Increase retweets with the help of a new algorithm
Quick! Which of these two @RadiNabulsi tweets do you think would move further and faster on Twitter?
“Four Alabama players arrested: Calloway, E. Williams, Pettway and Hayes. Pictures and charges here: bit.ly/12ILdN2“
If you guessed the first tweet, you’re right. It got 32 retweets, vs. two for the second one.
So what made the first tweet go viral, while the second one just stayed home on the couch?
How to write for Twitter
Researchers have studied that question and learned that these ingredients make the biggest difference in Twitter success:
- The tweeter: Is the tweeter a verified Twitter user? How successful have the author’s previous tweets been?
- The tweeter’s social network: The more followers, the better.
- Message timing: Distribution makes a difference.
- Message content or topic: Do you have a good story?
Together, these elements help explain why one of the most retweeted tweets of all time came from @BarackObama, with 40 million followers, on Nov. 6, 2012: “Four more years!”
But you’re not Barack Obama. You don’t have 40 million followers. You’re stuck with the story you’ve been assigned. So what, besides timing your tweet right, can you do to get retweeted?
That’s what three computer scientists from Cornell University and Google Inc. set out to learn.
How to write tweets
The three scientists — Chenhao Tan, Lillian Lee and Bo Pang — wanted to find out how to craft a tweet to increase retweets.
To control for the tweeter and the tweeter’s social network, the trio studied paired tweets, or two tweets about the same link sent by the same person. They looked for word patterns that correlated with retweets, then built an algorithm that predicts which tweet will get retweeted most often. Read the full study (PDF).
The algorithm correctly guesses which tweet will get shared most 67% of the time. That beats humans, who on average get it right only 61% of the time. Try your hand at beating the algorithm.
How to get retweeted
So how can you write tweets that get retweeted? According to the research:
- Ask for a retweet. These terms are correlated with more retweets: rt, retweet, spread, please, pls, and plz.
- Make it informative. In this study, longer tweets performed better than shorter ones. (Another study suggests that shorter is better (PDF).) Tan, Lee and Pang correlate length with content richness.
- Choose the right kinds of words. Verbs and nouns outperform adjectives, adverbs and proper nouns. Numerals help a lot. Hashtags help a little. And @ mentions significantly reduce sharing.
- Write headlines. News headlines are more likely to go viral. Use the subject, verb, object sentence structure.
- Be positive. Or negative. Or both. Positive, negative and contrasting messages were more likely to be retweeted than neutral ones.
- Use the third person. Third-person singular (he, she, it, one) outperformed third-person plural (they). Both outperformed first-person singular (I), first-person plural (we) and second-person plural (you). (Another study suggests that you is the most retweeted word in the English language.)
- Select indefinite articles. Indefinite articles (a, an) outperformed definite ones (the).
- Make it easier to read. The easier the tweet scored on the Flesch reading ease and Flesch-Kincaid grade level tests, the better they performed. (Dan Zarrella’s research also shows that simpler is better.)
Get a list of the best and worst words, phrases and approaches for Twitter.
Twitter writing tips
Sound like a lot of work? You can skip the analysis, and let the algorithm do the work for you: Test two tweets on the same topic, and let the algorithm suggest which is best.