Retweet: The Infectious Power Of Word Of Mouth

Word of Mouth, the Holy Grail of Marketing
Word of mouth marketing is one of the most desirable activities to brands, why? Because research on trust shows that consumers (folks like you and me) trust the opinions of people we know more than anyone else. It makes sense of course, think about the next time you’re going to buy a car, who’s opinion are you going to trust, those of your friends or the opinion of the sales guy representing the product?

[Information within Microblogging communities like Twitter encourage rapid word of mouth –of both positive and negative content]

Twitter, Although Small, Continues to Demonstrate Influence
Twitter, which I’m seeing informal stats of around 5 million users, has continued to show it’s viral capabilities, with last week’s Motrin mom’s brand punking of an advertisement to news being spread about natural disasters faster than traditional news, this toolset allows content to spread faster and farther than we’ve ever seen. Watching how Al Gore’s Current TV integrated tweets live on their TV broadcast and how CNN and CSPAN mentioned this microblogging service during the election months is a nod to it’s power. In some ways, long form blog posts like this seem so much slower and plodding compared to how quickly information can come and go in Twitter.

[Within the Twitter community a “Retweet” is a social gesture indicating endorsement of an idea]

The “Retweet” How Information Quickly Spreads
As a result, the most powerful activity within Twitter is to watch the “Retweet” phenomeneon. A retweet is when one individual copies a tweet from someone in their network and shares it with their network. It’s perhaps the highest degree of content approval, it means that the content was so valuable and important that they were willing to share it with their network –causing it to spread from one community to the next –retweets are the core essence of the viral aspect of content spreading. Early research from Peter Kim indicates that twitter users are brand sensitive, and spread information. Since content can be shared, consumed on mobile devices, this information can rapidly spread faster than any other infectious technology we’ve ever seen.

How to Measure and Monitor the Coveted Retweets
Expect to see social media measurement tools appear that measure the spread of retweets, URLs, and other commonly repeated content to look for how information is passed from a source to a node, to an entire community. In fact, in a very primitive way, you can see those that are repeating the content of others, for example Tim O’Reilly’s content. See this search query showing “Retweet @timorielly“, or “RT @timoreilly” (an abbreviated version).

You should do the same query for your brand, products, and those of your competitors, start with this query “retweet yourbrand“, and change out yourbrand. At some point we can expect a service to appear that will track a tweet from a single source, then track how it is retweeted, then by who (and their number of followers) then to create a numerical value of the velocity of that single original tweet as it cascades through a community.

Impacts to Users, Brands and Vendors

Twitter Users: If someone retweets your content, be and feel honored, it means that your content was so important or interesting to them they are willing to share it with their own trusted network. If you need some guidelines on how to retweet, read this handy guide.

Brands: Companies should pay close attention to how information spreads and should do searches on their product and brand to learn what type of information is being spread by who.

Vendors: Social media measurement companies like Cymfony, Buzzmetrics, Radian 6, Buzzlogic, and others should start tracking the retweet stream around a brand and product to monitor and map out community and content hotspots. It’s possible to create some type of “Digg” or “Delicious” tool that maps the social voting and bookmarking based off the data gleaned from Retweets and TinyURLs.

I’ll echo Shel Israel who posted similar thoughts that retweeting is the most powerful single aspect of Twitter.

Update: some stats are starting to appear about retweeting, see the Retweetist.

  • Agreed. I often will track the spread of my tweets as they cascade across the Twittersphere. It definitely is a great way to understand what an audience finds valuable.

    From a blog perspective I think citing a another person’s post in your own post shows similar support of an idea – which of course is also easily tracked. Both, concepts not only highlight valued ideas within a network but also point to the originator’s influence.

    On a personal note I’ve also shared what I thought was a cool piece of information, but off topic of what I usually share, and I’ve seen it have little uptake. This goes back to the relevance of information shared, the originator’s topical influence and the audience’s interest in that piece of information (interest and relevance determining it’s value). Of course the spread would also depend on how similar each individual’s networks are similar in terms of interest in a topic. The idea would spread more quickly when the audiences of the originator’s audience also were interested in the same topic.

    All fascinating stuff. Thanks for the kicking off the discussion of it. I look forward to the responses of others.

  • Great post Jeremiah – I think those who have been retweeting and have benefited from retweets sometimes just assume that is part of the fabric of using twitter. What is becoming more and more useful are aggregators for links posted. Do you use or other similar tools? It’s like a Digg for tweets, but based on number of times a link has been shared. If one assumes that a valuable link will be retweeted by legitimate users, as opposed to spam, one might be able to assume that important/popular links can be found this way. Sometimes I check there first if I’ve been off the twitter grid for awhile.

    Thanks and like David I look forward to seeing more discussion on this.

  • Adam Gershenbaum

    Speaking of useful aggregators for links posted that also have a digg-like utility, I’ve been using lately.

    Has anyone used Visible Technologies for social media measurement? How does it compare to Buzz Logic, Cymfony, Buzzmetrics or Radian6?

  • Retweeting is the biggest factor in something “going viral” on Twitter. When I see a news story or smart post I love giving that microblogger the credit for its discovery or creation. While it does the obvious service of spreading a certain piece of content. It also helps establish stronger relationships within this social network. When people honor me and retweet my blog posts, I always thank them personally. Free advertising is a huge compliment.

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  • You wrote:

    “In some ways, long form blog posts like this seem so much slower and plodding compared to how quickly information can come and go in Twitter.”

    The difference is you are not spreading news here, you are spreading strategy. There is still a need for deeper thought.

    Blogs have evolved into places for longer discussion, not all of us have the attention span of a gnat. Some of us enjoy your long posts.

    I wouldn’t call it “plodding” I would call it deep.

  • Jeremiah: Thanks for the ‘retweet how-to’ link and mention of Shel’s post. I’ll be checking them both out shortly.

    As David mentioned, citing other blogs in our posts is easy to do (and often second nature), but finding the best way to share on Twitter can sometimes be more difficult. Many times upon retweeting something I want to add my own comments, but also don’t want to confuse it with the message I am relaying on.

    I’ve also found that depending on who is part of your network (local users versus a national audience), retweets can quickly clog up a stream.

    However, all that being said, it is amazing to see how viral a message can become with the quick-publishing power we all have in microblogging. It used to be amazing to see how many people would blog and reblog about something, but retweeting has the ability to spread much farther, much faster.

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  • Great post!

    Not only is this a phenomenon that spreads a meme faster to new networks through weak ties.

    The retweet also reinforces the meme within the smaller network, as there is probably considerable overlap of connections within it. Receiving the tweet, and the following retweets, reinforces the meme through social proof. More people are paying attention to this particular idea, which makes us more likely to pay attention to it ourselves.

    It is only the individual nodes on the fringes, with just one connection within the network, and the rest of their connections in other networks, that can retweet the meme without overlap.

    I guess this can occur up until some kind of saturation point, when there is no real use retweeting it anymore.

    I think the monitoring of microblogs in general is important, but monitoring retweets adds an extra dimension, as it is basically monitoring memes that have proved themselves as having viral potential.

  • Thanks Adam. Isn’t it funny we would call blog posts deep, we used to say that about novels and books!

  • In blogs, we’d used to say that ‘links’ were the most valuable aspect.

    Now it’s retweets.

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  • Retweeting is powerful!

    A couple of things – for your search it’s important to search for: retweet, RT other variations that people are using

    In our SM monitoring tool, Techrigy SM2, we can filter the Twitter results by retweet, RT, etc That takes you to a very granular level where you can determine velocity.

    I think it’s more important to look at the high level & watch the conversations as they shift from twitter to other sources & easily identify the influencers in each source type (then respond asap).

  • Nice post. I’m a big believer in the power of social influence at all points in the marketing funnel and did some grad level research into it. For those interested in some of the research behind influence and how to leverage it, this Adweek article of mine maybe of interest –

  • Nice post Jeremiah. Readers of your blog maybe interested in checking out or joining the Word of Mouth Marketing Association or WOMMA ( The organization was founded by some of today’s leading experts in WOM. They also have some great case studies for those interested. To Adam Gershenbaum feel free to ping me to connect you with some folks that are using Visible Technologies software.

    Blake Cahill
    Visible Technologies

  • As one of the most prolific retweeters around, I want to give a shout out to twhirl for encouraging retweet behavior by giving a simple button to do it. I don’t think I would ever have adopted retweeting with such gusto without that easy feature.

    This example illustrates just how important architectural choices are in creating viral applications.

    What’s so wonderful about twitter is that its minimal interface has led to an explosion of user and third-party application innovation. It’s a bit like what Alexander Pope said about writing in rhymed couplets: the limits of the form made his creativity shoot out, as water from a fountain.

  • I am all in for Word of Mouth, nothing against anyone but isn’t retweet a part of something that people in the social media circles refer to as “Echo Chamber” ? Not only this re-tweeting also leads IMHO to more scattered conversations which call for new tools to collate them all.

    I think there can be(are) better ways of sharing good content without the above mentioned ills

    My 2 cents

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  • I’ve been using in many of my tweets just to check out the metrics they provide (that’s to say, this is not a paid endorsement or anything) and they indicate the definite power of the retweet. My links that have been retweeted by friends/followers definitely have the highest clickthrough rates.

    I see that Adam Cohen mentioned — I’ve been wondering about them because they tend to generate the highest number of clickthroughs for those budurls that get retweeted. A “Digg for tweets”, huh? I’ll be keeping my eye on that one.

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  • This is one of my (not at all secret) “secret weapons” in social media use – tell people what you want them to do! You can’t ask people to retweet everything, but an occasional “please retweet” makes an enormous impact in spreading the word.

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  • Jeremiah – Curious if you have any additional insight behind something you wrote.

    “At some point we can expect a service to appear that will track a tweet from a single source, then track how it is retweeted, then by who (and their number of followers) then to create a numerical value of the velocity of that single original tweet as it cascades through a community.”

    This has the potential to be very useful.
    Is this personal speculation or are you aware of someone/company actively working on such a service?

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  • Does the time of day or night make a difference in the impact of retweets?

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  • Ken

    I’m sure there are buzz monitoring systems already doing that, i’m sure they’ll brief me soon.

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  • Thanks.
    I have been active on Twitter for a day shy of 3 weeks.During that time I have staged Twitter’s first Post Conceptual Art Performance, and written several blogs on the Twitter experience, including one asking Is It better to follow or be Followed on Twitter, which continues to draw comments.
    Through most of this time I have followed you.
    I follow fairly eclectically, but do try to follow people who are influencers or who post good links that I follow. These can include people who find good material to ReTweet. Twitter can be quite educational!

    Judy Rey Wasserman
    On Twitter: judyrey

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  • good article. its interesting to read about the credence and power of the retweet. makes total sense.