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Dan Zarrella on what makes people share content on Twitter

3 min read

Digital Technology

“Ideas don’t spread because they’re good,” Dan Zarrella told an audience at the recent AMP Summit in Washington DC.

That’s not a popular notion with bloggers and other content producers. If you spend a lot of time polishing your content, it can be hard to accept that those ideas won’t find an audience on their own merits.

“Sometimes I find things I wish weren’t true,” he says. But Zarrella’s conclusions are based on his own research of retweet data, which shows that certain characteristics make an idea more likely to spread on Twitter — and quality isn’t one of them.

A few of Zarrella’s key takeaways:

  • Scarcity rules. Tweets that center on news — particularly urgent information — are more likely to be retweeted. Content that is informative or entertaining also spreads well because these qualities are relatively rare. More mundane tweets, such as personal observations, get less traction because they’re something everyone already has, he notes. If you want your tweets to spread, their value has to be readily apparent.
  • Choose your words carefully. Tweets that focus on nouns — particularly “you” — are more retweetable. Tweets focusing on personal actions — “watching,” “going” or “listening” for example — tend to be less sharable.
  • Tell people what to do and they’ll do it. It might sound cheesy, but Zarrella says that if you add “Please Retweet” to a tweet, people are more likely to share it. The same goes for other calls to action — telling people what to do increases their likelihood of following through, he notes.
  • Variety is a constant. Zarrella is quick to point out that many of the best practices revealed by his findings don’t work as well if used to excess. Instead of slavishly repeating of formula, Zarrella says users should experiment with different tactics and develop patterns that help their content find new audiences without becoming stale.

Throughout his presentation, Zarrella stressed the importance of really understanding your audience — what they like, what they need and what they believe others in their network are likely to benefit from. Perhaps the most telling finding from his presentation is that when people are asked why they share content — either one-on-one or with a group — the most popular answer is “relevance.” Ideas may not spread because they’re good — but if you can find a way to make your good ideas useful and relevant, you stand a better shot at seeing them adopted and shared.

Image credit, ayzek, via iStockphoto