In July of 2014 Jon Hendren, also known as @fart, began a journey to become a DevOps thought leader. Using his audience of 70k+ followers on Twitter, he spread a simple message: Jon Hendren is a DevOps thought leader.
What is DevOps and Why Does it Matter?
DevOps is a movement to improve software delivery by having Development and Operations teams work together. As Jon Hendren puts it, “DevOps is mostly just a way of reorganizing all your nerds and making them talk to each other more.” While that might sound obvious, DevOps is legitimately important. Companies like Etsy and Netflix have credited their success to a DevOps mentality. Industry peers have taken note and proclaimed 2015 the year of DevOps. Over the next three years, DevOps-enabled tools are predicted to become a $1.6B market.
A Hero is Born
After months of both blogging and micro-blogging about DevOps, anecdotal evidence suggested that Jon had begun to succeed.
How important is Jon Hendren to the DevOps conversation on Twitter? Rather than using Klout’s methodology–ask your friends to say you’re good at something–we ran an experiment using the Twitter ads platform as arbiter. While the findings are limited in scope as far as DevOps–there are obviously other venues in which that conversation is conducted–they shed light on Twitter advertising that is applicable to any campaign.
We created two identical campaigns targeting the keyword “devops” with the sole difference being that one campaign excludes an audience comprised of a list of @fart's followers. The delta, if any, should indicate Jon’s influence in DevOps on Twitter.
The results show that Jon’s following is a substantial and relevant part of the DevOps audience. In our study, Jon Hendren’s following accounted for an average of 23% of the Twitter audience for the “devops” keyword. At times, the bucket with his followers was being served twice as many ads as the bucket without them.
After learning more about Twitter’s targeting algorithm through this study, we are confident saying that Jon Hendren is an important part of the DevOps conversation on Twitter but that his (or anyone’s) share of attention is extremely dynamic. See the discussion of algorithm insights below for more on why audience is not static on Twitter.
The campaign excluding @fart was served 2.04k impressions. The campaign including @fart was served 2.64k impressions, or 30% more. Of the total 2.64k, 60k can therefore be attributed to @fart, or 23% of the total DevOps audience on Twitter.
What’s more, that difference in impressions was served immediately and led to site visits, the most valuable conversion for this campaign. While the campaign excluding @fart made up some ground later in impressions later, the highest converting traffic was first found in the campaign including @fart’s followers.
Engagement and conversion rates were both higher for the campaign including @fart’s followers, indicating not just a larger audience but one that is more interested in learning about DevOps. The cost of achieving site visits, both in money and in time, was much lower for the campaign including @fart’s followers.
The campaign including @fart’s followers did most traffic during business hours on Friday, while the campaign excluding @fart’s followers did most of its traffic on Saturday night, when users should have been eating dinner with their loved ones.
Twitter Algorithm Insights
Twitter’s algorithm appears to have a “hot hand” strategy that feeds more impressions to the campaign that has most recently generated engagements. That makes sense since Twitter gets paid on engagements, which can be as little as clicking a tweet to expand it, rather than on impressions.
This characteristic would also explain why it appeared that New Relic was targeting @fart for its DevOps campaign. By calling attention to and inciting responses to New Relic ads, Jon was unintentionally signalling for Twitter to serve more DevOps ads to his followers. In our study Jon abstained from interacting with the ads to avoid skewing the results. Had he engaged with the ads, as he did in the case of New Relic, the numbers would skew even more toward the bucket with @fart’s followers.
Vendors targeting DevOps should take this lesson to heart. Broad, spammy advertising that tries to hang itself loosely on the DevOps sizzle will attract negative attention and feed more impressions to users registering their discontent. Conversely, the Twitter advertising algorithm provides a strong mechanism for users to disrupt (or troll, depending on how you see things) vendors simply by clicking on ads they don’t like. The downside is that more ads will be served to you; the upside is that, done at scale, this will cripple their ad targeting.
Of course, this is true not just for DevOps but for any advertising on Twitter. Keywords and other targeting mechanisms appear to provide boundaries for the addressable audience while most recent conversion carries more weight for determining who within that audience will receive impressions. Twitter achieves dynamic, intelligent targeting at the cost of being susceptible to influential disingenuous humans.
All that being said, the campaign that included @fart’s followers was superior in every way. His following appears to comprise a substantial and engaged slice of the DevOps community on Twitter. While that interest can lead to counterproductive feedback loops, as in the case of the New Relic ads, it also suggests a group that is passionate about DevOps.
Not everyone has been eager to see Jon Hendren disrupt DevOps but the numbers speak for themselves. Jon Hendren is the present and the future of DevOps.
Campaign targeting “devops” and including @fart’s followers
Campaign targeting “devops” and excluding @fart’s followers
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