Green Tweet: a paper by Josh Cohen (student of Gayle Stever)

Cohen, J. (2016). Green Tweet:: Examining Celebrities versus Activists in Single Tweet Effectiveness.
Paper presented at Eastern Communication Association, Baltimore, MD, April 1, 2016.


Green Tweet:

Examining Celebrities versus Activists in Single Tweet Effectiveness

Josh Cohen

Empire State College

In submitting the attached paper or proposal, I/We recognize that this submission is considered a professional responsibility. I/We agree to present this panel or paper if it is accepted and programmed. I/We further recognize that all who attend and present at ECA’s annual meeting must register and pay required fees.


Twitter is a social media platform that allows celebrities and activists to communicate environmental messages to their followers in order to prompt engagement.  This paper presents an analysis of four Twitter users.  Two users are celebrities and two are environmental activists.  Through the media ecology perspective these Twitter users are observed to transfer power in the way of information and motivation to their followers.  The measures of this study are reach (total number size of the user’s Twitter audience), activity (average number of tweets for a particular date range), and engagement (a conglomeration of seven different types of responses to Tweets).  Analytics for the investigation were collected from The analysis reveals that an activist, Bill McKibben, achieved the best score in single tweet effectiveness.  This means that for a single tweet McKibben enlisted more engagement by his community than the other individuals surveyed in the study.  Moreover, the study revealed that celebrity, although a significant factor in gaining followers, was not the most outstanding determinate in single tweet effectiveness.  Instead, the two factors that emerged from the data were having a reduced reach and a greater level of activity.  This means that celebrities and activists who had smaller Twitter communities but tweeted and retweeted more often were more effective at engaging their audiences.  Leonardo DiCaprio who had the greatest reach by far in this study was also found to have the least effective single tweet score.  Having over thirteen million followers due to his popularity as a celebrity is certainly an advantage.  However, DiCaprio’s ultra-high reach and very low activity confirms the notion that being a celebrity may be used to great advantage to build a following but to engage an audience on an important issue such as environmental communication the activity level of the user must be commiserate with his or her reach.


Keywords: Twitter, celebrity, environmental communication, media ecology

Environmental sustainability has emerged as one of the most urgent issues of the twenty-first century.  The prospect of whether or not the Earth will be able to support itself and the diverse spectrum of life that inhabits it in the future has been put into question.  Scientists and activists have been advancing the notion of sustainability to spark public awareness and outcry that would propel both personal decisions and public policy towards viable Earth-friendly solutions.  Fundamentally, environmental sustainability attempts to promote human welfare by conserving sources of raw materials and safeguarding containers of human waste from overrunning.  Moreover, environmental sustainability teaches humanity the boundaries of the biological and physical environment so that people can learn to live within those limits which promote the health of the environment (Goodland and Daly, 1996, p. 1003).

It has been of paramount importance for environmental advocates to communicate the sustainability message to the masses in order to educate and enlist support for research and fuel efforts to change.  As communication practices have evolved social media has emerged as one of the most effective ways to share environmental news with the public (Cox, 2013, p. 184).  Moreover, social networking has led to the development of online green communities (DeLuca, Sun, and Peeples, 2011, p. 153) which promote activism on environmental issues.  These communities may coalesce around a key figure, issue or group such as an activist (e.g. Bill McKibben), a celebrity (e.g. Leonardo DiCaprio), a certain environmental issue (e.g. sustainable farming) or an organization (e.g. Greenpeace).


The Social Media Revolution and Twitter

Technology generally and Web 2.0 specifically has significantly altered the way people communicate.  The changes have resulted in a Global Village which has been becoming increasingly inclusive as the population of digital natives grows.  Online communities arrange themselves into tribes according to opinions, lifestyle, and ideologies (Cross, 2011, p. 1).  The most momentous change that social networks such as Twitter have brought is a democratization of the internet (Keen, 2007, p. 14).  This liberation is the antecedent to the way which social media is used today to inform and persuade.  Moreover, social media has been increasingly the means by which companies, celebrities and organizations communicate to their followers prompting them to buy a product or adopt an ideology.  This would not have been possible without the transformative influence of Web 2.0.

Several important factors mark the divergence of digital media communication from its analog predecessors thus making it appropriate for environmental communication.  First, the digital revolution gives virtually everyone a voice.  With analog communication only the wealthy and powerful had the means by which to express a message to society.  Therefore, the culture was perpetually mired in certain ideologies that were maintained with media dominance by the elite.  Second, Web 2.0 fragments human knowledge into an infinitesimal number of individualized truths (Keen, 2007, p. 17).  Everyone sees the world from an individual perspective and the digital revolution allows people to share that unique viewpoint as a singular truth.  Whether or not an individual’s personal truth conforms to modern standards of science or ethics is irrelevant in viewing democratization; only that he or she has the ability to communicate.  For example, if flat earth advocates lived today they would be allowed a voice on Web 2.0.

Third, the Web 2.0 revolution has created an overabundance of information transfer.  By this, the average user is overloaded by the sheer volume of voices vying to be heard.  Marketing, celebrity gossip, news reports, activism, as well as the mundane minutia of the everyday saturate cyberspace waiting to be consumed by users.  Given the plethora of information available it follows that people naturally become more discerning about the media content they consume.  Lastly, Web 2.0 has profoundly altered the media landscape.  The digital revolution has forced media conglomerates to change business models and operating procedures.  For example, the emergence of many peer to peer file sharing sites (like the now defunct Napster) saw many digital natives downloading music for free.  In the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century music companies scrambled to try to ebb the growing flood of illegal downloads as only an estimated one in forty songs were being paid for (Keen, 2007, p. 108).  Eventually, the music companies reimagined how customers could pay for songs.  Apple’s iTunes emerged as a media superpower accounting for 70 percent of all music sold worldwide (Waldfogel, 2010, p. 7).  Other types of media were affected by the digital revolution which prompted wide-scale changes across all platforms further disturbing the old media model.

The notion of information overload precipitating changes in how people consume information can be viewed by shift in usage for the general platforms of social media.  Early on, Myspace reigned as the top social media platform boasting over 20 million registered users by 2006 (Raacke and Bonds-Raacke, 2008, p. 170).  Features on the site allowed the predominantly high school and college-aged users to create their own personal blog with pictures, music, and text.  As social media has evolved platforms expanded from the blog model (Myspace and Facebook) to the microblog (Twitter).  Allowing just 140 characters per post, Twitter has attracted digital natives in increasing numbers to its sleek, efficient platform (Marwick, 2011, p. 142).  Users can post pictures, links and video, all-the-while staying connected to the larger social media landscape (Facebook, Instagram, and various blogs, etc.) by integrating accounts.  Twitter’s growing popularity is owed to the medium’s ability to promote communication (Marwick, 2011, p. 142).  Other blog-type social networking platforms disseminate information without the same emphasis on dialogue as Twitter.

Twitter has established itself as the first place most people look to when breaking news occurs.  From entertainment to sports to national and international news to natural disasters, Twitter is usually the first place individuals learn of news and information in real time from eyewitnesses (Jansen, Zhang, Sobel, and Chowdury, 2009, p. 2173).  Cross (2011) reports that “around the world, nearly 200 million people a month are posting updates on Twitter at an average rate of 140 million a day, 1 billion a week (p. 2).  Moreover, Twitter “has become the most used social media application in official public relations, advertising, and marketing campaigns” (Lovejoy, Waters, and Saxton, 2012, p. 2) (Seltzer and Mitrook, 2007).

In a 2009 briefing, Willard (of the International Institute for Sustainable Development) reported that there were three ways in which emerging technology will be used to bolster the message of sustainability (Clark 2009, p. 6).  The first way is the universal adoption of handheld media-enabled devices (Willard, 2009, 2).  The ubiquity of small computing devices enables people to communicate about environmental issues from virtually anywhere.  Second, the technology of social media enables users to become content creators uploading text, photos, and video that is catalogued and made searchable for others (Willard, 2009, p. 2).  Therefore, the web becomes a repository of media content available to those looking for information on sustainability.  Lastly, social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook have an enormous potential to facilitate the flow of information, ideas, and opinions across physical and ideological boundaries (Willard, 2009, p. 2).  Worldwide attention can be achieved on sustainability issues with social media platforms that are not bound by geography.  Moreover, networks of loosely connected people become conduits for change and action.

Not only has social media altered the way people communicate but environmental sustainability advocates are using it to transform how people think of green issues.  The democratizing of the internet as a result of the digital revolution is responsible for several developments in the area of environmental communication.  First, the expansion of social networks has allowed individuals to report and document environmental changes or abuses in real-time (Cox, 2013, p. 186).  People no longer have to wait for whistleblowers or reporters to announce an oil spill or any other environmental disaster.  Eyewitnesses can tweet of the event while it is happening thus alerting followers to the crisis and in turn that tweet can be retweeted at infinitum.  In addition, specialized knowledge that was once the domain of scientists and activists can be disseminated to anyone via a social network (Willard, 2009, p. 19).  This takes sustainability advocacy out of the realm of experts and allows laypeople to engage in the discussion.

Second, the speed with which social media broaches and responds to an environmental concern is profoundly accelerated over traditional forms of communication. The ease of sharing information and opinions via social networks facilitates the quickness at which people can receive such updates.  One result of this is the tendency for some posts (whether messages or video) to go “viral,” a term describing when a post is shared across social media platforms at an accelerated rate causing many people to view it in a short period of time (Willard, 2009. p.19) (Nahon and Hemsley, 2013, p. 13). Third, social media has given a voice to critics of current environmental policies and provides a means to hold accountable companies and politicians (Cox, 2013, p. 187).  Lastly, social media can be used to organize the masses to support and advocate for environmental causes (Cox, 2013, p. 189).  This occurs with both small and large-scale issues because sites like Twitter are networks that link people locally and globally.  Furthermore, sustainability concerns that are initially raised in one location can be amplified with the use of social media networks (Willard, 2009, p. 19).  Thus, Twitter becomes a loudspeaker for green activists, magnifying the sustainability message to an ever growing number of people who are socially connected.  The culmination of these attributes in the application of Twitter makes it an ideal tool for those who are interested in learning and promoting sustainability issues (Clark, 2009, p. 5).


Celebrity Twitter

The notion of celebrity has evolved in recent years to include not just the phenomenon of being known for being known but also how popular culture shapes the introduction and perception of celebrities in society.  Turner (2004) defined celebrity as:

“a genre or representation and a discursive effect; a commodality traded by the promotions, publicity, and media industries that produce these representations and their effects; and it is a cultural formation that has a social function we can better understand” (p. 9).

Therefore, celebrity can be understood as the way in which people are represented or talked about.  Inherent in this notion is the process by which a person is turned into a commodality and the dynamic society that contributes the means of development of the celebrity (Marwick, 2011, p. 140).  Although the reaction of fans to celebrity has been studied primarily from the viewpoint of the pathological, it has been reevaluated and considered to be for most devoid of maladjustment consequences.  Moreover, the dimension of celebrity can be seen as a ubiquitous component to the ordinary life (Turner, 2004, p. 17).  Media has delivered famous people into the culture of the everyday so that they inhabit the common spaces of a person’s life.  People in turn use celebrities to construct for themselves personal meanings.

An important trend that has been observed is the upsurge in celebrities using Twitter to communicate to their fans.  Twitter provides an excellent platform for celebrities because it allows a celebrity to interact with fans while limiting the access to his or her personal page or website (Stever and Lawson, 2013, p. 340).  This is a departure from older forms of social media in which a celebrity may feel obligated to share more than he or she are comfortable with.  Thus, Twitter provides a platform on which fans and celebrities can communicate in an informal way.      This connection made by fans to celebrities on Twitter is primarily a para-social interaction.  Para-social Interaction (PSI) was posited first by Horton and Wohl (1956) who studied the relationship television presenters in Britain had with their audiences.  One of the main features of PSI is that it is one-sided.  The celebrity and the fan interact through the social media application.  Although it is possible for celebrities to interact one-on-one with followers on Twitter, many do not.  Most often tweets are launched into the Twittersphere.  This provides the celebrity a way not only to communicate with his fans but to use those fans and their networks to publicize the celebrity or the content of a tweet.  Engaging the tweet by retweeting, favoriting, hashtagging, linking, or commenting, fans become “Twittervangelists” for their favorite celebrities taking the celebrity’s image or message and sharing it with other Twitter communities.

Celebrities use Twitter for a variety of applications.  Stever and Lawson (2013) observed a variety of functions for which celebrities employed Twitter (pp. 351-52).  However, certain uniformity was discovered in three areas.

All celebrities:

  • Use Twitter to communicate both with other celebrities and with members of the public or fans.
  • Use Twitter to communicate with fans about their work.
  • Use Twitter to communicate their likes and dislikes, conveying information that revealed things not typically shared in other forums.

Moreover, Stever (1991, 2008) found in earlier studies that celebrities can become exemplars for social change prompting instruction and activism from fans.  Today, more celebrities view their popularity as a way to deliver a socially conscious message to their fans.

How celebrities communicate through Twitter to reach their fan base for social change can best be conceptualized from a media ecology framework.  This approach focuses on pervasiveness of the technology of media and its subsequent effects on society.  In addition, the realm of popular culture is inextricably linked as technologies like Twitter influence how people view celebrities and themselves.

Media Ecology Theory (MET) was developed by Marshall McLuhan who posited that the actual processing of communication through media influences the way in which humans respond (West, and Turner, 2010, p. 429).  McLuhan’s mentor, Harold Innis, believed that technology is an ever-evolving factor that either establishes or transfers power.  He referred to this dynamic as the bias of communication (Comor, 2001, p. 276).  Those in power are apt to hold on to that power through the use of technology and those who wish to unseat those in power do so through technology.  Expanding on this idea McLuhan charted the history of media technology which consisted of the tribal era, the literate era, the print era, and the electronic era.  Perhaps today the digital era may be added as well.

In this digital era we see a demonstration of McLuhan’s idea.  Specifically, celebrities who have been endued with power by virtue of their popularity created by the media landscape and the perceptions of fans employ social media to transfer power to followers (Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, Silvestre, 2011, p. 242).  It is the contention of this paper that social media and Twitter specifically, is the media technology that celebrities use to transfer power to followers.  Thus, fans are invited to poach and redefine meanings that celebrities disseminate.

This idea is essential to the study of the use of Celebrity on Twitter to effect change.  By posting news, opinions, and retweets from others celebrities are diffusing their power for the sake of empowering followers with information and motivation to affect change.  This is true for celebrities who devote their Twitter accounts to activism such as environmental sustainability.  Since Twitter can deliver a news bite, video, or comment quickly it has become an indispensable vehicle for activism.

Does celebrity matter?  Can activists known only for their involvement in the area of sustainability reach their followers more effectively than celebrities who use Twitter for environmental advocacy?  The remainder of this paper reports the findings of studying two celebrities and two activists to see if the power of celebrity is an advantage when communicating about environmental sustainability.


Method of Examination


            Objective of Study

The objective of this qualitative study is to determine if celebrity activists enjoy greater influence over their Twitter followers than full-time environmental sustainability activists.

            Study Subjects

This study will involve four case studies: two celebrities and two well-known sustainability activists; each use their Twitter handles primarily for activism.  The two celebrities are actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo and the two activists are Michael Pollan and Bill McKibben.  These will be the study subjects.


            What characteristics will be studied?

This examination will look at four main characteristics.  The first characteristic to be studied will be the user’s timeline to identify the main focus of the most recent posts and determine whether or not they conform to both the user’s persona and to other posts in content.  In addition the timeline will also establish when and in what context the tweet in question was posted.  Second, this study will disclose the activity of the subject by giving the average tweets per day calculated over the past year of posting.  Thirdly, the study will show the level of engagement the subject expresses by listing the statistics on how often the subject’s tweet is shared, commented on, favorited and retweeted.  Lastly, the subject’s reach will be uncovered by sharing how many followers comprise his community.  It is important to note that Twitter is fully searchable and readable without being a follower of a particular person.  Therefore, reach is only a number that reflects the community one subject has and the potential to reach many more outside of that community.


Definitions of Terms


Total size of the user’s audience


The average number of tweets for the date range (60 days)


Retweets Posted by the User (RPU):

Number of retweets the user has from other users in his timeline in the specified date        range

Retweets of the User’s Post (RUP):

Number of times the user’s tweet was retweeted by audience

Favorited by Audience (FA):

Number of times the user’s tweet was favorited by someone else

Replies by User (RU):

Number of times the user replies to other tweets in the date range

Replies by Audience (RA):

Number of replies made to the user’s tweet by the audience

Hashtags (#):

Number of hashtags for the specific tweet

Links (L):

Number of links for that tweet

Analytics for the above terms were gathered from



The single tweet effectiveness score represents the sufficiency of a single tweet to prompt a user’s community to engage the tweet in some way.


McKibben 72.2

Ruffalo 241.3

Pollan 1,305

DiCaprio 16,121


Case Study 1:

 Michael Pollan (joined Twitter March 13, 2009)

4,030 tweets338 following471,129 followers10,855 listed


Author of Cooked; Food Rules; In Defense of Food; The Omnivore’s Dilemma; The Botany of Desire; A Place of My Own and Second Nature.

Berkeley, CA

Joined March 2009




Michael Pollan @michaelpollan6:28 AM – 28 Jun 2015 via Bitly6151

Congress Doesn’t Think Agricultural Sustainability Has Anything to Do With Your Health | Mother Jones

Posted on June 27, 2015

REACH: 471,129

ACTIVITY: 2.15 tweets per day (for 60 days)

ENGAGEMENT: RPU = 46; RUP = 61; FA = 51; RU = 0; RA = 6; # = 3; L = 1     = 168

Number that disagreed from replies = 1/6 (17%)


471,129 / 132 x 2.15 = 1305 (Single Tweet Effectiveness)


            This is an examination of a tweet by Michael Pollan publicizing an article which appeared in the online edition of Mother Jones Magazine, entitled: Congress Doesn’t Think Agricultural Sustainability Has Anything to Do with Your Health.  Pollan’s reach assessment comprises his total number of Twitter followers or his Twitter Community of 471,129.  In the sixty days leading up to this tweet Pollan was averaging 2.15 tweets a day.  This number will serve as Pollan’a activity assessment.  Comprising Pollan’s assessment for engagement is 168.  Using the single tweet effectiveness equation Pollan’s single tweet effectiveness score is 1305.               In Pollan’s time line (viewed on June 27, 2015) the post is in keeping with others listed.  Pollan posts consistently about environmental issues especially relating to ethical, sustainable food production.  In addition, Pollan’s Twitter page is mostly comprised of his own tweets although some retweets can be observed.  Pollan’s tweet on June 27th called attention to an article in online addition of Mother Jones Magazine (  The article, written by Maddie Oatman, a senior research editor with the magazine, exposed the apparent cover up of new recommendations made by the Advisory Committee for Dietary Guidelines by lobbyists and politicians funded by large food and agricultural consortiums (Oatman, 2015, June).  Specifically, the guidelines linked environmental issues to certain dietary and agricultural practices such as how consuming less meat and more plant-based food will result in a reduced environmental impact as well as promote good health.  The article outlines how the recommendations were sidestepped as a result of riders added to new legislation that required new agricultural appropriations spending to be decided on only by guidelines that were based on scientific evidence that received a “Grade 1 Strong” by the Department of Agriculture and to accept only those guidelines that involved general nutrient intake.

The purpose for the posting is to inform the public of the suspected collusion in the government with business concerns to protect corporate profits at the expense of the environment and the health of the American consumer.  The tweet was retweeted sixty-one times and favorited fifty-one times.  Out of the six responses to Pollan’s tweet he received one that disagreed with the article.  The complaint logged by @TimothyAlex was that the Advisory Council overstepped its bounds in making the recommendations involving the environment and sustainability.  However, he did not challenge the substance of the recommendations.  Four tweets expressed outrage at the suspected collusion between the government and large agribusiness and one did not post an actual message other than to list Pollan’s and Oatman’s Twitter handles.  One of the replies expressing indignation was made the same day as Pollan’s tweet while three others were made a day later.  The one reply that was in opposition was made two days after Pollan’s.  In addition, the reply made by @nickykylegarden refers to a similar controversy in the European Union, offering links to other Twitter handles.  Notably, Pollan does not respond to any of the tweets.


Case Study 2:

 @BillMcKibbenBill McKibben

13,151 tweets793 following158,639 followers5,750 listed

Joined Twitter on February 24, 2009 as user #21,786,618

Loading profile…

Author, Educator, Environmentalist and Founder of




Bill McKibben @billmckibben11:47 AM – 24 Jul 2015 via Twitter Web Client6971

A number of cities across Europe will ban cars for a day in September. It sounds beautiful…

Posted on July 24, 2015

REACH: 158,639

ACTIVITY: 9.08 tweets per day (for 60 days)

ENGAGEMENT: RPU = 39; RUP = 69; FA = 71; RU = 43; RA = 13; # = 6; L = 1     = 242

Number that disagreed from replies = 4/13 (30%)


158,639 / 242 x 9.08 = 72.2 (Single Tweet Effectiveness)


Using the Tweet Effectiveness Model, Bill McKibben’s tweet received a score of 72.2.  This was the lowest score observed in the study; therefore McKibben’s tweet can be considered the most effective at reaching his Twitter community.  McKibben’s reach of 158,639 was the smallest in the study.  However, his activity score of 9.08 was the highest.  Engagement fueled by the tweet was a modest 242.

Bill McKibben tweeted “A number of cities across Europe will ban cars for a day.  It sounds beautiful,” along with an article from the U.K. that reported that 246 cities across 14 countries in the EU will ban automobile travel for one day in September.  The day will occur at the close of European Mobility Week, an annual campaign to support and advertise sustainable transportation throughout the EU.  Moreover, to clarify the purpose of the event a spokesman for European Mobility Week issued a quote saying,

“This year’s theme of multimodality encourages people to think about the range of transport options available, and to choose the right mode when traveling.  Through making clever choices about the type of transport use, we can save money, improve our health and help the environment” (Rush, 2015).

Like many of McKibben’s tweets this one was potentially controversial.  Four out of thirteen respondents (30%) disagreed with the notion of outlawing automobile travel for a day.  A representative example can be observed in a tweet from @GaryPietila who wrote, “Not if you are in one of those cities & need to get somewhere important, like a hospital…#Stupididea.” The two main arguments against the notion of outlawing automobile traffic for a day were that climate change and sustainability are fantasies and resentment against government intrusion upon individual liberties.  A representative example of those in favor of the measure reported in the article can be observed in a tweet by @MarcVegan who responded, “1/365: one small step for mankind but it’s a start!”

McKibben’s single tweet effectiveness score (72.2) was the best observed in this study which means that he was most effective at reaching his audience (total tweeters in his community) with his single Tweet.  It is significant to observe that McKibben’s reach or audience is the lowest out of the four users studied.  In addition, McKibben had the highest activity score.  These two factors are directly related to his effectiveness score.  Thus, a more active user with a smaller reach will be more effective at influencing engagement with a single tweet.


Case Study 3:

@MarkRuffaloMark Ruffalo

18,204 tweets1,094 following1,846,397 followers9,433 listed

Joined Twitter on June 15, 2009 as user #47,285,504

Loading profile…

I’m a husband, father, actor, director, and a climate change advocate with an eye on a better, brighter, cleaner, more hopeful future for all of us.



Mark Ruffalo @MarkRuffalo1:57 PM – 9 Aug 2015 via Mobile Web248460

Big surprise… Santa Barbara oil spill was 40 percent larger than estimated, admits pipeline company:… via @vicenews


Posted on August 9, 2015

REACH: 1,846,397

ACTIVITY: 7.98 tweets per day (for 60 days)

ENGAGEMENT: RPU = 161; RUP = 248; FA = 460; RU = 57; RA = 30; # = 2; L = 2    

= 959

Number that disagreed from replies = 1/30 (3.3%)


1,846,397 / 959 x 7.98 = 241.3 (Single Tweet Effectiveness)


            In examining the Tweet made by actor Mark Ruffalo, it can be observed that his reach of 1,846,397 is substantially higher than either Pollan or Mckibben.  This is owed to Ruffalo’s celebrity as a prolific movie actor.  However, it is obvious by observing Ruffalo’s Twitter timeline that his account is used mostly for environmental activism.  Ruffalo’s activity score of 7.98 was the second highest observed in this study.  In addition, Ruffalo’s engagement score of 959 was also the second highest.  Therefore, the single tweet effectiveness score of 241.3 Ruffalo received for his tweet was the second highest.

The tweet itself was a sarcastic barb about a news report from Vice News (a website that covers breaking news of various sorts daily), which reported that a Texas pipeline company, (Plains All-American Pipeline), revised its earlier estimates of how much oil was spilled into the Pacific Ocean in May of 2015.  Ruffalo tweeted, “Big surprise,” before listing the article title and link in his tweet.  The article reported that the spill, already the “largest in California history in the last 25 years”, was originally estimated at 101,000 gallons of crude oil but now alleged by the pipeline company to be around 143,000 gallons (Cantú, 2015).  Ruffalo’s suspicion and contempt for the pipeline company was shared by many of the responders to his tweet.  An example can be observed in a response by @IAMJohn_Harrell who replied, “After the fact admissions are what corporations do in hopes no one is paying attention anymore.”  Only one tweet could be seen as a detractor: @csilasvegass who replied, “idiot.”  However, it is unclear if the response is referring to Ruffalo or someone else (possibly the pipeline company).  Although Ruffalo was not the highest rated for his tweet he did achieve a fairly effective response given his reach score.  Moreover, the nature of the article may account for the low number of detractors.


Case Study 4:

@LeoDiCaprioLeonardo DiCaprio

489 tweets139 following13,364,922 followers33,662 listed

Joined Twitter on April 17, 2010 as user #133,880,286

Loading profile…

Actor and Environmentalist

http://www.leonardodicaprio.comLos Angeles, CA



Leonardo DiCaprio @LeoDiCaprio9:32 PM – 19 Aug 2015 via Twitter Web Client4621,195

E.P.A. Announces New Rules to Cut Methane Emissions


Posted on August 19, 2015

REACH: 13,364,922

ACTIVITY: 0.47 tweets per day (for 60 days)

ENGAGEMENT: RPU = 11; RUP = 462; FA = 1,195; RU = 0; RA = 87; # = 5; L = 4    

= 1,764

Number that disagreed from replies = 8/87 (9%)


13,364,922 / 1,764 x 0.47 = 16,121 (Single Tweet Effectiveness)


            Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the most famous and sought after actors in Hollywood.  However, his Twitter handle @LeoDiCaprio is almost exclusively devoted to environmental advocacy.  Analyzing his timeline reveals that almost all his tweets deal with some environmental issue or his foundation (the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation LDF) aimed at advancing environmental causes worldwide.  Given DiCaprio’s popularity as an actor, it is not surprising that his reach is enormous (13,364,922).  However, beyond his tremendous Twitter community DiCaprio’s other assessments are puzzling.  DiCaprio’s activity score is a meager 0.47 which is the lowest found in the study.  Although his engagement score of 1,764 is the highest in the study it is extremely low in proportion to his reach assessment.  Not surprising, DiCaprio had the highest score (16,121) in the study for single tweet effectiveness which means his tweet was not effective at all in reaching his Twitter community.

DiCaprio’s tweet featured a headline and a link from the New York Times, reporting that the Obama administration will require the oil and gas industries in America to reduce their methane emissions significantly by 2025.  Furthermore, the article announced that this new directive was a part of a broader environmental policy effort by the Obama Administration (Harris and Davenport, 2015).  Out of the eighty-seven replies to DiCaprio’s tweet twenty-six (30%) either agreed or thanked DiCaprio for his tweet.  However, almost as many, twenty-five responders replied with some expression of romantic love for DiCaprio.  For example, @leorrry replied, “I love youuuuuu.”  Another response from @dixnv_ declared, “hey I have a big ol’ crush on you.”  Although not a detraction of DiCaprio’s tweet, responses of this type do not express an interest in the tweet topic.  Moreover, another twenty-three respondents (26%) interjected a potpourri of topics such as DiCaprio’s movie career, suggestions, and pleas for DiCaprio to follow a particular Twitter handle.  Again, these responses could hardly be considered negative but they in no way address the tweet.

Some respondents (about 6%) used DiCaprio’s tweet to form a response that advertised another environmental concern or organization completely different than the subject of the original tweet.  This is a common practice, where users co-opt a large Twitter community by posting another message concerning another topic.  In this way users with limited reach can potentially have their message be seen by many more people.  Notwithstanding, DiCaprio’s tweet did have detractors whose main disagreement was in the apparent overstepping of government authority.  Moreover, these responses attacked the EPA directly.  For example, @Nomad660 replied, “The E.P.A. should shut their mouths.  That should eliminate most of the methane emissions.”  Therefore, DiCaprio’s tweet can be considered woefully ineffective at reaching his Twitter community not just because of low activity and a low engagement to reach ratio but also because his followers seem preoccupied with other aspects of his persona which eclipse the engagement of the tweet’s environmental message.


Conclusion & Discussion

All four of the Twitter users studied in this research have an extensive reach compared to the average user.  Two (Pollan and McKibben) are well-known for their environmental activism and two (Ruffalo and DiCaprio) are prominent because of their movie star status.  Ruffalo and Dicaprio have significantly higher Twitter communities.  However, that in and of itself does not guarantee the effectiveness of a single tweet in terms of the users who will zealously respond through some form of engagement.  Moreover, the key to single tweet effectiveness in reaching a Twitter community is high activity by the user and a relatively lower reach.  As reach numbers increase (as observed with DiCaprio’s astronomical number of followers) the ability for a user to influence followers with a single tweet diminishes.  In addition, low activity by the user will further diminish a tweet’s effectiveness such as with Pollan and DiCaprio.  It follows that, those who subscribe to a low-activity user may not respond right away or at all because of the infrequency of the tweets.


Limitations & Areas of Further Study                     

This study had several limitations.  First, the definition of reach does not nor cannot encompass all of the followers of the followers of Twitter users which could literally be never-ending in some cases.  Therefore, this study and its findings only report on the effectiveness of the respective communities of the users examined and not on all possible people who could have seen or responded to the tweet.  The reason for this is that Twitter is searchable and readable without actually following a user or signing up on Twitter.  Therefore, virtually anyone with an internet connection could read and respond in some way to a user’s tweet.

Second, tweets are not static, meaning that once a tweet is posted it can be engaged upon at any time thereafter unless it is deleted.  For example, a tweet can be retweeted a year after it was originally posted.  However, many tweets are news reports and thus begin to lose engagement value as soon as they are tweeted so that an older tweet may not be desired.  In addition, measuring engagement is difficult due to the changing levels of engagement.  After these results are posted the engagement numbers could change as more users respond.

Third, more study needs to be done on the prevalence and effectiveness of co-opting a Twitter user’s community.  This practice affects effectiveness but it is difficult to express exactly all of the effects without further study.  It follows that the larger the community the more co-opting takes place.  This turns the bigger Twitter communities into bulletin boards for various causes.  For example, many of DiCaprio’s Twitter responses have little to nothing to do with his posts.

Lastly, this research did not address response times of tweet engagement and their influence on effectiveness.  This encompasses several issues such as how often and how fast users check and respond to a tweet in a user’s timeline.  In addition, response times could include how fast a user tweets a news story after it is made public.  Response times can alter the character and scope of engagement and thereby change the overall single tweet effectiveness.

More research is needed in general in tabulating the effectiveness of specific tweets in Twitter communities.  Specifically, the components that equate effectiveness (reach, activity, and engagement) should be isolated and tested to arrive at a better understanding of how they function and how they influence single tweet effectiveness.  Moreover, as the use of social media for news grows more with the burgeoning digital native population, research is necessary to study the effects of information overload and single tweet effectiveness.  As Twitter users experience more and more information available at their fingertips (with a handheld device) how will they decide on what to read and what to skip?  Does having a para-social relationship with a Twitter user (either celebrity or activist) increase the likelihood of a single tweet getting read at all?  These questions need to be addressed to understand how Twitter users are influenced by the people they follow.


















Cantú, A. (2015, August 7). Texas Pipeline Company Admits Santa Barbara Oil Spill Was 40 Percent Larger Than Estimated. Retrieved from

Clark, G. E. (2009). Environmental Twitter. Environment, 51(5), 5-7.

Comor, E. (2001). Harold Innis and ‘The Bias of Communication’. Information, Communication & Society, 4(2), 274-294.

Cox, R. (2013). Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Ltd.

Cross, M. (2011). Bloggertati, Twitterati: How Blogs and Twitter Are Transforming Popular Culture. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

DeLuca, K. M., Sun, Y., & Peeples, J. (2011). Wild public screens and image events from Seattle to China: Using social media to broadcast activism beyond the confines of democracy.

Goodland, R., & Daly, H. (1996). Environmental sustainability: universal and non-negotiable. Ecological applications, 1002-1017.

Harris, G., & Davenport, C. (2015, August 18). E.P.A. Announces New Rules to Cut Methane Emissions. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Horton, D., & Richard Wohl, R. (1956). Mass communication and para-social interaction: Observations on intimacy at a distance. Psychiatry, 19(3), 215-229.


Jansen, B. J., Zhang, M., Sobel, K., & Chowdury, A. (2009). Twitter power: Tweets as electronic word of mouth. Journal of the American society for information science and technology, 60(11), 2169-2188.

Keen, A. (2007). The Cult of the Amateur: how blogs, Myspace, Youtube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Kietzmann, J. H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I. P., & Silvestre, B. S. (2011). Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. Business horizons, 54(3), 241-251.

Lovejoy, K., Waters, R. D., & Saxton, G. D. (2012). Engaging stakeholders through Twitter: How nonprofit organizations are getting more out of 140 characters or less. Public Relations Review, 38(2), 313-318.

Nahon, K., & Hemsley, J. (2013). Going viral. Polity.

Marwick, A. (2011). To see and be seen: Celebrity practice on Twitter. Convergence: the international journal of research into new media technologies, 17(2), 139-158.

Oatman, M. (2015, June). Congress Doesn’t Think Agricultural Sustainability Has Anything to Do With Your Health. Mother Jones. Retrieved from

Raacke, J., & Bonds-Raacke, J. (2008). MySpace and Facebook: Applying the uses and gratifications theory to exploring friend-networking sites. Cyberpsychology & behavior, 11(2), 169-174.

Rush, J. (2015, July 23). European Mobility Week: The capital cities that are banning cars from their roads – for one day. The Independent. Retrieved from–for-one-day-10409785.html

Seltzer, T., & Mitrook, M. A. (2007). The dialogic potential of weblogs in relationship building. Public Relations Review, 33(2), 227-229.

Stever, G. S., & Lawson, K. (2013). Twitter as a way for celebrities to communicate with fans: Implications for the study of parasocial interaction. North American Journal Of Psychology, 15(2), 339-354.

Waldfogel, J. (2010). Music file sharing and sales displacement in the iTunes era. Information economics and policy, 22(4), 306-314.

West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2010). Introducing Communication Theory. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Willard, T. (2009). Social networking and governance for sustainable development. International institute for sustainable development. Retrieved from