Twitter’s strengths as a messaging service come from the fact that the messages are short, and the service is easy to use. If someone can type within the character limit and handle a few basic concepts, Twitter is actually easier to use than many instant-messaging clients, and doesn’t even require an install on a computer.
An example of these basic concepts is the retweet, which is sending a tweet one likes or approves of to her list of followers. Retweets account for a lot of Twitter traffic, and form a major part of the site’s ability to promote viral content. If a retweet gathers enough steam, it can make the rounds of the entire web in a matter of minutes.
So how exactly does this work? The answer lies in the concept of overlapping spheres. Consider a Venn diagram, where two or more circles represent certain spheres of influence, and the overlap describes a mutual sphere. In this case, the overlap is the retweet, and the spheres represent the followers of the re-tweeter, and the followers of his followers.
Different Interests and Common Ground
The idea takes advantage of the sheer diversity of interests on the web. The idea of the polymath or Renaissance man – which is to say the person who displays interest and skills in many fields – is returning to the world now that people can rapidly research all manner of topics.
So, suppose that a local ice cream shop we shall call Brand A has a Twitter following of 1,200 people, mostly from their local town. There is probably some overlap as well – some of these 1,200 are likely to be followers of one another, but they also will have more followers outside Brand A’s audience just by the law of probability.
Thus, Brand A sees a tweet they find interesting. It can be a link to a video, a web article talking about the process of making ice cream, or an interview with Brand A’s staff in the local newscast that somehow left a blooper in the broadcast. Brand A commits to the retweet, and the audience gets it.
Someone in the audience overlaps with it, and retweets as well to their audience. Perhaps it’s a journalism student who saw the broadcast and knows how big of a goof leaving the blooper in must be, so he shares it with his journalism friends.
The point of this is that it need not necessarily be about the brand itself. Perhaps Brand A’s retweet about ice cream gets less attention than the one about the newscast. Either way, Brand A gets a lot of attention as the source, and the video has gone viral for all the strangest reasons.
So, what to retweet?
A brand or user should retweet only those things they genuinely find interesting. Perhaps this will be something the retweeter knows the audience likes, or perhaps instead it’s just something that appeals for its niche and unexpected qualities. There is no guarantee to what will go viral – nobody knows at all how it works, except perhaps mimetic scientists.
There are programs that make things easier to retweet, and to even measure the success of a retweet if necessary. Tools such as Tweetdeck and Tweetbranch can organize tweets and retweets into coherent conversations of information that can be easily kept up with, as well as measure the statistics of users that respond to a certain tweet or retweet. This brings Twitter firmly into the realm of web analytics and metrics, and it can certainly be a boon.
On the other hand, Twitter really is all about spontaneous action. If a user gets caught in the cycle of stopping to look at the measurable impact of every single retweet, she’ll eventually start hedging her bets and skipping on some topics. Overthinking retweets takes all the spontaneity out of the game, so be careful not to overanalyze. This should be fun!
In addition, it’s important to remember that not all branding is immediate or consciously done. To repeat an oft-raised but just as oft-ignored point, the web is made up of people with minds and ideas of their own. They have a vast array of moods, attitudes and states of mind. Perhaps they don’t want to see another retweet about adorable kittens midweek, but could definitely use some roly poly fluffballs on Friday after the disaster day of the month.
If you’re still not sure what qualifies for retweeting, try applying an instinctive test to potential retweeting. If it comes to mind that “maybe I should retweet this,” do so. Don’t stop and overthink, just put it out there.
Further, consider retweeting the bad with the good. The web utterly thrives on making fun of people who gaffe, so put some mistakes out there that seem funny. Consider putting your own mistakes up there and own up to them, inviting some laughs. Having a sense of humor about one’s own situation is one of the best ways to draw in and engage a potential audience, rather than alienating them or convincing them one is a snob. Whatever the reason for it, don’t hesitate to take advantage of the retweet.