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Everybody loves to be retweeted, unless they’ve completely messed up, but it’s worth noting that retweets aren’t created equally.

Speaking from the perspective of a publisher, we love it when our links are shared. But what I really look for is the buzz surrounding an article, rather than the sheer volume of retweets a post generates.

The background chatter is more important to me than counting up the retweets. The problem is, some retweets contain little or no additional information from the retweeter.

This is something that can annoy people who see these retweets appearing in their stream. People like Andrew Moore, for example:

It bugs me when @Econsultancy get retweeted. It's not conversation. If I want to know what they're posting, I'll follow them myself, thanks”

Andrew has a point, and the key phrase there is “it’s not conversation”. 

You can see what he means quite clearly by looking at the following screenshot, which he has annotated:

How to extract meaning from retweets

Clearly Andrew is following a lot of people who also follow @Econsultancy, and who like to share our links, but for him - and without too much in the way of conversation - it feels like overkill. Note that Twitter doesn't currently provide any 'do not show' or 'do not duplicate' filters to allow users to strip out repeated retweets. 

Sometimes a retweet on its own doesn’t necessarily amount to much, especially when the same source is continually retweeted every time it publishes an article (which suggests auto-feeds based on keyword rules might be in play). 

Then again, I know that it often takes a few retweets for me to finally click on a link, so there is a flipside to this too. If enough people point something out I'll ultimately sit up and take notice. And publishers like to see their links shared around... you never know who they might be exposed to, or who might subsequently comment or engage in some way. 

However, like Andrew, we certainly place a much higher value on tweets and retweets that contain comment and context. Why? Because we want the feedback, and to know if we're doing something right or wrong. 

What constitutes comment and context?

For the purposes of this article we’re really just talking about retweets with links in them (as opposed to conversation-based posts, although I often add a “+1” or similar to those). What followers are really looking for is proof that the retweeter has digested the post. Signs that this has happened can include:

  • complete rewrites of the headline
  • “great advice”
  • “this is bollocks”
  • other types of comment
  • insertion of tags
  • “read this” / “check this out” 

I don’t always add a comment when retweeting, as sometimes there’s no need, or no room, and I don’t retweet from the same source constantly (not even Econsultancy links, though you may see a couple of those from me on the average day). But as a rule I do try to.

For the purposes of transparency it’s worth pointing out that I have certainly retweeted links from trusted sources as a kind of note to self, with the intention of reading them later. But it’s not a habit, more an occasional occurrence when I’m on the move or pushed for time. It’s not ideal for followers, and using ‘favourites’ is perhaps a better way of doing this.

Best practices

The main thing to remember is to leave enough room for additional comment, given that we want to encourage Twitter users to add comments to retweets...

Writers

I advise writers to try to craft headlines that are compelling and honest, but to also try to fit them onto one line. That’s for aesthetic reasons as much as anything, but in an age of retweets it leaves plenty of space for comment (and for subsequent sharing with hat tips).

Remember that a retweet contains not only a headline and link, but also the @TwitterUserName and the “RT:”, and sometimes a hashtag or other comment. The more space you leave, the better. And besides, long headlines are a bit sucky.

Apps

Lots of apps now invite you to unlock features in exchange for a tweet. The mechanics are straightforward, but the messaging can often be improved.

A couple of weeks ago I visited a Twitter-anchored charity web app, as MoreThan had promised to donate £2 to the Have A Heart Appeal in exchange for a tweet. A neat campaign, and an easy way for me to support a charity (I urge you to do the same).

The process involved clicking a ‘click to tweet’ button, which prefilled a form with the following message:

I'm @morethanfreeman I've added my avatar to MORE TH>N's #HaveaHeartWall Add yours and they'll donate £2 on your behalf: http://t.co/J3aLtg4

The issue was that I wanted to add a comment, but there was no room to do so. Also, there was no ‘characters remaining’ counter, so I didn’t know whether or not there was any space for me to comment.

I ultimately pasted the text into Tweetdeck to see if I could add a personal message, but the default text maxed out the character limit. 

For apps that are reliant on sharing I think it’s a good idea to leave some room to allow sharers to persuade their friends and followers, and allowing them to use their own words (tone of voice, language and passion are very important).

To conclude

As a publisher we cannot properly make sense of reader feedback by looking at the volume of retweets alone. Followers are in precisely the same boat: they ideally want shared links and retweets to be supported by additional messaging. I follow people who act as brilliant curators and critics, and without their chatter Twitter would be a less fun (and less useful) place. 

So, as I press the ‘publish’ button and this filters out into the Twittersphere I’ll be tuning in to the conversation surrounding the retweets in our Twitter Buzz panel (in the right-hand sidebar of this page), to see how this article has been received. In time we may extract only those tweets that feature comments, or just pull out the comments themselves…

[Image by Andrew Moore, rights reserved, and permission granted...]

Chris Lake

Published 15 March, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Simon Sanders

Simon Sanders, Head of Content at Pulse

great post - all our feeds get clogged with endless RTs. But if someone clicks your 'Tweet (this)' button to share, does it automatically share the original post? Or does it offer the chance to comment or add insight? Too scared to check *now* which is why I'll grab the URL and paste into Tweetdeck! With a comment of course!

over 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Simon, it does give you the option to edit before tweeting.

over 5 years ago

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Nathan Gilliatt

Simple retweets don't give much insight into the person's response, but think about the incentives currently in place. Paper.li generates personalized newsletters based on tweeted links, and many Paper.li users allow it to tweet a daily announcement--including @mentions of some whose tweets contributed to it.

Since @mentions are one measure of "influence" (we call it that because that's what it's not), anyone hoping to gain visibility or increase their "influence" metrics has an incentive to tweet--and retweet--links.

We're still working out what Twitter is for.

over 5 years ago

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Laura Cheetham

Interesting to read the Twitter feed on the right hand side of people retweeting without extracting meaning...!

over 5 years ago

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Tom Baldwin

We are all masters of our own subscriptions - if you don't like what or how a person tweets then just stop following them. Andrew needs to seek greater diversity in his following list.

A RT without any explicit comment is still valid - it means "Hear hear".

over 5 years ago

Michael Harris

Michael Harris, Freelance consultant at Private company

I agree with Tom's comment. There are times when you think something is of value to the people you follow, and the tweet sums up everything they would need to know about it.

Simply put - why add value when none actually needs to be added.

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Tom - "We are all masters of our own subscriptions"... love that! You're quite right, and as I mentioned I often need to see some "hear hear" action before finally tuning in. It's a bit like being exposed to advertising in that respect. I can see Andrew's point too though. Twitter / Twitter clients should offer better functionality to help users personalise their feed preferences.

over 5 years ago

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Dahlia Valentine

Remember, sometimes people use software to have your RSS feed piped in to their Twitter account. So anytime you post something, it automatically gets retweeted.

Those RT without comments are just as valuable in terms of publicity. It's the power of repetition, and it just plain works. Bottom line is, not everybody is sitting at the computer at the exact same time, watching the same RT's go by.

On the flip side, sometimes I do add a "Good stuff" or "Check out the comments" to my RT. If I don't like the title, I will make my own headline.

But would it be any more productive if everyone started creatively changing titles, so that we didn't know it was the same article we were clicking on 10 times? I don't know how valuable a full-on revolution would be.

over 5 years ago

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Punk

I am not sure if I agree, yes probably not every retweet gives insight but a retweet is by itself an insight for my followers

over 5 years ago

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Andrew Moore

Great post Chris, I can see already this has started a debate about the whole RT dilemma.

My original rant was sparked from seeing all the retweets alongside an EConsultancy blog post on the site. I want to see relevant conversation happening about the post subject, not a mass of repeat tweets over and over - something I'm sure you and your dev team are looking into.

I've got nothing against the odd RT, it's the automated-feed tweets that bug me. I don't think I'm following any auto-tweeters, but even an auto DM is not personal, and ultimately unsocial.

over 5 years ago

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GabrielleNYC

My first thought at seeing the original tweet today was that it wasn't very well written. Which is why I didn't click the link or RT. I ALWAYS check a link, blog etc before I pass it on... with or without additional comment.

over 5 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

I agree that adding why you are re-tweeting and opinion is good practice. I'm more likely to follow the link.

I sometime wonder with some RTs why it was RT'ed, whether it was really read and what made it worth RTing.

Also agree with the view that when I see something RT'ed a few times, its like extra votes and then I might read it.

Perhaps we will see Twitter clients that allow suppression of Tweets you've already seen, or will show how many votes there have been.

Perhaps it would be nice if you could selectively RT something to just people in your network who aren't a follower of the person you are RTing.

This goes to the core of the issue with Twitter. A publisher can't help ensure relevance of the information to segements of their followers. Unlike email where you can target and attempt to improve relevancy (notwithstanding that marketers don't always do this). Twitter is a bulk blast mechanism by design.

over 5 years ago

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Digistraction

Totally agree, we certainly place a much higher value on retweets that contain comment. I always find it annoying when you have to start editing the original tweet as they used all the characters.

over 5 years ago

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Mark Shaw

When retweeting a link etc... there are several really important things that I advise people to do... 1. always check out the link first as its their brand reputation that is on the line... and

2. always add a personal validation of the retweet by a simple edit of the message... this adds value, tells peeps that you have bothered to check it out and builds credibility for the retweeter as it tells their following that they retweet useful & informative stuff.....

Mark

over 5 years ago

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Terry Golesworthy

I think the writer mistaken in seeing little value in a simple retweet. Not everyone cares enough about twitter to follow hour by hour and thereby misses the vast majority of tweets. I value a RT from someone I trust because it is a filter, tells me I should take a look. If multiple people I trust retweet then I absolutely must read.

over 5 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

Leaving room for comments to be added is a good way to encourage followers to do just that. When the title or link is too long, they don't want to cut out your information to fit theirs in. I don't think retweets without comments aren't valuable, however, because it means the content of the individual tweet was deemed important by the reader.

over 5 years ago

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SocialSteve

Very good points ... makes me re-evaluate my use. I also think the same points can be made for just posting an article and URL as made for RTs in this article.

over 5 years ago

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Kai

I never understand the point of twitter other than as a marketing tool for companies and a ego-trip for celebrities.

Everything that can be done on Twitter can be done by cell phone or Facebook.

over 5 years ago

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Pink Car Rally

I enjoyed this article, but I would have enjoyed it more if it had included a 'Perfect' RT as well as 'Pointless' and 'Some Insight'. Some of us are learning, slowly, and would love to be guided more :-) Thank you.

over 4 years ago

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