If I wanted to make sure this post did not go viral—according to the standards put forth by Hubspot viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella in "The Science of Retweeting"—I could promote it on Twitter by posting something like this:
was bored watchin the game on tv and saw this thing about RTs...made me lol after i had really bad stomach cramps
Note the lack of punctuation, the use of of slang and abbreviations, the limited vocabulary, and the awkward overshare—all traits that Zarrella can now definitively say would turn Twitter users off. How? Because the avid Twitter-er and author of the upcoming The Social Media Marketing Book spent nine months analyzing roughly 5 million tweets and 40 million retweets (which are usually symbolized with an "RT" on Twitter). He noted when they were posted, which words they used, whether or not they included links, and more. Then, he says, he compared the two groups to get the first "real window" into how ideas spread from person to person: "Retweets may seem like a small idea...but many of the lessons [they teach us] will be applicable to viral ideas in other mediums."
The full report is 22 pages, and won't be available until tomorrow (UPDATE: It's here). But Zarrella offered me a sneak peak—via Twitter, no less. Below, his nine most effective ways to get retweeted on Twitter:
1. Link Up (But Don't Use TinyURLs)
In Zarrella's sample, links were three times more prevalent in RTs than normal tweets (19% to 57%), suggesting that their mere prescence could help buoy your bon mots. (Not sure whether that holds true for sporadic use of French terms.) But choose your URL shortener carefully: Newer, shorter services, such as bit.ly, ow.ly, and is.gd, were much likelier to get retweeted than older, longer services, such as TinyURL. Ouch.
2. Beggars Can Be Choosers
Although conventional wisdom suggests that SPAMmy pleas, such as "PLEASE RETWEET," would be generally ignored, Zarrella found the opposite. "Please" and "retweet" were his third and fourth "most retweetable" words, preceeded only by "Twitter" (duh) and "you." Also worth noting: "Check out" and "new blog post" were Nos. 19 and 20, respectively.
3. Avoid Idle Chit-Chat
Okay, let's face it: We all occasionally tweet about "boring" activities, such as sleeping and watching TV. But alas, these are the types of words and phrases Zarrella dubs "least retweetable." "There are a number of '-ing' verbs, including 'going,' 'watching' and 'listen-ing,'" that were not retweeted very often, he writes. Translation: Unless you've got a really interesting life—Shaquille O'Neal, anyone?—do not legitimately answer Twitter's "What are you doing?" prompt.
4. Don't Be Stupid
So much for abbrevs and emoticons. :-( Zarrella's RTs not only have more syllables per word than normal tweets (1.62 vs. 1.58), but they're also more intellectual: Per a Flesch-Kincaid test, comprehending RTs requires 6.47 years of education, while normal tweets require just 6.04.
5. Semicolons = Satan
A whopping 98% of RTs contain some form of punctuation (compared with 86% of normal tweets), with colons, periods, exclamation points, commas, and hyphens leading the way. (Where you at, question mark??) But Zarrella really sticks it to semicolons, calling them "the only unretweetable punctuation mark."
6. Break News
This one's kind of a no-brainer, but original content is way more popular than stuff we've already read: The words in Zavella's normal-tweet sample were each found 89 times in other tweets, on average, while words in the RTs were found just 16 times.
7. Use Proper Nouns Properly
Most RTs were heavier on nouns, proper nouns and 3rd-person verbs, suggesting that headline-style tweets—such as "Lindsay Lohan Escapes From Rehab Facility"—are more likely to go viral.
8. Bottle Those Emotions
Sorry guys, but nobody wants to promote your f—-ing, stupid feelings: Tweets about work, religion, money and media/celebrities are more retweetable than those involving negative emotions, sensations, swear words, and self-reference.
9. Tweet at 4 p.m. on Friday
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[Graphs and data via Dan Zarrella]