Should Getting Retweeted Be Important?

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The MIT Sloan Management Journal ran an article titled How to Get Your Messages Retweeted which provided advice on how to “increase the odds that a company’s tweets will be shared with recipients’ networks.”

According to the authors, to get retweeted, a brand should:

  • Not ask questions, or use hashtags. Apparently, “Who’s tried dipping french fries in a Frosty? #yum” doesn’t get retweeted. The author do concede, however, that “the use of questions to provoke a response may create a sense of engagement and cause direct communication between the brand and individual followers.”
  • Use attention words. WOW, LOOK!, and TODAY ONLY! can boost your retweetability by up to 40% according to the authors’ research.
  • Not tweet (or do tweet) about contests. On one hand, the authors say that “promotional messages announcing contests did not increase retweetability.” However, later on in the article, they claim that asking to be retweeted is a good tactic, and they use the following example tweet from eBay: RT for a chance to win a $100 eBay Gift Card! On Mother’s Day diamonds can be mom’s best friend. #eBayMomHeroes
  • Humanize your brand. The authors believe that “companies can make their brand appear to be a ‘living thing’ and signal that there is more to the brand than just making and selling products or services.
  • Make it practical and relevant. In the authors’ words, “in the hypertransient environment of social media, it is imperative to associate brand messages with what is top in followers’ minds.”

My take: The MIT Sloan Management Journal should be ashamed to publish this kind of stuff. It might pass as publishable at a cheap marketing daily trade publication, but not at a legitimate journal like SMJ.

Why? Because it’s so “in-the-weeds” tactical that it ignores the bigger, and (arguably) more important issues regarding the use of Twitter from a brand perspective:

1. How important is getting retweeted in the scheme of things? Gurus keep hailing Twitter (and other forms of social media) as a way to better engage customers and prospects. And I buy into that.

But if your goal for using Twitter is getting retweeted, then aren’t you really admitting that all you’re trying to do is use the tool for broadcasting purposes? And…if your goal is to broadcast a certain message, then any marketer worth his or her salt will evaluate a range of channels to determine which is most effective (reach/cost) in order to decide how to broadcast that message. And…if a marketer actually does that, what are the odds that they will find that there are other channels better suited for effective broadcast than Twitter? Answer: Very high odds.

If, however, the purpose of using Twitter is to engage customers and prospects, then retweeting simply isn’t that big of an objective. Too bad the authors’ research didn’t look at how to improve engagement.

2. How does the composition of a brand’s followers impact retweetability — and overall Twitter strategy? OK, forget the whole engagement thing for a moment, and assume that retweetability is the brand’s primary Twitter objective. Different brands have different types of followers — types, as in demographic, attitudinal, and behavioral differences. Isn’t it conceivable that this composition will impact the likelihood that someone will RT? I’ve seen plenty of research that shows that younger consumers are more likely than older ones to refer products to their family and friends. Wouldn’t you think that that behavior extends to retweeting? So, a brand with a primarily younger follower group is probably to get their tweets retweeted — A PRIORI — than a brand with an older follower demographic.

And then, beyond retweeting, shouldn’t the composition of the follower group dictate overall Twitter strategy? Maybe your brand’s followers are predominantly younger consumers looking to participate in the brand community. Then retweeting may very well be an important Twitter objective for that brand. But that’s not necessarily the case.

3. What does humanizing the brand mean? It never ceases to amaze me how some marketing people can throw around the term “humanizing” as if it’s some universally understood and accepted term. The authors say that “[humanizing] content can be in the form of humor, a historical view of the brand or even an inspirational message such as a quote.” Oh really?

Is your brand humanized? Yes? Prove it. Not sure? Of course you’re not sure, because how would you know. Advertisers have used humor in ads for decades. Simply using humor doesn’t qualify as humanizing. Why doesn’t showing pain and suffering (e.g., starving children in Africa) qualify as “humanizing”?

Yet, the authors of the article don’t hesitate to tell marketers that they should use Twitter to “humanize” their brand, and even worse, do so in order to increase retweetability.

Bottom line: Resorting to tactics to get your tweets retweeted may cause you to overlook the more important questions about how to use Twitter.

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