Do you retweet without reading?

do you retweet blind?If you do then you’re in good company, for it seems an awful lot of us do the same.  That’s the finding of a new piece of research by Dan Zarella from HubSpot.  It’s fascinating because of the legal issues the publishing industry is bringing against Google at the moment because Google News includes both a headline and a short snippet of each article in their index.  The news industry is arguing that this is too much and a breach of their copyright as people don’t click through to read the full article having already read the headline.

Could Twitter be coming in for similar criticism?  The research by Zarrella is fascinating.  He analyzed 2.7 million tweets that contained links and found that 16% of those tweets received more retweets than they did actual click throughs.  Stating the obvious, but that clearly means that people are sharing tweets without having read the content they’re sharing.

All of which has some interesting implications.  I mean retweets have often been regarded kinda like an endorsement of that content, but this research shows that retweets shouldn’t be regarded as such as it’s quite possible the content wasn’t even clicked on, let alone read.

In other words, almost one in every five tweets generates more retweets than clicks. This suggests many people pass on a link without looking at it, and perhaps even worse, vetting it.

So what does this mean for you as a publisher?

RTs do not equal traffic

The obvious implication of this research is that you cannot make the assumption that lots of retweets will correlate with a surge in traffic.  Suffice to say it’s not a bad thing as it does show some engagement between you and the person giving the retweet, but if they haven’t clicked through first, then the engagement is likely to be with you rather than directly with the content being shared.  So it might be useful in a branding sense, but don’t count on it getting people actually reading your article.

Brand awareness is not to be sniffed at

If you want to be a thought leader on Twitter then retweets are never a bad thing, even if they are blind.  It does help spread your name and get you in front of more eyeballs.  If you’re forearmed with this knowledge however you can begin to craft your tweets in order to generate more retweets rather than to generate clickthroughs.  These 10 tips based on MIT research might help you achieve that.

Don’t assume a trending tweet is valid

The flipside of course is that a piece of content might be trending on topic without it being widely read, or of course vetted.  So if you’re basing a piece of content on something that’s popular on Twitter it really does pay to check it out before hand rather than assuming that other people will have done so for you.

The key takeaway – think about your headline

The key takeaway though of course is that in our social world, your headline is crucial in determining the success you achieve, whether that’s in getting retweets or in getting click throughs.  It really does pay to spend time thinking through both the headline you use, and what you want it to achieve before you start writing your content and sharing it on Twitter.

Do feel free to use the comments to share some headline tips you’ve found work well for you.


18 thoughts on “Do you retweet without reading?

  1. I do RT without reading on occasion, only if it's for someone I know very well, and their writing style is one I'm intimately familiar with. I stay away from political / religious posts.

    Question, your picture accompanying this post does not go with the subject matter and is the avatar for a fellow writer friend of mine. Is there a reason you are using it?


  2. Talking of wordplay, I am tempted to say the key takeaway should always be Chinese but I'm not sure if they say "Chinese takeaway" in America. And as regards tweeting blindfold, I am actually quite a scrupulous investigator of other people's content, so, as in the picture, I usually take a peek before I retweet.

    I enjoyed your article, though, Adi. There is absolute rubbish written about Twitter in English newspapers. I think they haven't quite cottoned on to the idea of social media marketing yet. They are too busy sniffing out paedophiles and tax dodgers.

  3. Great post, Adi. When I give training to folks on how to use social media or how to write for the web, the headline is the part we spend most time on. Just like in traditional publishing, it's what gets readers' attention and, in this day and age, it's what gets shared and retweeted.

    Personally, I tend to retweet only stuff I have read, and I try to add some kind of comment, even if it's just a "Nice!", "+1" or "Must-read" addition. Having said that, with the increasing use of Triberr, I must say I have tweeted a few times without reading the post, but I felt like a fraud the few times it happened. But maybe that's just me… 😉


    • It's interesting isn't it Frederic? I mean headlines have always been essential for SEO, but seem even more so now with social media as well. It would make an interesting post to compare a SEO'd headline with a headline that works well on social media, if there are any comparisons between the two etc.

  4. Hi Adi, good post!

    I read every single post I tweet because I feel I owe it to my followers to only share the good stuff. Like Frederic, I also try to personalise my tweets by including a short comment to show I've read it and recommend it.

    And if the original headline sucks, I rewrite it.

    Having said that, tho, a lot of my days are spent on social media because I do read everything I share. I tweet 10-15 times a day so that's a lot of good posts I have to find every day. The problem is, many of the articles I come across aren't worth sharing so I'm forever sifting through crap.

    Your points are worth thinking about… maybe I need some balance?

    Thanks Adi 🙂

  5. I don't I have to admit. There's so much that comes in that I don't have time to read everything. If I do retweet blind it's generally based on the person making the tweet and the headline of the tweet. If both of those are favourable then I'll happily send it on without reading it.

  6. I'm definitely guilty of doing that every once in a while. Headlines are really the only things that matter any more. And of course news sites and blogs like HuffPo are going to be mad about it because their whole business revolves around click-throughs.

    Of course, in terms of Twitter, the more people that share the content, the higher chance of more people actually reading the piece – so I'm not sure if this is something to complain about.

  7. No offense Adi but a link back to Dan's work might have been appreciated. No worries, I'll track it down. The study really comes down to the due diligence of vetting content. What should be the number reason for at least clicking through to the content you're getting to retweet? Beyond the headline may be a) a bad link b) a bad post/article c) something completely different then what the headline purports. Not reading retweeted content is pure laziness at worse and trust in the source and being to busy to read it just yet, at best.. Let's all er on the side of busy schedules and trust.

  8. This is an interesting conversation to have. Like all “studies” and research there is always oversimplification. I do retweet without reading… At that time. Sometimes I retweet a friend/colleague whose post I have already read prior to seeing the tweet. Sometimes I retweet something from someone I know well and visit/read often but not at the specific time I tweeted. Sometimes its just Mashable or someone like that and I read the headline and know the topic and think oh yeah, that’s interesting. Otherwise I will read before tweeting if it’s an unknown. But I’m sure that skews results.

    And yes I’m sure plenty of people see a good headline, want to fill up their twitter feed and “be active” and get very Pavlovian about it.

    The most important point to me is tweets do not equal traffic. Only traffic equals traffic! It’s always good to keep this stuff in perspective. A billion tweets and retweets may be good for your klout score… But what good is your klout score without traffic and conversions?

    • Thanks for the comment Carol Lynn. As you say, it's important to keep in mind the metrics that really matter to your business when judging success. Retweets and shares can serve a purpose, but it's quite likely that you're aiming for something more substantial.

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