Researchers at Cornell University conducted a study with support from the National Science Foundation and Google. This study analyzed the structure, rhetoric and content of tweeted sentences and compared these factors to the number of shares and retweets these tweets received. Researchers controlled for the popularity of the user and the subject of the tweets to ensure these factors would not influence the study’s results. Researchers used the results of this study to create an online tool that compares two possible tweets and produces the probability that one will be more popular than the other. In essence, it is a tool to “make your tweets more popular.”
Their results indicated that one of the biggest factors in making a popular tweet is asking followers nicely to retweet it. According to the online tool they created, adding the words “please retweet” to any tweet automatically gives that tweet a 95% increase in its chances of being shared. The online tool even went as far as to say that a tweet with the words “please retweet” alone would have an 85% better chance of being shared than any other tweet. The study showed that in addition to asking followers nicely to “please retweet”, phrasing tweets in a way “that is familiar to the target audience and consistent with past tweets” increases the chances of a tweet being shared. Another interesting tactic to encourage tweet popularity is avoiding the first person. According to the online tool, the simple addition of the word “I” to any tweet automatically diminishes that tweet’s chances of being shared by 50%.
While the online tool is very useful in terms of giving a person a general idea of what makes tweets more likely to be shared, it ins’t perfect. For instance, adding a single random word to any tweet will make that tweet 50% more likely to be shared than the same tweet without the extra word, according to the tool. This is clearly not congruent with the real world. Despite this imperfection, I find the tool to be quite useful and its results to be quite interesting. While the aforementioned fluke does not lend itself to creating more popular tweets, it is clearly a fluke and most people would recognize it as such. Conversely, the results of the online tool pertaining to the use of the first person and the addition of “please retweet” hold a great deal of merit. These results, based on research supported by the National Science Foundation and Google, will prove to be very useful to any and all twitter users.
In addition to being a great asset for twitter users, the results of this tool are quite interesting to me from a psychological standpoint. These results beg the question of what it is about we humans that makes us respond negatively to use of the first person and positively to being asked nicely to retweet.
I have a couple ideas that attempt to get at the answer to this question. One theory I have is that people have a harder time connecting with tweets that use the first person. We humans all believe we are the center of the universe (at least on some level) and a tweet using the first person threatens that belief. A tweet using the first person is about the person who wrote the tweet, not about ME. I believe that for this reason, tweets using the first person are less likely to be retweeted. Another theory I have is that people like to be involved in the world around them and respond well when they are asked nicely to do something. This is pretty straight forward. Asking followers to “please retweet” directly involves them in the world of the person who wrote the tweet and in the world of twitter in general. Retweeting is a very easy thing to do, and all it takes is that simple, polite request.