Tweet, Tweet, Retweet

In boyd, Golder and Lotan’s article “Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter” the authors discuss how retweeting has become one of twitter’s core conventions. The authors used a variety of research methods, including case studies, textual analysis and interviews in the form of questions posed on twitter. First, they analyzed a random sample of tweets around which retweet threads formed, selected from twitter’s public timeline. From this data, they found 86% of tweets began with @user, indicating a direct reply while only 3% are retweets. For their second set of tweets, the authors specifically looked for retweets. They found that 52% of retweets contain a URL, which speaks to motives why someone would retweet. Although many retweets (11%) included a comment on the content being retweeted (ex: comment comment RT @user blah blah blah)

To find out why people retweet boyd posted the question to her twitter account and received many response. It is also noteworthy to point out that many of boyd’s followers tend to be “reflective tech-savvy adults interested in social media, education, and technology” and thus, non-reflective of all twitter users. However I would still disagree with many of their reasons her followers gave. I mainly retweet links and pictures I find interesting. I find media really adds value to the tweet, and I want to share that content with my followers. boyd received more self-promoting responses as to why people retweet: “to comment on someone’s tweet by retweeting and adding new content, often to begina conversation; to make one’s presence as a listener visible; to publicly agree with someone; to validate others’ thoughts; as an act of friendship, loyalty, or homage by drawing attention to recognize or refer to less popular people or less visible content; for self-gain”.

This past Monday, twitter co-founder Evan Williams spoke at a panel about his new publishing platform, Medium, but also offered a few hints about the future of twitter, specifically the retweet function. Many people believe a twitter profile’s value comes from the number of followers. In 2009 Ashton Kutcher famously challenged CNN to a race for 1,000,000 followers. In fact, it is the amount of retweets that establishes a profile’s true value. A retweet is seen by a much larger network than your own, so it is almost irrelevant how many followers you have. To illustrate this point, cnet used the example of Green Bay Packers TJ Lang’s account. During Monday night football, Lang tweeted twice expressing his rage (f bombs were present) towards the referees and the NFL lockout. Together, these two tweets had over 150,000 retweets, though he only had 46,725 followers at the time. To over 150,000 football fans, there is valuable content in these two tweets. 

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The tweets in question.

Their reasons as to what people retweet are still valid. Breaking news is consistently retweeted, why? Because it’s what’s current and happening now, which is the nature of twitter. News and time-sensitive content shows not only that you know what’s happening, but you want your followers to also know. Another kind of retweet is one for social action, such as with every retweet the (insert charitable organization) will donate $1 to victims of (insert tragedy or natural disaster). This kind of retweet shows you’re in the know of whatever event, but you’re also doing good while spreading the news. Lang’s tweets about the NFL lockout established him a figure of authority and someone to listen to about the NFL’s biggest controversy in years.

I think there is a flaw in their conclusion that the retweet function is a conversation starter, because as they discovered it’s not, or maybe the conversation just isn’t happening on twitter. More often that not, retweets do not elicit responses. The best way to converse with someone is to directly tweet @user. I also would have liked to see the authors talk about the favorite function because I think there can be some overlap. One of the authors main points is that retweets can be hard to track and follow since the original tweeter doesn’t get a notification and there were less standardized ways to retweet. When the article was written in early 2010 twitter did not have the built in retweet button it has today, so users were forced to shorten and modify their retweets, often bringing the content out of context. 

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One comment

  1. I think you make an excellent point here in regards to followers vs. retweets. The instance you bring up is one of many like it. If anything, retweeting is a very one-sided mode of communication– I’ve never replied to someone for retweeting me, even though my twitter handle ma be contained within the RT if it is done manually. Even still, with the Retweet button the main method of retweeting a person, it almost never leads into a dialogue. The only way this would happen is if someone retweets but also replies to the original tweet. Even then, there’s still no guarantee that a back-and-forth sort of conversation would begin.

    Additionally, the gradually-formed chain of retweets can often take the conversation further away from the originating source. If I see that someone I follow has retweeted funny, interesting, or important content, I might retweet it, but I don’t necessarily follow the tweet to its original tweeter to follow them. More than anything, I just might attribute a “good RT” to the person that is most immediately connected to me because they’re someone that filtered it through to me, and that’s why the tweet matters– because it was presneted to me on my newsfeed through the retweeter.

    This might have something to do with the now prolific and unimaginable amount of content that is produced daily on Twitter. It is impossible to process even a tenth of what is put out on Twitter daily, let alone follow the paths and traffic of popular tweets. Most things, then, depend on your decisions of who to follow, and what they’ll bring to your newsfeed.

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