Twitter, the 140-character messaging system, has become part of the mainstream of news media, a University of Arizona researcher has found.

Sudha Ram, management information systems professor in the Eller College of Management, studied the role that Twitter plays in disseminating news. Ram says news media use of Twitter has measurable results well beyond the posting of an initial message.

“This particular study was about how we can actually measure how well [news agencies] are performing on Twitter,” Ram says, “whether they are being effective or not, and how they can improve.”

Ram studied a dozen major news organizations that use the social media website as a way of generating interest in content. She says her analysis looked beyond the number of followers to examine the entire life cycle of a "tweet."

“Just because the lifespan is short doesn’t mean you’re not doing well,” she says. “It may be that lots of people are tweeting about you, and re-tweeting your articles, but they are doing it within a short period of time.”

Ram’s research resulted in visual modeling of the Twitter lifespan. The animated representations reveal organic patterns that resemble microorganisms viewed under a microscope. She says the information could ultimately help guide organizations in maximizing the reach of their content.

“You start to see these layers that are being created,” Ram says. “There are ripples that are being created.”

Ram says her study is made possible by having access to the vast amount of data that is now being compiled through online services, what she refers to as “big data.”

“I feel that you can use the data in a way that benefits people who are using these technology platforms,” Ram says. “You can make people’s lives easier.”