Retweeting Without Reading? Yeah, It’s Happening – and It Affects Journalism Strategy on Twitter

Worth noting for journalists looking to measure engagement on the Twitters: your retweets aren’t necessarily your click-throughs, and the two unfortunately may have almost no correlation either.

Hubspot’s Dan Zarrella analyzed 2.7 million tweets that contained links, and his findings show that the retweets and click-throughs had only a sad Pearson’s correlation coefficient of .038. More vividly (and perhaps this is a stat that’s easier to understand), an entire 16.12 percent of the link-containing tweets Zarrella analyzed generated more retweets than clicks.

Digesting those stats, that means your assumptions are probably right when you notice a weirdly fast retweet, or see a RT of something that you already recognize as not true: Zarrella’s study implies many people tweet a link without even clicking on that link.

Forget about “RT are not endorsements.” RTs may not even be an acknowledgement that a particular link was clicked, let alone read.

In other words, almost one in every five tweets generates more retweets than clicks. This suggests many people pass on a link without looking at it, and perhaps even worse, vetting it.

Our sister blog AllTwitter has a nice post on this aimed largely at smart marketers, but here is a quick round-up of notes and advice on what the pervasiveness of blind retweeting should maybe mean for the tweetin’ journalist:

Recognize RTs may not directly help your traffic

A retweet is probably some indicator of “engagement,” but that engagement may not be with what you want it to be: your content. Engagement on social media with a brand or person is good, of course, on many levels, but if it’s just a retweet of a link to a story that the retweeter hasn’t even read, to what degree is that helpful? A blind retweet may be helpful for pushing your brand out there (which, true indeed, can be a fair goal—see more below), but it may not be helpful for the prime goal of journalism: informing the public.

(Can a blind RT lead to more click-throughs from that blind retweeter’s followers? Possibly, and that’s nice, but not the ideal, right?) 

Strategize, because maybe sometimes this is okay

Zarrella points out that if your goal is to grow into a “thought leader” on Twitter, you want to get out there in front of more eyeballs. In this case, getting more RTs – however blind – does gets you more facetime. As such, it’s good to think about the goal of each tweet. Perhaps it’s good for you to optimize a tweet for RTs if it contains a link written not by you, but by someone else, and seems to be being shared a lot– as long as what you compose is relevant to your coverage area and you share something useful or insightful to go along with it. But if you want people to read your own linked content, perhaps its better to optimize the tweet for click-throughs. That’s something you’ll have to weigh on your own.

(Here are some suggestions from AllTwitter on how to get more RTs.)

But still recognize how precise this means you have to tweet

Notably, the skin-level digestion of news that accompanies a blind retweet isn’t entirely a new media phenomenon. Back in the heyday of newspapers, of course there were people who didn’t read a full article either—instead, they just read the similarly short bit, the headlines. A tweet is a new form headline, and of course there are people who just read its less than 140 characters and go no further. But unlike in the newspaper age, everyone has publishing power, and everybody can pass on an individual “headline,” all on their own.

You, as the journalist, should always click before a retweet. You need to vet the info before you pass it along. Studies like this also should be motivators to be mindful that even if a retweet is widespread, that doesn’t mean it’s widely read. By extension, that doesn’t meant it’s widely vetted. (Indeed, that’s probably a bit how Twitter rumors spread.)

But you, as the journalist, should also want to be mindful of this behavior, and brainstorm ways to limit it as much as possible. If there’s a way to construct your engagement to get people actually reading and taking away what you have to say, that’s going to be far more rewarding and impactful endeavor than tallying up a long list of RTs on your “Interactions” tab.