The Timing of a Joke (on Twitter) is Everything

At Gnip, we’re always curious about how news travels on social media, so when the Royal Baby was born, we wanted to find some of the most popular posts. While digging around, we found a Tweet on the Royal Baby that was a joke from account @_Snape_ on July 22, 2013.

With more than 53,000 Retweets and more than 19,000 Favorites, this Tweet certainly resonated with Snape’s million-plus followers. But while exploring the data, we saw an interesting pattern: people were Retweeting this joke before Snape used it. How was this possible? At first, we assumed that Snape was a joke-stealer, but going back several years, we saw that Snape had actually thrice Tweeted the same joke!

Interest in the joke varied by Snape’s delivery date. An indicator for how well a joke resonates with an audience is the length of time over which the Tweet is Retweeted. In general, content on Twitter has a short shelf life, meaning that people typically stop Retweeting the content within a few hours. The graph below has dashed lines indicating the half-life for each time Snape delivered the joke, which we can use to see how much time passed before half of the total Retweets took place. So for the first two uses of the joke, half of all Retweets took place within an hour. The third use case has a significantly longer half-life, especially by Twitter’s standards. Uniquely timed with the actual birth of the newest Prince George, the July date coincided with all of the anticipation about the Royal Baby and created the perfect storm for this Half-blooded Prince joke to keep going…and going…and going. The timing was impeccable and shows timing matters for humor on Twitter.