The sincerest form of flattery today appears to be a retweet. Someone says to their Twitter followers, "Hey, this guy said something I thought you should all know." It feels good. We want more. How do we get more and for what purpose? I've done a fair bit of research and have quite a bit of experience doing this, so here's what I think. Please give me your thoughts in the comments below.
What does a retweet look like to you?
Go to search.twitter.com and enter "RT @yourtwittername" to see which of your tweets have already been retweeted. Search for "RT @yourcompetitor'sname" to see which of their tweets have been retweeted. Then, start to classify what gets retweeted. Weed out retweets from your colleagues and close friends because they are supposed to retweet you. If my mom was on Twitter, I would likely have a lot more retweets.
If you don't see enough retweets from that research tactic to make a sufficient assessment, then try looking at industry publications to see which articles are getting the most tweets. That is a little harder to track, but TweetMeme is there to help you out. TweetMeme has a host of content about what is popular on any given subject.
Also, I heard Guy Kawasaki say something at a local event recently that I think works well in terms of gaining retweets. He said, "Answer the question 'What do I find interesting?' rather than the current Twitter question, 'What are you doing?'" Interesting things get retweeted -- not necessarily what you did. If you follow him, you might notice that his tweets tend to include links, which in turn get retweeted more frequently. This might not be your goal, but including links does seem to make a difference in getting retweets.
What is it worth to you? How hard should you try?
You will only have an answer to these questions if you have a goal that you're aiming for. Do you want to upgrade your internet celebrity status, get a job, or gather as many followers as you can? Or, do you have something more specific in mind, such as increasing coupon downloads, getting a particular job in a particular company/industry, or attracting new clients? Get specific, and then you can get a much better sense of the level of effort you should put into this. Retweets beget more followers who are likely to match the demographic of the original follower, which, in turn, will help you reach your specific goal.
Talk to people, just like in real life
If you know who would be best to retweet you, build a relationship with them. Follow them, get to know them, and chat with them every once in a while. If they know you, then they are much more likely to pass you along -- which makes sense. If you're included in someone's #followfriday, then you have done a good job inspiring them or interacting with them (likely within the last week or even last few days, as Twitter memory is incredibly short). And remember, always say thank you. It's just good manners.
Being authentic versus pandering to the masses
I don't recommend standing on your soapbox unless you have the street cred to do so. You can gauge whether you have that "cred" by tweeting something you feel is deep, profound, and/or controversial and seeing whether anyone retweets or responds.
Know your brand well -- whether it is a company's brand or a personal brand -- and operate according to the fundamentals of your brand. Don't work exclusively for a retweet. If you focus on just getting people to pass stuff along, then you will likely end up tweeting Top 10 lists or funny cat pictures from icanhascheezburger. While it works for some, that may not reflect how you want others to see you.
You'll know if you've followed this advice correctly if you have quality followers who are retweeting the stuff you tweet. By "quality," I mean that the people you want to listen are the ones following you, and those people have stamped their credibility onto you by passing you along to their followers. From there, maintain your authenticity and then optimize your message as you would any campaign you manage: Analyze the audience, look at the metrics, measure the results, and react.
Oh, and if you like this article, flatter me at @icowboy and tweet about it.
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