Forget imitation as the sincerest form of flattery—it’s as twentieth century as ripping off interfaces, songs, photos, and books. Today, the sincerest form of flattery is retweeting—the process of forwarding someone else’s tweet to your followers on Twitter. (I assume that you know about Twitter. If you don’t, take a minute and read this description at Answers.com.)
The reason that retweeting is so flattering is that every time people do it, they are putting their reputation on the line. If their followers don’t like the retweet, their reputation is reduced. So whenever someone retweets your tweet, they are expressing confidence that what you’ve tweeted is interesting and good. Thus, the best measure of someone’s quality as a Twitter user is not the number of followers but the amount of retweets.
Luckily, there are several sites that measure retweeting: Retweetist and Dan Zarrella’s Most Retweeted. (On both lists, ignore Garymccafrey because that’s a scheme to increase followers and nothing to do with quality retweeting.) These two lists provide a very good proxy for who’s worth following on Twitter. Do notice the Grand-Canyon size difference between these lists of people who are most retweeted and the people who have the most followers at TwitterCounter.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that frequent retweets is a salient goal. The question becomes, “What do I need to do to get retweeted?” Allow me to digress. I was once asked at a blogging conference what my SEO strategy was (search engine optimization—that is, how to get Google to put your stuff higher in search results). I must have been “on” that day because I said, “Write good shiitake.” (Actually, I used a shorter word than “shiitake,” but I can’t post it here.) The answer to getting retweeted is just about the same: tweet good shiitake, and here’s how:
Answer the right question.. There are pockets of Twitter users who want to bond with small group of people and learn the answer to the original Twitter question: “What are you doing?” These are the the folks that enjoy tweets that say, “My cat just rolled over” and “The line at Starbucks is long.” The question you should answer if you want retweets is “What’s interesting?” for your group of followers. For example, the story that Taiwanese scientists bred glow-in-the-dark pigs is a lot more interesting than what your cat is doing and therefore a lot more likely to get retweeted.
Tweet about Twitter. Twitter users love to read about Twitter—anything about Twitter: how to use it better, lists of companies on Twitter, lists of CEOs on Twitter, what some analyst thinks of Twitter, what’s wrong with Twitter, list of Firefox plugins for Twitter, the top ten ugliest avatars—you name it. If you find a blog post or new item about Twitter, tweet it, and it will probably get retweeted.
Explain how to do something. Whether it’s roast a turkey, hot wire a car, take away an assailant’s gun, kiss a woman, polish silverware, or hack a road sign, the words “How to” and “The art of” are magical terms on Twitter and bound to get any tweet starting with them retweeted. This is because anything starting with these terms is likely to be educational. Power tip: use Lifehacks.alltop and GTD.alltop.
Break news. Ironically, you shouldn’t assume that everyone instantly knows that a plane landed in the Hudson just because you do. You could probably follow the Twitter newsbot of CNN (@cnnbrk), retweet its tweets, and get retweeted. Still, what’s the challenge in that? It would be better to find news from niche topics that you are passionate about whether is science (first frozen water found on Mars), fashion, psychology, pets, or politics. If in doubt, tweet it. Most tweets are noise, so yours will probably stand out.
Provide the bizarre. Sometimes it scares me, but tweets about bizarre stuff works. For example, could you resist reading and then retweeting a story about robbers who were caught after using women’s thong underwear to cover their faces? Believe it or not, stuff like this gets retweeted.
Provide links. There mere existence of a link in your tweet enhances its credibility. Essentially, it’s saying: “This isn’t something I made up or wish; I actually have a verifiable, outside source.” I realize that this is stretching the point, but links are pretty irresistible and get more so as you increase your credibility. The goal is that the link takes people to something that’s enlightening or entertaining, and they thank you by retweeting it. For example, the neuroscience of social conformity.
Finally, there are two tips from Dan Zarrella in “The Science of ReTweets” (this posting inspired me to write this in the first place). First, don’t hesitate to ask people to retweet your tweet. “Please” is a powerful word no matter who you are. Second, tweet from approximately 9:00 am to 2:00 pm Pacific time. My interpretation of Dan’s recommendation is that the West Coast is now up and at work and the East Coast is eating lunch at their desks so that they are checking Twitter.