The etiquette of retweet requests (and how to improve your reach)

This entry was posted by on Thursday, 29 September, 2011 at
  Following is the start of a conversation between me and my dear friend and published author, Mr. Anthony Cardno. I encourage you all to read through my comments to Anthony below and jump in the conversation with your own suggestions, insights, and experiences. This is, of course, a discussion, not the end all be all of twitter etiquette. In fact Anthony is even running the same post over on his blog here to garner other insights as well!

Getting right to it then… Anthony pondered on Twitter: “Wondering what I’m doing wrong that even when I ask for a RT, very few of them happen. Am I missing something RT-etiquette-wise?”

Not surprisingly, I have some very particular ideas about this specific behaviour (based on my experiences working in social business) and quickly replied with the following:

Jason to @talekyn Yes. Don’t ask. If your content is compelling, RTs will happen. Asking is seen as intrusive.

Anthony to @acdntlpoet Makes sense. And you know I very rarely ask. Which means apparently most of what I tweet is not compelling.

Jason to @talekyn kind of. Also depends on your audience, reach, etc… We can take this to a much more in-depth conversation 😉

Obviously, that’s nowhere near the end of the discussion. Simply said, there is no single answer to this question. People are making their living as consultants telling you how to do just this. Not one of them has the right answer in a an easy to distribute formula; because the answer isn’t really formulaic.

As I noted above in my initial reply, the key to seeing your content re-shared is to put forward compelling contents. Oh, but if only the answer were so easy! While I can tell you at a high level what will get your content shared out, it all falls apart in the details and subtleties and actual implementation/ practical application; because not all content is created equal.

But let me step back for a moment and address etiquette before moving on into some best practices: Asking via Twitter for others to retweet you is seen as bad manners, neediness, and laziness. More to the point, it is a bit more indicative of immaturity in the space, or evidence of the size of your network (add totally inappropriate size queen joke at will). By immaturity in the space, I mean that coming from an individual I will see these requests in the same light as I see forwarded emails asking me to “keep the chain going”, or Facebook status updates asking to “post this to your status if you agree / just for one hour”, etc. From a corporate account, it just comes off as poor marketing strategy.

Exposing the size of your network isn’t really a big deal in and of itself (I can see your numbers in any space I play). Rather, asking for RTs presents the impression of a smaller and/or less engaged network, minimal confidence in your message, and generally short selling yourself. Now, I am not saying that asking for a RT is going to leave people with the impression that you are just a speck in the world, but I AM saying that it is one small action which builds how people perceive you when combined with other small actions and methods of presenting yourself.

Yes, I am talking from a more marketing centric approach, with a few assumptions in terms of how you use social media to connect with your audience and spread your message. The assumption is that you are a different type of user, one who is building a personal brand and using social avenues to build up your name and digital eminence. Obviously, if you are just using social media to stay in contact with friends and family, then the concern over perception won’t really apply. But, perception is big for driving and motivating others to share your content.

Rather than continuing to focus on the negatives of asking for RTs, let’s rather focus on what you CAN do to get people to share your content. There’s a great presentation here (http://nytmarketing.whsites.net/mediakit/pos/ ) on the psychology of sharing. From this presentation we can see that one of the biggest factors is determining how the information we are sharing will be useful to the recipient. Take this the next step and you can translate this into your own content by providing that clarity to the person you’re sharing with, so they can in turn re-share easily.

Let me take an example:

@talekyn: Two medical causes are important to me: Cancer and Juvenile Diabetes. Read my diabetes interview with 9yo Frank John:anthonycardno.com/?p=276

Good content here, and likely worthy of a retweet, but I have two problems:

  1. It is passive… ok, so these are important to you. They are indeed important issues, but I am not compelled to RT immediately because there isn’t a real message here.
  2. I have to click and read to determine if I want to RT. That is going to take some time, and I may lose the originating tweet before I am done with the interview.

Presuming the interview is compelling enough for me to want to RT it, I now need to go back to find the tweet to pass it on (or, one better, tweet/retweet from within the blog post itself). Most people won’t go back to twitter to retweet unless the content is REALLY moving. A well composed tweet that will compel a stranger to read your content will also be compelling enough to garner retweets without specifically asking for them. Compelling content which resonates with others to the point where they want to share with their own network is what you’re looking for here; adding social sharing buttons in your blog will also help enable users to easily share out your content to the spaces and networks where they play.

Let me see if I can “re-swizzle” (yep, I said it) your tweet above to something which I may be compelled to click into and retweet:

@talekyn: How Frank John, a 9yo living with Juvenile Diabetes and fund raising for JDRF, is putting me to shame: anthonycardno.com/?p=276

Forgive the forced self-deprecation, but I think this will work in your favour here: I switched it up a bit, made the reader curious as to what a 9 year old is doing better than you. Because if they can do it better than you, they can do it better than me too, so now I am intrigued and want to read more. It is a more active voice, but not demanding; compelling me to look further. Plus, the tweet provides me with the key points before reading more into the blog: this 9 year old is doing good work for diabetes awareness/cure. I am both compelled to read AND pass it on now, because there is a story here beyond the normal “please send money” charity call. It is interesting, much like your earlier tweet:

@talekyn #LifeWouldBeBetter if my 9 year old cousin didn’t have Juvenile Diabetes. Meet him on my site: anthonycardno.com/?p=276

The tweet above also has that hook, but unfortunately Tweeting this out at 11:30pmEDT on a Friday night means very few people in your particular audience will be seeing it, and you need visibility in order to glean retweets. So, now that you have the compelling content, let’s look at targeting the right audience…

Who are your followers? Are they cast amongst disparate time zones, or predominantly in one? What ages? Nine-to-fivers or in school? By example, I am at my computer from 8amEDT until 8pmEDT M-F, because of that, I am more likely to retweet something posted in that time frame than I am other times since my usage of twitter is heaviest during work. Weekends and other times when I am outside the house, I’m far more likely to miss content because I tend to turn off most social channels when not at work. Conversely, my fictitious high school aged neighbor may be more likely to see and subsequently retweet late on school nights when s/he is finally back home from school, extracurricular activities, and is “wasting time” on the internet.  Not to mention that demographic has a much different usage style of social channels as direct, near-real-time communication and may not be as inclined to retweet blog content outside of some of the more viral types of content.

Having a sense of your follower’s schedules / behaviours / demographics will help guide you towards those ‘sweet spot’ times to post for the greatest impact and visibility. If you use bit.ly or some other URL shortener, or use google analytics on your site (WordPress makes this stuff very easy), you can track some basic metrics and see when your audience is most active and more likely to marketing out your links. Also, keep promoting your content (with appropriate pauses in between duplication) until you see a drop off in click-throughs. Duplicating content isn’t a bad thing on Twitter as most people don’t see everything unless the spend time going back in their timelines up to the last time they logged in. Unless your users are all like me with a stake in the social business game, they are most likely missing a ton of stuff posted when they aren’t watching. Heck, I even miss stuff, and I am watching like a hawk and make a point to go back in all my timelines to ensure I don’t miss things!

Here ends the first round answer as to why you aren’t seeing a good amount of retweets, even when (or because) you request them. With your following of 490 users on Twitter, I’d predict you’d garner maybe around 10 retweets for some good content if you market it more than once. Until you are a celebrity and people hang on your every word, I’d not expect more than that…. unless of course you happen to stumble on that next bit of viral content and it spins out of your control… but we can only hope for that 😉

.

Yes, this was a rather lengthy post, and not intended as the end all be all to explaining social behaviours. I am sure many of my own readers have their own ideas and experiences to share, which I fully encourage! Please feel free to comment here, on Anthony’s blog where he is running the same post, or in any of the other channels which you may have found this post shared out… the key to being social on the internet is, of course, engaging in good discussion! So whether you agree or disagree, please let me know 🙂

image credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by Ford Buchanan      

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