In the eight years I’ve used Twitter to communicate I’ve refined a few best practices for myself. Let’s explore the practice of retweeting by examining a few types of things you may want to retweet — and my process for evaluating each before taking action.
When something makes me laugh, I want to retweet it immediately for the benefit of all, but the following rubric keeps me in check. The first two points are grounded in personal judgement, so I will trust yours as you discern their application.
- Is this the best joke I’ve seen on the subject?
- Is the tweeter someone whose voice I’d like to see amplified — or just some joker?
- Is this a joke my followers have probably already seen? (This is subjective. Since I can’t actually know what tweets my followers read, I need to break this down a bit further.)
- Was it already tweeted or retweeted by someone famous my followers likely follow because of shared interest?
- Was it retweeted so many thousands of times that they likely saw it due to saturation?
- Has it been floating around for a few weeks and likely been cross-posted to other services like Facebook, LinkedIn or Tumblr and I’m somehow the only person to have just seen it now?
I believe I create more value for my followers with jokes I retweet from folks they’ve never heard of and wouldn’t discover on their own — like local Nashvillians with a quick wit — rather than jokes from famous comedians. I can also always be sure that someone who opens my twitter feed for the first time will see something they wouldn’t have found otherwise!
Contests and promotions
There are plenty of companies that will offer a chance to win an iTunes gift card, or a box of steak knives, or a trip to Paris to anyone who follows them and retweets a particular message about their contest. Before you retweet those, ask yourself:
- Is this contest run by a legitimate company that can actually deliver what they are promising?
- Is this something I could acquire for myself by planning ahead and saving money toward it?
- Am I comfortable with advertising this contest and its associated brand for free to all of my followers?
- How do I feel about communicating my exact price for selling out to everyone following me?
No matter how much I like a particular brand of soda, I’m unlikely to retweet them for a chance to win a trip to Florida. If Elon Musk and SpaceX offered a trip to Florida that included a rocket ship ride into Low Earth Orbit, I’d probably retweet that as often as the contest rules allowed. The difference: Anyone who follows me on twitter knows that space technology and travel is a passion of mine and would understand that I have no means of getting up there otherwise, which would minimize the immediate loss of respect I’d generate, unlike retweeting a candy company every day to win a free bag of pan-coated chocolate discs.
If you re-tweet a link to these rubrics, I promise I will not remunerate you in any way and the integrity of your reputation will remain intact.
Now that you’re warmed up to the idea of approaching retweets analytically, let’s talk about current events. Screwing this up can damage your reputation more quickly than retweeting jokes or contests. And I want to communicate clearly that no matter how inconsequential you might think your social media presence is, this is something that can actually get people killed in cases where suspects are misidentified or incorrect instructions for reaching safety are propagated during crises.
I’ve intentionally switched from the term “tweeter” to “source” in the rubric below to help frame these questions with the weight they deserve.
- How could propagating this information lead to immediate harm?
- How close is the source geographically to what is going on?
- Are they in immediate danger?
- Are they actively participating in what is happening?
- If locals, do they know anyone who is actively involved in the event who is live-tweeting it?
- How trustworthy is the source?
- Do I know the source personally?
- Am I comfortable disclosing my relationship to the source and vouching for them?
- What qualifications do they have?
- Are they tweeting as employees of an organization or as individuals?
- Can I verify the information via other sources, like streaming video from the event; posts from local journalists; or other participants?
- Who benefits if I share this information?
Diligence is more important than speed. Please always be mindful that unintentionally spreading misinformation can endanger others.
Go forth and retweet!
I hope these rubrics help you as you decide how you personally want to communicate with your audiences. Get out there and be the person you want folks to see!