Twitter and Retweeting

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about Twitter‘s new "Retweet" functionality. Okay, first of all, there is a scary number of hits when you search "retweet": 9.8 million from Google. That just seems wrong somehow, considering "retweet" is a made up word that’s only been in the lexicon for what, a couple of years at most?

Anyway. In short, a "retweet" is when someone copies and re-tweets your Twitter message, usually by putting "RT @username" in front of it. It’s a way of sharing something you like with your own Twitter followers and it has become very common practice in the Twitter world.

So common and popular, in fact, that Twitter itself has created a "Retweet" button that they’re experimenting with. It’s a handy piece of functionality: it copies the Twitter message you like to your timeline so your followers can read it, but instead of looking like it came from you with "RT @username" prepended, it shows the original tweet with a notation that you are the (re)tweet source.

(Obviously I have this Retweet function attached to my Twitter accounts, so I’ve been playing with it.)

What I like about it is the one-click functionality they’ve built into it: you don’t have to copy a message, scroll back to the top of the screen, type "RT @whatever" and paste the message in—shortening it in case your addition breaks the 140-character limit—and then scroll back to where you were in reviewing your timeline.

However, there’s two things this functionality breaks: the ability to modify the original tweet to add your own comment (if there’s room), and the "branding" of the retweet.

What do I mean about the branding? Well, consider this: every time I manually retweet a message, it’s immediately clear to my followers that the retweet came from me: my image and username are right there, and this is especially handy for people that might be quickly scanning their timelines looking for certain images (people they want to read). With Twitter’s built in Retweet function, this is broken; users now see a tweet from a user they may not follow, so they may not immediately assume it’s something you recommended.

I’m thinking of this in terms of my Hack Bend Twitter account. In that case @hackbend is definitely a brand I’m pushing, in that I want to build awareness of Hack Bend and ultimately build credibility and drive more traffic back to that blog. When I do a manual retweet, followers can quickly and easily see that @hackbend has posted, and recommends something. With the new Retweet function, they don’t immediately see @hackbend, and—if they’re looking for Hack Bend-related tweets—they potentially miss it.

So I’m a little on the fence. I think for my @hackbend account, where branding is definitely an issue, I will continue to do the manual "RT @username" retweeting (unless I just get lazy). Otherwise, on my @chuggnutt account, I’ll keep playing with the auto-Retweet feature. But I’m curious as to what other people are thinking.

An interesting experiment might be to track which style of retweeting generates more traffic; do a Twitter post in one account, linking to a site (tracking hits from Twitter, of course), and then retweet it in the two different ways in another account. There should probably be various controls, but I’d be curious to see which works better.

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