Mike Connell

The Spin Sucks Question: Should Twitter Kill the Retweet?

By: Mike Connell | November 9, 2018 | 
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kill the retweetTwitter. In an ever-evolving social media landscape, it continues to be a go-to platform for many communication professionals, if not the preferred or most popular.

But it can also be a tough nut to crack. Cutting through the clutter can be difficult.

And it is cluttered. Perhaps that’s more of an argument to cull who we’re following, or a call to overhaul how we collectively use and navigate social channels and conversation.

Or, perhaps, it’s all the retweet’s fault.

Retweet. It’s both a noun and a verb:

noun
a reposted or forwarded message on Twitter.
“traffic spiked quickly and contained a mix of retweets and original posts”

verb
(on the social media website Twitter) repost or forward (a message posted by another user).
“tweet the URL of your posting: people love to retweet job ads”

But it also seems to be a huge point of contention.

Recently, in the Spin Sucks Community, Matt Maxey shared an article arguing for the death of the retweet.

The biggest issue, according to the author?

The feature derails healthy conversation and preys on users’ worst instincts.

Personally? Twitter is my least favorite social platform. I use it primarily as a news feed, but of late I find it so cluttered that a scan doesn’t really yield much of value, so I quickly swipe the app closed.

According to Social Media Use in 2018 (a Pew Research Center survey), “78 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds use Snapchat, and a sizeable majority of these users (71 percent) visit the platform multiple times per day. Similarly, 71 percent of Americans in this age group now use Instagram and close to half (45 percent) are Twitter users.”

So, the usage is still there, but is it as effective and valuable as it can be?

A good question, right? So, we put it to you:

Should Twitter kill the retweet?

Alternatively, what Twitter features would you change if you could?

The Retweet: Showing Appreciation

Like any platform with a high number of users, there’s going to be various opinions regarding what’s good, what’s bad, what can be improved, etc.

Sarah LaLiberte likes Twitter, and while she finds it valuable, admits that there are things she would fix:

I still find a lot of value in Twitter.

They do the best job of following news in my industry with #hashtags (vs FB, LinkedIn, etc.).

I like all the info I can locate on there that’s specific to the news I need for work.

Doubling the character count was a mistake though—the lower count made us be creative in communicating succinctly.

Re: the retweet, I do it to show appreciation for the news source. Otherwise, who gets the credit?

I don’t use Twitter for political news or personal, so I seem sheltered from this…

Save The Retweet!

From Morgan Miller:

Don’t kill the retweet! Twitter has perfected sharing—their retweet feature is more used and socially acceptable than sharing on both Instagram and Facebook. Twitter is missing the mark on a lot of features, but they’ve perfected the profile-intertwining retweet.

I’d love to see Twitter offer more ways to segment the feed, like Reddit’s subreddits.

Letting users separate incoming tweets into a news channel, a social channel, and a humor channel might bring users back to the platform.

The all-inclusive feed is overwhelming for everyone.

I love the subreddit-style idea, Morgan!

The Real Question

Very few respondents indicated that killing off the retweet was a good idea. Overwhelmingly, though, many asked (begged) for an “edit” option.

Laura Wilmes votes to keep the retweet.

This small action holds more significance than ‘liking’ a tweet; it’s a public display of support for the tweet.

From a marketing perspective, it drastically increases the reach of a tweet.

The views a single tweet receives are multiplied when your followers retweet to their followers, and so on.

With this, Twitter is a platform on which anyone can go viral, no matter how many followers they have.

Let’s talk about what Twitter truly needs: an editing feature.

From Kirti Manian:

Absolutely not is my vehement answer.

How often have you seen tweets which are instructional or great threads about unknown personalities and decided I need to pass this on?

The power of a RT cannot be denied.

I would love an Edit button though with a brief window to correct spelling mistakes and the like.

Joe Goldstein is on a similar page:

The problems associated with retweets, like fake news amplification and timeline pollution, could be fixed by adding the features that Twitter users beg for on a regular basis, like an edit button and greater control over your timeline.

Removing the retweet would be one of the biggest and most alienating mistakes made by a social media company since Digg v4.

I would probably sell my remaining shares in Twitter and abandon the platform for good.

The Retweet and Fake News

Joe’s point brings us back to the original article. The propagation of unsubstantiated and/or outright fake news and false information seems to be at the root of the platform’s dissatisfaction with the retweet function.

From The Atlantic article:

Many users knowingly tweet false and damaging information and opinions in an effort to go viral via retweets. Entire Twitter accounts have been built on this strategy.

If Twitter really wants to control the out-of-control rewards mechanisms it has created, the retweet button should be the first to go.

Tori Hebert provides her take on The Atlantic piece:

The first thing to stick out at me is the way it’s argued retweets are used to, intentionally or not, spread fake news.

Is that not the same premise that you’ve come to understand that Aunt Sue probably doesn’t realize that fakenews.com isn’t a reliable news source?

Education, I think, is what we’re looking for here.

I can get behind Alexis Madrigal’s want for a feed that is less repetitive as far as big news stories.

I personally like retweets. Granted when college student Jimmy wants free chicken nuggets the retweeting is annoying.

However, I have found interesting reads and conversations via my friends’ retweets that I probably wouldn’t have come across before.

The Retweet and Influencers

According to Mike Schaffer, killing the retweet function could have interesting side effects:

This would skyrocket the influence (and bank accounts) of influencers. Not a bad thing, but a huge side effect.

From Kate Nolan:

I’m game. And not just for the fake news problem.

I’ve started paring down who I follow and those who gunk up my feed with a million retweets with no context as to why they’re sharing get dumped.

(Along with those “thought leaders” who tweet but have no real conversations).

Pros and Cons

From Shane Carpenter:

I like the retweet. I’ve had people in my network that have retweeted things that I never would have found on my own.

Is there downside that Twitter turns into an echo chamber where dangerous views and fake news can thrive?

Yes, but I can make that argument for all the social media networks and Internet forums.

The plus side is can also be an echo chamber where positive ideas and facts spread too.

Does it kill conversation? Personally I’ve never found Twitter to be that conversational.

The exception being Twitter chats.

The Answer: Users Created the Retweet

Ultimately, it’s one thing to say a function should be eliminated for various reasons, but Carri Bugbee reminds us of an important fact:

Twitter didn’t invent retweets—users did.

Getting rid of the button won’t change the desire of most users to share information they find interesting. They’ll just go back to using manual retweets.

Could getting rid of the button slow down the viral nature of bad info? Yes, possibly.

The RT button serves as a type of upvote. If users have to go back to manual retweets, there will be no obvious count of how many times a tweet has been shared.

Which does serve as a tacit endorsement (despite many profiles suggesting the contrary).

Obviously, manual retweets will make it harder for bots to do their “jobs” as well.

If that slows the spread of fake news or hate speech, I’m okay with that, but I wonder if perhaps it wouldn’t be smarter to make the RT button more sophisticated instead.

Maybe add an extra step into the process to indicate whether someone likes the message or not?

Up Next: The Best Social Media Platform

So, this conversation—and the study mentioned at the outset—got me thinking. Sure, there are things we would fix about Twitter. Likewise, there are issues with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and others.

Way back in February this year, we asked what your favorite social network was, and why.

There was a mix of personal and professional preference, with the ultimate answer being a very unsatisfactory: It depends.

So, with many months of social evolution and change between then and now, we thought we’d ask the question again, but this time from a purely professional perspective.

So, next week’s Spin Sucks Question is:

Whether you like or loathe Twitter personally, or can’t get enough of Instagram outside of your “day” job, what social network do you rely on the most when it comes to your communications strategy (and that includes paid social)?

The answer, of course, will likely include a hearty dose of “go where your audience is,” but there are always preferences.

Your client’s audience may very well be on LinkedIn, but Facebook ads can be very effective in almost any situation. Thoughts?

You can answer here, in the free Spin Sucks community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

About Mike Connell


Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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