Publications

Impact Investing Market on Twitter: Influential Users and Communities

New 2018 journal article published by our Luisa De Amicis (PlusValue COO) with Petra Kralj Novak and Igor Mozetič from the Department of Knowledge Technologies at the Jožef Stefan Institute (Ljubljana) for the Applied Network Science 3(4), Springer Open. Available at: https://appliednetsci.springeropen.com/articles/10.1007/s41109-018-0097-9

The article is based on a previous publication for the ‘International Workshop on Complex Networks and Their Applications’ (VI, pp. 967-979). The research has been funded by the European Commission (H2020 FET project DOLFINS - grant no. 640772), PKN and IM additionally acknowledge financial support from the Slovenian Research Agency (research core funding no. P2-103).

By using Twitter as a proxy, the paper identifies the main players in the sector of impact investing and explores how relevant stakeholders interact and communicate with each other. The investigation is carried out through network, content and sentiment analysis applied to an extensive data-set of tweets collected over a period of 10 months. More specifically, the paper analyses Twitter sentiments, identify influential Twitter users and detects retweet communities, which are defined by key influencers and popular hashtags. This work largely draws on a preliminary study which helped pilot the methodology and define the pivotal points of the research. In comparison, the latest version of the study includes a considerably larger dataset (from 106 days and 234,243 tweets to 306 days and 668,529 tweets); an extended manually-annotated dataset (520 influential users); an analysis of the community structure in the retweet network; an analysis of the community bonding vs. community bridging links.

The aim is to provide evidence-based recommendations to foster the existing impact investing ecosystem and raising awareness around the topic, with the goal to ultimately encourage the shift of “impact investing” into the mainstream and make it a new “standard" practice. As a methodological novelty, the paper adapts the Herfindahl-Hirschman index (HHI), which is typically a measure of market concentration and competition commonly used in economics, to the retweet communities in order to detect community structures. The study combines the HHI with the influence of Twitter user within communities as measured by an adapted use of the Hirsch index (h-index), allowing to quantify how hierarchical communities are and how interactions work within and between them.

Despite having collected tweets in English only, the data-set shows that the sector is impressively well spread across the world. We used the Twitter Search API to acquire tweets across the globe and the number of distinct Twitter users in the dataset is 134,482. This search query was a combination of a list of well-known personalities and organisations working in the impact investment field. On average, there are about 2,200 tweets per day on impact investing. Overall, this is a low volume in comparison to more popular topics, like the environment (about 200,000 environmental tweets are posted daily).

The evidence suggests that most of the users tweeting about impact investing do not have or show strong sentiment about it, but those who do show strong sentiment, tend to have a positive one.

 

Users were manually divided into categories designating different types of actors in impact investing. The distribution of the 520 most influential users into categories is depicted in Figure 2.

The top ten most influential Twitter users (h-index at least 14) were identified and each user was manually assigned to one of the categories in the figure. Half of the top ten accounts are practitioners, whilst the other half are organisations (3 intermediaries, 1 social business and 1 investor). As in the previous study, no journalists or media outlets are in the top-10 positions nor academia or the public sector, despite their vested interests. Goldman Sachs is the 7th most influential account, confirming that many “traditional investors" are moving towards or showing a growing interest in impact investing. There is only one social business and surprisingly no foundations among in our top league.

In terms of content analysis, the paper organises user categories and retweet communities based on their hashtag usage. It first looks at the hashtags used by the 520 influential Twitter users grouped into the different categories. It then looks at the hashtags used by the users of different retweet communities at least 500 and 1000 times – this allows to show the content shared and interchanged between communities. For instance, 11 out of 22 top hashtags in Figure 4 have been tweeted by one category only. This can be interpreted as if different user categories of influencers tend to use a sectorial “Twitter vocabulary". Ad-hoc initiatives, academia, private company and investor are the categories that has the least diversity in their Twitter vocabulary. The categories Public sector and Other did not use any hashtag 500 times.

In light of the collected evidence, the paper concludes that an additional effort should be made in raising awareness about the sector, especially by policymakers and media outlets. The role of investors and the academia is also discussed, as well as the emergence of hybrid business models within the sector and its connections to the tech industry. It is worth noting that tech-related actors are playing an increasing role in the impact investing sector, which is strongly connected to the charity world, which is often deemed as ‘old-fashined’. Policy makers should keep giving attention to the relationship between technology, impact investing and social innovative trends and initiatives such as the ICT-enabled social innovations project launched by the Joint Research Center of the European Commission. Furthermore, our analysis shows how active the EU is in impact investing, funding and supporting a number of initiatives in this sector. We welcome this approach and we believe that more needs to be done in this direction, not only at the EU level but also at the national and local level, with an increasing role played by local city councils, arguably the closest institution to citizens locally.