#Bigbirds Never Die: Understanding Social Dynamics of Emergent Hashtags
Keywords:computational social science, social media, media event, natural experiment, exogenous shocks, collective activities
We examine the growth, survival, and context of 256 novel hashtags during the 2012 U.S. presidential debates. Our analysis reveals the trajectories of hashtag use fall into two distinct classes: "winners" that emerge more quickly and are sustained for longer periods of time than other "also-rans" hashtags. We propose a "conversational vibrancy" framework to capture dynamics of hashtags based on their topicality, interactivity, diversity, and prominence. Statistical analyses of the growth and persistence of hashtags reveal novel relationships between features of this framework and the relative success of hashtags. Specifically, retweets always contribute to faster hashtag adoption, replies extend the life of "winners" while having no effect on "also-rans." This is the first study on the lifecycle of hashtag adoption and use in response to purely exogenous shocks. We draw on theories of uses and gratification, organizational ecology, and language evolution to discuss these findings and their implications for understanding social influence and collective action in social media more generally.