What fuels a Tweet’s engagement?

Monday, 10 March 2014

Each Tweet represents an opportunity to show your voice and strengthen that relationship with your followers. Adding a hashtag, photo or video to Tweets undoubtedly makes them richer, but does it bring you more user engagement? We wanted to find out.

We looked at a large data set of verified users and evaluated exactly what difference it makes to add photos, videos and much more to Tweets.

To do this, our data scientist Douglas Mason analyzed millions of Tweets sent by verified users in the United States in the areas of government, music, news, sports and TV.

While building a healthy Twitter account is about more than just seeing how many people will retweet your posts, we wondered why certain Tweets see higher than average engagement. This research helped us answer those questions.

See the results by topic:

TV | News | Music | Government & Politics | Sports

What we examined

A lot of factors can affect engagement for a verified user’s Tweet — and they may be completely different from the things that affect Tweets coming from other user groups. As a starting point, we looked for Tweets with specific, measurable features. These are the “hard features” of Twitter:

  • photos
  • #hashtags
  • links
  • videos
  • Tweets containing a number or a digit — i.e. a sports score or an official stat

How we did it

We analyzed the content of over 2 million Tweets sent by thousands of verified users across different fields over the course of a month. We looked at the numbers of Retweets in that dataset with the specific features mentioned above, and compared that to the average numbers of Retweets for that collection of accounts during that period. In other words, the baseline we compared to was the numbers of Tweets that each user would expect to get anyway. This helps us identify which features within a Tweet have the greatest impact on average Retweets.

The results

The fact is, people don’t engage equally with every Tweet. But now we can confirm that adding video, links and photos all result in an impressive boost in the number of Retweets.

This chart shows the results of a selection of Tweet features, which vary by each industry. Because we are looking at verified accounts that typically have thousands of followers, just about every Tweet results in Retweets, but some see higher levels of retweeting.

So, the most effective Tweet features across all the verified accounts we looked at are:

  • Photos average a 35% boost in Retweets
  • Videos get a 28% boost
  • Quotes get a 19% boost in Retweets
  • Including a number receives a 17% bump in Retweets
  • Hashtags receive a 16% boost

An important note about these results is that they vary by industry; if you work in TV you may see one result, with another in sports. So we looked closely at what was different in each area within our sample. You can read more about the results below.

TV | News | Music | Government & Politics | Sports

Next steps

While this research focuses on the engagement levels of individual Tweets with specific features, it’s important to think of your tweeting holistically. It’s not just about optimizing every single Tweet, but about building a compelling way for your followers and Twitter users to connect with you. For example, we also looked at the effect on followers. This is harder to correlate: it’s likely that a number of factors determine whether or not someone follows you, as opposed to a single Tweet. So while the measures detailed above can bring immediate rewards, they are not the end of the story. It’s the difference between only reading a page or finishing the whole novel: only one will give you the complete picture.

Do you know of other innovative uses of Twitter? Contact us at [email protected]