The Power of the Retweet | npENGAGE

The Power of the Retweet

By on May 20, 2009



Have you ever told a great, funny story, and then overheard other people re-telling your story to thunderous laughter? It felt good, didn’t it? And if the story was retold enough times, because it was that good, then you achieved some version of fame among your circle, didn’t you? And that felt good too, right?

Retweeting is the same thing. You tweet something cool in Twitter and then other people retweet it. As a nonprofit trying to reach more people, this is what you want, not only because it confirms that your content is good enough for people to take the time to retell, but for a more marketing driven reason – you reach more people.

I wondered how effective the retweet could be, and I did a little research using my own twitter profile as the base. I have around 200 people following me right now (I know, sad. You could change that.) I counted up how many people are following the people who follow me, and it came out to about 200,000. You can do the math: an average of 1000 followers. The median was actually 650, so I used that figure for this next part.

If I tweeted something, and 10% of my followers retweeted it, then that means 20 people retweeted it. Because each of these people has roughly 650 followers, that means the retweet reached 13,000 people. Raise your hand if you would like to be able to take one simple action and reach 13,000 people? My guess is the barista at the coffee shop just saw some hands go up.

If you replace the 10% with 5%, the figure is roughly 6,500 people. If you replace the 5% with 1%, the figure is roughly 1,300 people. Even with very small percentage retweeting, you can reach some significant numbers of people.

You might be wondering (I was) how often messages actually get retweeted. A guy named Dan Zarella did some research. He found that typically, a tweet is only retweeted once. He also found that the number of followers a person has didn’t have a very strong relationship to the number of retweets. He did find that the more a tweet is retweeted, the more it is retweeted. In other words, retweeting accelerates the more it happens. This seems to suggest that there are tweets that are more retweetable than others, and you want to write those and get the ball rolling. Hopefully it will keep rolling and pick up speed. You can read Dan’s full post at his blog.

This begs the question – what is a retweetable tweet? Louise Doherty has an idea that a tweet has to be short enough to allow easy retweeting without editing. You see, Twitter limits tweets to 140 characters, and when you retweet something you have to have room for the original tweeters handle (@something), 2 spaces and the letters RT (for retweet). So keep your tweet short enough to accommodate this.

Also, make your tweet interesting enough to retweet. If the story isn’t good, nobody is going to retell it. This is easier said than done. I suggest looking at a site like retweetist to see which tweets are most often retweeted and try to pick out some writing strategies from what you see there. Also, think about the tweets you’ve retweeted. What made you do it?

Finally, ask and you shall receive. To use twitter language, “ask for RT = RT more often.”


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