Some Thoughts About the Science of Social Media Sharing (Please Retweet)

One of the first things that a business should do when it decides to add social media into its marketing mix is try to find out what has worked for other businesses.

Inevitably, this means turning to the experts for advice.

However, businesses should keep in mind that social media marketing is still a fairly new thing for everyone, so the information that the experts are basing their advice on is still somewhat limited.

Also, keep in mind that results may vary. What works for a celebrity or a major brand isn’t necessarily going to work for a small “mom-and-pop” business down the street.

This is something that the experts sometimes forget. They analyze the data based on all social shares or even use anecdotal evidence from their own experience. However, they forget to take into account that the person or business sharing the information is going to have an impact on whether or not people read what is being posted. In fact, who is posting the content is going to have an impact on whether or not people see the post in the first place.

Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes that the experts make when giving out advice about what works in social media is that they forget that correlation does not imply causation. That is, if there is a positive or negative correlation between a specific variable and a specific action, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the action is caused by the variable that is being examined. In fact, they both could be a result of another variable that the expert has completely overlooked.

As an example, let’s look at Dan Zarrella’s “The Science of ReTweets 2009” report. I know that it’s a few years old, but people are still sharing it, so I think that it is fair to use as an example.

Let me start by saying that I think that Dan Zarrella is a very smart guy. In fact, I learned a thing or two by listening to his presentation in the HubSpot Inbound Marketing Training Program. However, I think that some of the information in “The Science of ReTweets 2009” report is misleading.

For example, he concludes that links that are shortened by bit.ly, ow.ly and is.gd are more retweetable than those shortened by other URL shorteners. However, I’d argue that the number of people using these URL shorteners as well as the types of people or businesses that use them are influencing the results. In fact, the content that is being linked to is also a factor.

In the report, he also gives a list of the most retweetable words and phrases. This analysis really makes me want to pull my hair out. With the exception of the phrase “please retweet,” I don’t think that just including these words alone is going to induce people to retweet your posts unless you are posting good content in the first place. In fact, I’d guess that the words listed are used very frequently in posts that aren’t retweeted. Furthermore, even using the phrase, “please retweet” doesn’t guarantee that people will retweet your posts and I’d speculate that the impact of this phrase probably decreases even further if you use it too frequently.

On the other hand, the analysis based on the time of the day that tweets are posted makes sense to me, because it seems to indicate when people are on Twitter. Your posts can’t be retweeted if they aren’t seen in the first place, right?

Final Thoughts

Businesses that are using social media to market their products or services should conduct research to see what has worked for other businesses in the past.

Given the nature of social media, social media sharing is going play a big role in increasing the reach of your posts. However, there are a lot of factors that influence whether or not your posts get shared.

While it is interesting analyze the trends on various social media platforms, the data doesn’t always produce valid, actionable recommendations. In other words, just because there is a correlation between two or more variables, doesn’t imply causation.

With that said, there is a lot of good advice out there, but not all of it is going to work for you or your business.

It is often suggested that you offer helpful advice or try to solve problems when people talk about your business or a competitor’s business online. This can help win new customers and turn critics into evangelists. And, when you do, you could potentially increase the number of people who are willing to share your posts with other people in their social graph.

Furthermore, as I pointed out in my last post, posting great content and interacting with the people who have connected to your business is a key to success in social media marketing.

However, keep in mind, it might take some time to figure out what types of content your customers and potential customers find valuable. Trial and error sometimes works the best. This process should include testing different posts and the calls to action and linking to different types of content to find out what your customers and prospects are interested in.

On a side note, if you are interesting in learning more about what causes ideas to spread, in general, you might want to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, titled “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.” (affiliate link) Although it was written before social media became popular, many of the concepts in the book can be useful to businesspeople who are looking to use social media as a way to let customers and prospects know about their products or services.

Finally, if you are looking for additional advice about social sharing on Twitter, specifically, there’s a post on the HubSpot blog, titled “11 Guaranteed Ways to Get Others to Retweet Your Content,” that offers some good advice.

Photo credit: stuartpilbrow on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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