Twitter. Are You Doing It Wrong?

With only 140 characters to work with, it is hard to imagine screwing up Twitter. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way. The Atlantic reports today on a study of 43,000 responses to various types of tweets that parses out what readers liked and didn’t like in their microblog content. The study by Paul Andre, Michael S. Bernstein, and Kurt Luther revealed that readers felt about a third of tweets were worth reading, somewhat less than a third were inane and the rest fell somewhere in the middle. That’s a pretty high dreck to value ratio. Where do your tweets fall?

The researchers used a web site called “Who Gives A Tweet” to collect the ratings – users were promised anonymous ratings in turn for their own ratings of other’s tweets. After collecting reviews from over 4,200 users who rated at least ten tweets each, Andre, Bernstein and Luther began the parsing process.

And what did they learn? That the standout reason for disliking a tweet is that it’s boring. Boring often equates to tweeting old information or being repetitive. Other complaints? Links without explanation. Too many hashtags or Twitter specific syntax. Mean-spirited tweets, negative sentiments and complaints.

And what did people like? The highest value was ascribed to informative and funny tweets. Usually a tweet was rated one or the other but not both. And, despite the 140 character limit already serving as a brevity inducing mechanism, people appreciated more concise tweets that got the information out in as few words as possible. Reader also appreciated thoughtful questions to followers, deeming it a good use of the medium. Finally, and somewhat surprisingly, self-promotional tweets did not suffer any more negative treatment than passing along someone else’s news or content – readers appreciate the news, even if that news is generated by you rather than the AP.

The report concluded with these thoughts:

Content. Information sharing, self-promotion (links to personally created content) and questions to followers were valued highly, while presence maintenance, conversational and ‘me now’ statuses were less valued.

Emerging Practices. Our analysis suggests: embed more context in tweets (and be less cryptic); add extra commentary, especially if retweeting a common news source; don’t overuse hashtags and use direct messages (DMs) rather than @mentions if more appropriate; happy sentiments are valued and “whining” is disliked, and questions should use a unique hashtag so followers can keep track of the conversation.

 Even though I already focus most of my Twitter activity on passing along news, this report gives me ideas about how to package my tweets in a more appealing format. Might be worth taking a look at your own content to see if you fit within the worth saving or worth chucking file. Because, you don’t want to wonder whether your tree makes a sound when it falls in the Twitter forest and there’s no one there to hear it.

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