The anatomy of the perfect tweet

Eight tips to craft a message that Twitter followers will retweet.


Editor’s note: This story first appeared on PR Daily in June.

Imagine if you discovered the formula for the perfect tweet—a message so perfect that Twitter users can’t help but follow your account and retweet your post.

Well, hold on to your Twitter handles, because the perfect tweet has been discovered, in theory.

Last week, researchers at UCLA and Hewlett-Packard’s HP Labs released a nine-page paper on how to predict the social media popularity of a news article before it is published. Astonishingly, the researchers developed a tool that forecasts popularity with an 84 percent accuracy rate.

The Atlantic‘s Megan Garber dived deeper into the study, exploring how the research can help media outlets craft tweets that will be shared and clicked.

But HP Labs isn’t the first organization to try to predict the popularity of a tweet. Dan Zarrella, a “social media scientist” with the marketing firm HubSpot, has conducted exhaustive research on the topic. In 2009, he spent nine months analyzing 5 million tweets and 40 million retweets. He published the results in “The Social Media Marketing Book” (as well as other articles and infographics).

PR Daily compiled Zarrella’s research and that of UCLA and HP Labs for this advice on the perfect tweet. (We also put the tips into action.)

Here are eight tips for writing the perfect tweet:

1. Include links. Tweets that included a link were three times more prevalent in retweets than those without, according to Zarrella’s researcher. That means you don’t tell your Twitter audience, “We conducted some great research.” You show them the research by sharing a link to where they can find it (your blog, ideally).

2. Opt for timely news (most of the time). Zarrella found that tweets mentioning news were the most shared. Rest assured, however, that if you can’t share breaking news—and 99 percent of the time a new “solution” is not breaking—evergreen advice will do the trick. The most shared tweets beyond news were instructional in nature, followed by entertainment, opinion, products, and small talk.

3. Share tech news (or maybe mention a celebrity). This won’t apply to everyone with a Twitter account, but the researchers at UCLA and HP Labs said tweets about tech news were the most shared. Health news and “fun stuff” were Nos. 2 and 3 in terms of popularity. The study also said that mentioning a celebrity, such as @LadyGaga, will probably result in a popular tweet.

4. Use “you” instead of “I.” Specific words can spark retweets, Zarrella deduced. Among the words most commonly found in heavily shared tweets are “you,” “Twitter,” “please,” “retweet,” “post,” and “check out.” Another term found often in these tweets is “please retweet.” Despite these findings, asking someone to “please retweet” is a practice you should avoid. It’s tacky—no matter what science tells you.

5. Calm down. With all the noise online, especially in the Twittersphere, it stands to reason that a frantic tweet with a healthy dose of hyperbole would stand out. For example: “INCREDIBLE photo. You MUST check it out IMMEDIATELY!” Not so, say researchers at UCLA and HP Labs. Objective language performs as well as subjective, they discovered.

6. Embrace verbosity, to an extent. Zarrella found that as the length of tweets grew, so did the number of clicks for a link in the tweet. Once the tweet reached 130 characters, the number of click-throughs fell, so don’t go above 130, if possible. You’ll probably want to shoot for fewer, in case someone wants to retweet you and include his or her own comment.

7. Use punctuation, especially colons and periods. Nearly all retweets have some form of punctuation, according to Zarrella. Colons and periods were by far the most common. Surprisingly, question marks weren’t common in retweets, nor were semicolons. The latter isn’t surprising; most people misunderstand this handy punctuation mark and therefore tend to avoid it.

8. Drop a brand name. “Brand, even and especially on the Internet, matters,” Garber writes in The Atlantic. She’s referencing the UCLA and HP Labs data, which determined that reliable sources—such as media outlets and brand names—led to more commonly shared tweets. That doesn’t mean, however, that established media brands only will garner retweets. UCLA and HP Labs found that in some cases the opposite was true. Stories shared by popular traditional media—Reuters, AP, Christian Science Monitor—received fewer tweets than upstart media such as Mashable and AllFacebook. Even corporate and marketing blogs, among them Google’s blog and Seth Godin’s blog, sparked more retweets than many “old” media sources.

Based on HP Labs’ research, Garber wrote the “perfect news tweet.” It comes from The New York Times, and says:

Bits Blog: Apple Buddies Up With Cheaper Wireless Partners for iPhone nyti.ms/LcLviE

Kind of boring, isn’t it? (Something that Garber noted in her post for The Atlantic.)

Let’s apply Zarrella’s lessons and see if we can kick out something else, a tweet that might be ideal for a brand. How about:

Check out the latest release from Apple and what it means for you: [LINK]

The link could take your followers to a post on your blog. Also a tad dull, but it should work, in theory.

Now that you know how to write the perfect tweet, find out the ideal time to send it for maximum exposure here.

(via The Atlantic, PCMag, Fast Company)

(Image via)

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