Researchers Crack the Code Behind the Most Successful Tweets

By sifting through some 1.77 million tweets, researchers from Google and Cornell University cracked the code behind the Twitter posts that are retweeted the most.

To do so, they examined 236,000 handles in order to identify 11,404 tweet pairs in which the author and subject remained the same, but the wording and the number of retweets varied. The results showed that, while it doesn’t hurt to host the Oscars or work in the Oval Office, anyone can increase their Twitter traffic by following a few basic rules.

Say please

Being straightforward pays off in the Twittersphere, research shows. Asking followers to share your tweet is effective, with the most successful tweets calling for “retweet” or “rt” rather than simply “spread.” According to the Twitter Advertising Blog, promoted tweets in timelines that asked to be retweeted saw a 311 percent average jump in activity. Furthermore, those promoted tweets that did best were twice as likely to spell out “retweet”—and included the request at the beginning, rather than slapping it on at the end.

And just like in day-to-day life, it doesn’t hurt to say please. The Google/Cornell team determined that those tweets that spelled out the word did best, compared to those that simply used “pls” or “plz.”

Be informative

We’ve all seen them—the tweets that simply read “this” or “right here.” If you’re looking for retweets, data suggests skipping the cutesy act and going straight for the meat. As they put it, “Messages that are more informative have increased social exchange value, and so may be more worth propagating.”

Just how informative? Buddy Media (which has since been acquired by Salesforce) examined 320 Twitter accounts from major brands from Dec. 2011 to Feb. 2012 and found that tweets under 100 characters resulted in a 17 percent higher engagement rate.

Track Social issued its own findings in Oct. 2012 and identified the sweet spot as falling somewhere between 71 and 100 characters. It’s worth noting, however, that tweets exceeding 100 characters did better than those that fell below 71.

Keep consistent

“Although distinctive messages may attract attention, messages that conform to expectations might be more easily accepted and therefore shared,” the Google/Cornell researchers write.

In other words, stick to the brand you’ve developed for yourself and to the generally accepted mores of the Twitter crowd you run with. Of course, this doesn’t mean never going off topic. According to the Klout Blog, “The best Twitter users stick to a few topics for the bulk of their tweets, while still occasionally mixing it up.”

Look to headlines for inspiration

Designed to be both informative and attention-grabbing, headlines are a smart model to follow when it comes to trying to decide how to word a tweet. In terms of click-through rates, the more action words the better, according to the Buffer Blog. They found that both verbs and adverbs boosted performance while nouns and—above all—adjectives were the fat bird on the wire.


Finally, the Google/Cornell team report that it’s generally a good idea to avoid the acronym “ICYMI,” which often underscores the tweet is a repeat, or the use of “thanks,” “sorry,” and @-mentioning other users, all of which suggest the tweet is personal or between two individuals and not meant to be shared with the masses.

Image via HQ Wide

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