content analysis of their Twitter biographies, through which we find that most of them are celebrities in realms other than politics or people who are already highly visible in the politics-media ecosystem. These findings suggest that a “politics as usual” framework best describes the dynamics of potential influence on Twitter, at least as regards the audiences that connect with national political leaders. Full paper and presentation here

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