Understanding and predicting the popularity of online items is an important open problem in social media analysis. Considerable progress has been made recently in data-driven predictions, and in linking popularity to external promotions. However, the existing methods typically focus on a single source of external influence, whereas for many types of online content such as YouTube videos or news articles, attention is driven by multiple heterogeneous sources simultaneously - e.g. microblogs or traditional media coverage. Here, we propose RNN-MAS, a recurrent neural network for modeling asynchronous streams. It is a sequence generator that connects multiple streams of different granularity via joint inference. We show RNN-MAS not only to outperform the current state-of-the-art Youtube popularity prediction system by 17%, but also to capture complex dynamics, such as seasonal trends of unseen influence. We define two new metrics: promotion score quantifies the gain in popularity from one unit of promotion for a Youtube video; the loudness level captures the effects of a particular user tweeting about the video. We use the loudness level to compare the effects of a video being promoted by a single highly-followed user (in the top 1% most followed users) against being promoted by a group of mid-followed users. We find that results depend on the type of content being promoted: superusers are more successful in promoting Howto and Gaming videos, whereas the cohort of regular users are more influential for Activism videos. This work provides more accurate and explainable popularity predictions, as well as computational tools for content producers and marketers to allocate resources for promotion campaigns.
Predicting popularity, or the total volume of information outbreaks, is an important subproblem for understanding collective behavior in networks. Each of the two main types of recent approaches to the problem, feature-driven and generative models, have desired qualities and clear limitations. This paper bridges the gap between these solutions with a new hybrid approach and a new performance benchmark. We model each social cascade with a marked Hawkes self-exciting point process, and estimate the content virality, memory decay, and user influence. We then learn a predictive layer for popularity prediction using a collection of cascade history. To our surprise, Hawkes process with a predictive overlay outperform recent feature-driven and generative approaches on existing tweet data  and a new public benchmark on news tweets. We also found that a basic set of user features and event time summary statistics performs competitively in both classification and regression tasks, and that adding point process information to the feature set further improves predictions. From these observations, we argue that future work on popularity prediction should compare across feature-driven and generative modeling approaches in both classification and regression tasks.