In Defense Of The Re-Tweet

There’s been some talk of late in blogs and on Friendfeed that the humble re-tweet might be, in fact, at best stupid, worse, a nuisance. As Louis Gray writes in his piece:

“Twitter is a land where 140 characters is all you’ve got to express yourself. If you think you don’t have enough interesting data to share 140 characters of your own, but instead need to piggyback on someone else’s tweet, then maybe you should rethink why you’re using the service.”

Louis earlier suggested that begging for re-tweets is lazy; that repeating what somebody else has said doesn’t add anything to the conversation.

He isn’t alone; Dave Winer and others this week have been beating the re-tweet into submission, suggesting that what Twitter needs is the ‘like’ service that other social networks use (Friendfeed, Digg, Reddit etc).

While I agree that there are right and wrong ways to re-tweet submissions – or, indeed, to ask for them to be re-submitted from your followers – I think completely dismissing the re-tweet is misguided. It serves a purpose on Twitter that makes it unique to that platform.

The Re-Tweet Gives Credit

However you choose to re-submit a tweet – using RT, re-tweet or via (I will address the differences later) – it’s important that credit is given to the original poster. The re-tweet does this effectively and with a minimal waste of characters.

Additionally, the re-tweet is (or should/can be) an endorsement of the person, too. When I re-tweet somebody I’m fairly mindful about whom it is I’m re-tweeting. Even the most obnoxious ass is capable of at least one good tweet, much like every amateur is capable of one pro golf shot. It doesn’t mean the rest was up to par. I take that into consideration when I RT; I’m saying to you, this content is good, and this is a good guy.

Because you give credit, the original poster has an excellent chance of picking up some new followers and meeting some new folk. And vice versa.

This is probably the most important point, and where the ‘like’ system fails, unless that also gives credit, which kind of makes it a re-tweet, and therefore redundant.

The Ripple Levels The Playing Field

Used intelligently, the re-tweet is a convenient but powerful way to share content with your followers, and beyond. Most of the re-tweets you see only appear on your stream because one of your followers re-tweeted something from somebody you’re not following. This opens the entire Twitter network up to you. Sure, there will be some crossover from time to time, but who cares? You can ignore that just as easily as the other 90% of tweets that don’t interest you.

The ripple effect of Twitter means that it is theoretically possible for somebody with just a handful of followers to see their update re-tweeted throughout the entire network. Google’s Matt Cutts probably isn’t reading your stuff, but he may well be paying a lot of attention to one of your follower’s follower’s.

It’s certainly true that a ‘name’ on the platform has far more chance of this happening than the new guy, but it’s far easier to achieve this on Twitter than any other social network. It’s possible, albeit unlikely, for a total newbie to hit the top spot on Reddit; effectively impossible on Digg. The re-tweet makes Twitter a level playing field for information – if what you’re saying is good or significant enough, it will reach a lot of people.

A Re-Tweet Is Not Necessarily A Like

Often with a re-tweet you’re sharing information that is news-related. For example, it might be something about a natural disaster, military action, the death of somebody famous, and so on. This is important content to share with your followers, but it’s not something you like. If anything, you probably don’t like it. Hence, giving a story about a plane crash ‘two thumbs up’, or any kind of checkbox mark of approval that one often finds on other social networks, would possibly be a little inappropriate.