Why the retweet is a powerful engagement tool

Message in a bottle
Image by Kraftwerck via Flickr

Last week Facebook announced that it is rolling out what is, effectively, its own version of the retweet. The new ‘via’ feature allows users to repost another user’s shared items. As with the retweet, it is a way of further sharing content you find and find interesting, and of expressing your interest in the content in the first place.

The retweet, and now Facebook’s via feature, are very powerful tools in these social networks. In any online community or social network, some people are more active than others. In fact, in a natural online community we would expect that out of every 100 users, only one will originate new content. Another nine will add to or expand on this content. And 90 users will just read and learn from this content. They are unlikely to publicly create or add to a conversation themselves, but they are critical to the success of the the online community - without them, the others wouldn’t start or add to conversations.

When we’re managing online communities at FreshNetworks, we work hard to provide these 90 out of every 100 people something to do and a way to express their opinion, without having to start or add to an actual discussion. It’s about finding other ways for them to express their opinion, perhaps by rating or voting for content, organising their favourites or voting in polls. You can engage more people by offering ways for them to express their opinion without actually having to express it publicly in their own words. More often than not just finding a way for them to align themselves with others’ words is enough. Indeed it is often the best approach.

This is where the retweet, and now the via feature in Facebook, really come to the fore. They are a very simple way for all people to say “I agree with this” or “I want you to see this too” without actually having to articulate their own opinion from scratch, or start their own discussion. They provide a real utility to the bulk of users of the social media tools, allowing them to express an opinion and add to discussions and debates, even if they would not typically be the kind of person to initiate or add to a discussion themselves. They are a great tool for engaging the 90 out of every 100 users who do not want to be a primary content creator.

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7 Comments

  1. Nadia:

    I definitely re tweeted this. Too often I’ve seen people denigrating re-tweets, accusing their author to plagiarize, to be lazy or to lack ideas on their own.
    I admit that it could be true to a certain extend.
    But let’s face it, in a “conventional conversation” (i.e. dinner, cocktail party, etc…) not everybody contributes in the same way either. Some people are better listeners than others. Some need time to digest ideas. Some are too shy to express themselves. Or modest enough…
    I must admit that very often, because someone found an idea worth to be re-tweeted, I would have a look at link and the author. And I “stumbled upon” a few good ones…
    People who re-tweet are broadcasting channels, the highways for information.
    They can also be the soil in which ideas are sowed to grow further.
    So I agree that we should have more consideration for re-tweeters and encourage them to enter into the conversation.

  2. Kaila S | Vertical Measures:

    Agreed, the RT and “via” feature are very important and offer great metrics on what a person likes, ‘votes for’, or however else you want to say it. Search engines are starting to recognize this fact, what with the implementation of real-time search on Google, etc…. Dan Zarella with Hubspot is a great guy to follow on this topic. He wrote a great book about RTs and provides great metrics on what one should do to formulate a RT-able tweet. For those of us out there that want to initiate conversation about our blogs, websites, products, etc….its important to look at these metrics, understand what makes a RT-able tweet, and analyze the data to improve.

  3. Glenn Gutmacher:

    Someone who does frequent but judicious retweeting of useful information (or at least RTs consistently in whatever space they want to be known for) will start to earn subject matter expertise credibility. Frankly, I’m just as impressed by reading 5x things filtered intelligently by someone as reading 1x original content by someone else.

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