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Twitter is a publisher’s dream. It is a huge echo chamber that can drive a lot of quality traffic to articles, especially if the retweets take off.
Retweets are referrals. The 'RT' abbreviation is a strong call to action. People trust their virtual friends to steer them in interesting directions, otherwise they wouldn’t be following them in the first place. As such retweets can generate lots of clicks, and they can quickly go viral.
In addition, there are a range of websites orientated around retweets. Think Digg, but instead of ‘diggs’ you have ‘retweets’, and usually these links are displayed in order of popularity (and not buried / subject to a complex algorithm to determine front-page status). These sites can be traffic drivers too. One of my favourites is the excellent TweetMeme.
So, considering the opportunity here, how can publishers make the most out of Twitter, and optimise the retweet factor?
Well, it turns out that it is as much about writers as it is publishers (although these roles are often one and the same, in the case of independent bloggers).
Here are some suggested techniques that writers and bloggers – not to mention traditional journalists – can adopt to improve the retweetability of their articles...
1. Quality, unique content. You keep on hearing this but it is absolutely key to doing well online, and it’s no different with Twitter and retweets. I tend to braindump my key points and then write fast. If you know what you want to say to begin with then it helps greatly. Write about what you know. Have an opinion, and have a voice. Post frequently and allow readers to engage.
2. Persuasive / descriptive headlines. These are key. There are plenty of other articles about how and why to write brilliant headlines, so I won’t go into the detail other than to talk a little bit about adjectives…
3. Awesome adjectives. We naturally use adjectives in our headlines. They can lend a certain weight to an article, and persuade readers to check out a story that they may otherwise have swerved on. For example, I’ve titled this post: ‘15 kick-ass retweet tips for writers’, which is better than a rather dull ‘15 retweet tips’.
4. Even more awesome adjectives. There’s another thing going on here: adjectives take on a life of their own when found in a retweet. Why? Because it can appear as if the retweeter has inserted an adjective into a headline (and sometimes they do, if you omit them).
“[RT] @econsultancy: 15 kick-ass retweet tips for writers”
This can be very powerful as we’re moving into the realm of recommendation. It appears as if the retweeter thinks these tips are ‘kick-ass’, rather than your humble / self-aggrandising author.
5. Demographics. Note that the headline here includes ‘for writers’. That’s because it is aimed at people who write blog posts, articles and features. The content creators. By targeting this post to a group of people I’m hoping it will be picked up in blogger circles. Better to target appropriate visitors, if you want people to retweet the article.
6. Short headlines, shorter URLS. I always feel a deep sense of failure whenever I write a headline that extends beyond seven words, or one line. Keep them short, descriptive and to the point. This is good for digestibility, and for reasons relating to space (see the next point). And remember to use URL shortening services such as the lovely Bit.ly. They're real space-savers.
7. Leave characters spare. Don’t max out the 140-character limit. You need to allow for ‘[RT]’, which is five characters when used with parenthesis (including a space), followed by your username. I need 12 characters to accommodate the following tweet prefix: ‘[RT] @lakey:’, so my maximum tweet / headline shouldn’t be any longer than 128 characters. In addition, it is always a smart move to leave a little extra space for the retweeter to append the tweet with a comment, to let you know whether you rule / suck.
8. The world has ADD. Now write some lists. I’m not sure what it says about us all, but everybody seems to love a list. On the web, I think it is partly because people like to skim, and what better way of skimming than to browse through a 10-point list? Instant satisfaction. The days of 4,000-word essays are over and Ritalin sales have gone through the roof. Regardless of all that, you can do well with lists because they are easy to digest, they do what they say on the tin, and can be genuinely informative / educational / entertaining. Lists work very well on social media sites like Digg, which adds to their retweetability (they can be easier to find if multiple sources are pointing at them).
9. Play hashtag bingo. Jump on the hashtag train by appending your tweet with ‘#hashtag’. This article might be filed under ‘#tips’, ‘#twitter’ or ‘#retweet’, to increase findability. It may also help your tweet to be picked up by the autoretweeters and the search bots / feeds they employ (that specifically hunt for certain search phrases and hashtags).
10. Timing is crucial. Cream rises, but sometimes you think you’ve written a killer post and it doesn’t really do so well on Twitter. More often than not this is a timing issue. For example, I’m based in London, and know that if I post this at about 2.30pm GMT it will also be the start of the day in New York. That’s a hot window for publishing new articles. It is almost 2.30pm so let's see...
11. Memes. It can be easier to get on the radar if you wade into an existing conversation, especially if you say something new, or have a wild opinion, or add value to what has already been said. You can seed your post as a reply, much as I did with my counterargument to Techcrunch yesterday:
12. Retweet buttons. Integrate these with your website. There are a variety of options – check out the retweet aggregators and choose something that fits. Make it easy for your readers to retweet your articles. Two buttons - one placed above the fold and another at the end of the article - will have the best results.
13. Expand your network. Sounds obvious but you’ll need a network of friends to seed your posts, and hopefully a few influencers, who follow your work. But don’t worry if you only have a handful of followers, just focus on producing great content. That’s the best way of attracting new followers.
14. Quit begging, dumbass. Some ‘experts’ say you need to append your tweets with ‘please RT!!!’. I say you’re lucky not to be hit with an instant fine for that unholy trinity of exclamation marks. Why beg your followers (and beyond) to retweet something? Are you crazy? Retweets are usually a measure of quality content (or sometimes simply a hot topic) and reflect usefulness or enjoyment or somesuch. It’s all down to merit, and there’s no merit in begging. It’s spammy. Your followers are following you for a reason, and it’s not related to spam!
15. Hey you, yes you: retweet! Remember to retweet other people’s links / tweets in order to get on the radar and share the love around.
No doubt I missed a few ideas here. What other things help improve the amount of retweets you can attract?
[Image by Kimba on Flickr, various rights reserved]