WHO creates trends? Not the “special few” but the “special many”

WHO creates trends in social media? Accidentals (as Duncan Watts’ work would suggest ) or influentials (as Malcom Gladwell has popularized)?

To answer this question, we consider a mobile social-networking application called iCoolhunt. Here users share pictures of “cool” items (e.g., artistic tea set) they encounter in real life. We identify two types of users: those who create trends –  trend makers – and those who find and spread them – trend spotters.

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Now the question is whether trend makers and trend spotters are any different from typical users. It turns out that the answer is a definite “Yes!”. Our analysis finds that:

  • Compared to typical users, both trend makers and trend spotters tend to be more active and more popular.
  • Also,  trend makers tend to upload pictures of items in very specific categories and are followed by  different social clusters. By contrast,  trend spotters are  early adopters who vote items from various categories.

So, who creates trends? Not the special few, but two types of the “special many”: regular users with specific interests (trend makers) linked to early adopters with diverse interests (trend spotters).

In addition to be theoretically relevant, this research also offers practical implications: for example, the identification and recommendations of trends early on.

For more, see our full paper, Trend Makers and Trend Spotters in a Mobile Application (and slides here). CSCW 2013.

Xiaolan Sha, EURECOM
Daniele Quercia, Yahoo! Labs
Matteo Dell’Amico, EURECOM
Pietro Michiardi, EURECOM