Messages from influential people have much more impact and less popular users can gain popularity by increasing their activity and their tweets, but the outcome is costly and inefficient, the findings showed.
"Having a larger number of followers is much more important than the user's 'effort' or activity in sending lots of messages," said head of the research team, Rosa Benito from the Technical University of Madrid in Spain.
Twitter is a heterogeneous network, or rather, one where there is a large number of users with very few followers (61 on median, according to O'Reilly), and a few - very few - with an enormous number of followers (up to 40-50 million).
According to the study, on heterogeneous networks like Twitter the way in which users send messages does not matter, because there is always going to be a highly influential minority.
With this type of distribution, network position or 'topocracy' comes before meritocracy, the researchers noted.
"The data shows that the emergence of a group of users who write fewer tweets but that are largely retweeted is due to the social network being heterogeneous," Benito added.
"Ordinary users can gain the same number of retweets as popular users by increasing their activity abruptly. Then it is possible to increase their influence through activity, but it is costly and inefficient," Benito concluded.
The study appeared in the journal Social Networks.