With 500,000 new accounts each day, Twitter has the ability to spread news and goodwill at a rate never seen before. Especially for smaller non-profits, Twitter is an inexpensive and important way to gain name recognition, new supporters and raise funds. News about tsunami warnings and wildfire evacuations can be communicated quickly and widely. “Power Tweeter” ?uestlove (@questlove) of the Roots band told Billboard: “Twitter is the modern-day Paul Revere. Its ripple effect is faster and more effective than almost any type of ad.”
Unfortunately, many agencies and news sources are making it difficult for their followers to “Tweet for Good.” Long tweets, broken links and confusing headlines can prevent your good – or even essential — messages from being retweeted by your 1000 followers to their 300 who then pass it on to their 86 or 86,000. A few simple tweaks can greatly improve your retweet rate.
Shorter, shorter, SHORTER!
Use characters in a tweet as you would any other scarce resource – sparingly. Ideally, any tweet will have leftover characters to accommodate “RT @Handle” and a comment by anyone who retweets. The native Twitter apps do simple retweets that do not add information but other clients will add RT @handle in front of the tweet. Even the official Twitter iPad app has an option to “quote tweet” and add a comment to the retweet.
Also, when a tweeter has to modify the retweet to make it fit 140 characters, it creates a “duplicate tweet” which, according to the official Twitter blog, “buries important content in search results.” So they request, “If you want to spread information by retweeting, please use the official retweet command on Twitter desktop site, mobile web site and smart phone clients.” Is this a realistic request from Twitter? With the widespread usage of TweetDeck, Hootsuite and Tweetcaster, it probably is not. Therefore, you need to shorten tweets so they can be spread like wildfire.
Recently, the Colorado Front Range has experienced several wildfires. The Red Cross, Jefferson County Sheriff and local news outlets put out the information that local schools and homes were being evacuated. All of them had tweets too long to for someone to simply hit a retweet button and stay within 140 characters. Here are two revisions:
RT @RedCrossDenver: Opening 2 separate evacuation points: pts Evergreen HS for #evergreenfire & First United Methodist Church, 1500 Ford St, for #Goldenfire
RT @KWGNDenver #EvergreenFire Burgundy Middle School, Burgundy Valley and Evergreen Middle School parents need to come and pick up their children
“Middle School” could also be shortened to “MS”. KWGN Denver Channel 2 News has 1,424 followers and only two officially retweeted that tweet. Anyone using a mobile device is especially unlikely to take the time to edit the tweet before passing it on. Here we see an incredible loss of potential for communicating the information on a wider scale.
Before sending a tweet, write carefully and proofread. Is every single word and letter absolutely necessary? Is there an abbreviation commonly used that would work? Are you spelling out the word “and” instead of using an “&”?
Use URL shorteners
There are several excellent URL shorteners. The shortening site Bit.ly can be accessed from the Web and now has a mobile device site I use on my iPad. Bit.ly also works automatically in the Twitter client TweetDeck. Set up a bit.ly account, link to it in TweetDeck and you’re done! Whenever you write a tweet and paste in a URL, TweetDeck shortens it automatically to a bit.ly address. Bit.ly tracks clicks so you can analyze how effective your tweets have been in driving traffic to your website or YouTube channel.
One exception to this rule may be if your site’s URL is already short and descriptive, e.g. crashjapan.com.
Write compelling and informative tweets
Think of each tweet you send as a headline. Funny or urgent tweets are those most likely to be retweeted. You don’t want to turn your tweets into a scavenger hunt. It should be clear to any reader what you’re communicating before clicking on a link. Sometimes a little specificity is all that is needed as in this example from CRASH Japan:
RT @LoveonJapan: Project Black Out Beret: An auction to help thousands of earthquake and tsunami victims in northern Japan – http://bit.ly/fBbIAD #loj #Japan (157 characters on the retweet)
The tweet tells me what I already know: that there were thousands of earthquake and tsunami victims in northern Japan. But I don’t know what “Project Black Out Beret” is. With “Operation Odyssey” on the brain, the Green Berets are the first thing that comes to my mind.
RT @LoveonJapan: Project Black Out Beret: An auction of hand knit berets to help victims in Japan – http://bit.ly/fBbIAD #loj #Japan
An interesting variation could be:
RT @LoveonJapan What do you do during 3-hr blackouts? Knit berets! Project Black Out Beret auction to help Japan: http://bit.ly/fBbIAD #loj #Japan
Each tweet should be a single message. If you have a lot to say, break it down into 100 character, bite-sized pieces. A good rule of thumb is “One Tweet – One URL – One Message.”
For more ideas on writing headlines, see the How-to Twitter article “How to Write Tweets that Get Clicks.”
Once you have written a tweet that is easy to retweet, ask your followers to spread the word. Actor and Twitter stand-up comedian George Takei (@georgetakei – 67,143 followers) does this on a regular basis:
@GeorgeTakei Please take a moment to watch then RT this video about the spirit of “Gaman” in Japan. http://ow.ly/4i0nQ
@GeorgeTakei What’s next, an app that converts Jews or whitens blacks? Pls read, sign & RT this petition. http://bit.ly/hMzDA6
Twitter stops counting after the first 100 official retweets.
Around the world 24/7
A retweetable message will travel far and wide, and at times that you would not even anticipate:
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
Take your inspiration from Longfellow but please tweet in 100 characters or less.
This is part 1 of a 2 part blog series. Make sure you read Part 2: Engage the Crowd.
Personally, Gretchen is an avid Twilighter and conducts the Twilidiot’s Tuesday Twilight Trivia on Twitter contest. Follow @twilidiot from 9-11p ET to play. After connecting on Twitter through a mutual adoration of actor Robert Pattinson, she and @MelbieToast created designs to raise funds for relief organizations working in Japan. Please visit their store at www.cafepress.com/tweetforgood.