Who Gives a Tweet? That’s what researchers at Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Georgia Tech asked in a recent study that analyzed exactly what people think as they’re scrolling through their Twitter feed. And what did they find? Twitter users deem just 36% of tweets (from people they choose to follow!) worth reading.
While most of us know that tweeting about the weather or the contents of your lunch is an easy way to get ignored, what’s less obvious is how to make your tweets part of the select few that catch the eye of busy followers. Here’s what I learned from the research (and a little personal experience) about what to tweet—and what not to.
Do Tweet: Links to Content
The number one reason that people cited for liking a tweet? It’s informative. Think of Twitter as an interactive RSS feed—people use it to gather information and streamline the content they care about.
So, do share links to things your followers might find interesting: your own blog posts and content, as well as news, articles, research, infographics, or videos from around the web. More importantly, though, add context to those links. “Just links are the worst thing in the world,” said one survey participant. Tailor your tweets to your followers by including an eye-catching headline or your own thoughts, opinions, or take on what you’re sharing.
Don’t Tweet: Old News
To keep your tweets relevant, stick to super-current stories. If you’re seeing a news story a few days (or even hours) later than everyone else, refrain from sharing—Twitter users quickly become sick of seeing the same news story over and over again in their stream. “Because Twitter emphasizes real-time information, tweeting old information led to… responses like ‘Yes, I saw that first thing this morning,’” the survey noted.
Do Tweet: Interactive Statements
Engagement is the name of the game when it comes to Twitter (and social media sites in general), so use your tweets to get a conversation going. Survey respondents noted that they loved tweets that posed questions. When you link to valuable content, ask followers what they think about what you’re tweeting, if they agree or disagree with a certain issue, or what they would do differently.
Don’t Tweet: Anything Automated
Just as interaction is a surefire way to attract and keep your followers, a generic Twitter stream is an easy way to lose them. While tools like HootSuite allow you to schedule tweets ahead of time, you should use this feature with care—it's essential to keep tabs on your Twitter feed, see what people are saying, then craft your own tweets and responses accordingly—in real time.
Do Tweet: Responses
Just as soliciting engagement from your followers is important, so is responding back to them. Keep the conversation going, or just share your appreciation with those who interact or respond to something you post. Just make sure not to clutter up your feed with conversations—if your chatter goes beyond a tweet or two, pick the conversation back up in a direct message.
You should also interact with those who you follow. See something interesting, posted by a bigger brand? Tweet your thoughts or opinions—a reply means more exposure and an opportunity to gain new followers.
Don’t Tweet: Defensive Responses
The bigger you or your brand becomes on Twitter, the more likely you are to attract negative comments of some kind. And the best response, oftentimes, is silence. Responding with a defensive tweet will only cause the conversation to grow and, most likely, annoy your followers. (“Negative sentiments or complaints were not worth reading,” the study notes.) If you feel you must respond, try being the bigger person by thanking the commenter for taking the time to express his or her opinion.
Do Tweet: Real English
Although Twitter has a 160-character limit, that's no excuse to let proper grammar go out the window. With social media becoming a more prominent recruiting tool, it's essential to keep your tweets professional and well written. Forego the internet slang like "LOL" and "ROFL," and instead, find creative ways to keep your tweets short and to the point, using strong, descriptive words to make up for your lack of writing space. Conciseness is what Twitter is all about, and survey participants agree that the most compelling tweets are those that use just a few (real) words to say a lot.
Don’t Tweet: Too Many Hashtags
The research found that Twitter users find multiple hashtags and mentions distracting, which is bad news for those looking to send a strong message through their tweets. A good rule of thumb is to limit your hashtags to two per tweet. "Used sparingly and respectfully, hashtags can provide useful context and cues for recall, as well as increased utility for the track feature," reads the Twitter Fan Wiki. "Used excessively, they can cause annoyance, confusion, or frustration, and may lead people to stop following you. It's best to use hashtags explicitly when they're going to add value, rather than on every word in an update."
Do Tweet: A Little Self-Promotion
As long as it adds value to their lives, Twitter users are happy to read tweets related to things you’re working on. So share your content, get everyone excited about a new project you’re working on, or—better yet—share exclusive promotions or offers with your followers. Twitter can also be a great place to host giveaways: Offering a prize to your 1,000th follower or the first person to respond to a tweet will definitely boost engagement.
Don’t Tweet: Only Links to Your Work
Though Twitter is an excellent avenue for making your work available to the world, the social media tool has grown to hold an infinite number of benefits other than making your stream about you and you only. At the end of the day, promote your work, but also take the time to engage users, communicate with fans, address the needs of those reaching out to you, and enjoy having the power to connect with thousands of people across the globe. Through Twitter, the world is (albeit virtually) at your fingertips.
Photo of Twitter bird courtesy of Shutterstock.
Michelle McNickle is a New Media Producer who spends too much time on the World Wide Web. She tweets and writes regularly for a leading healthcare B2B brand, all from Portland, Maine. She likes cats, clothes, chocolate, coffee, and—most importantly—the Internet. You can find her tweeting professionally here, or nonsensically here.More from this Author