A study came out in PLOS ONE earlier this month that looked at the factors associated with Twitter engagement, as measured by retweets, of Federal health agencies. As someone who’s worked with numerous Federal health agencies on their Twitter content, I found the study findings particularly intriguing. Looking at 130 Twitter accounts from 25 agencies, the authors collected 164,104 tweets and examined them based on a number of factors including tweet count, number of followers, use of hashtags, user-mentions (a combination of @replies and @mentions), URLS, sentiment, and topic area, among others.
The authors found that hashtags, user-mentions, and URLs are positively associated with retweets, as is follower count. Based on my experiences at Ogilvy, I find these results unsurprisingly. With roughly half of people who use Twitter using it as a news source, users expect tweets to contain links. It is easy to see that a tweet without a link would be seen as less valuable in this context. For example, for one of my clients, we found that when the Twitter account posted open-ended questions, the tweets performed more poorly than when we posted similar open-ended questions with a link. People want to retweet tweets that they think their followers will find useful. A link is a sign of usefulness.
The author also found that a higher number of tweets is associated with fewer retweets. They note:
“This suggests that an agency might consider only tweeting posts that it regards as important so as to not ‘dilute’ the public’s attention. However, this observation must be balanced against the fact that information dissemination on a topic may be an organization’s main goal and not necessarily public response.”
They raise an important point: quite often an agency may find that one of its mission areas is not consistent with what is popular among its followers. In that case, the agency must determine how to make it more popular. Because ultimately, by driving a greater number of retweets, agencies are able to distribute their message to a greater number of people, and to those outside of their core audience base – both vital to improving reach. Experimenting with how you structure the tweet, when you send it, and how often you send the message becomes so much more important when you are dealing with an unpopular topic area.
We are seeing the co-dependent relationship between reach and engagement on many social channels now. Facebook’s algorithm is making it increasingly challenging to garner organic reach — no matter how great your content is — and encouraging fans to share your posts on their wall is pretty much the only way to spur organic reach. Plus, Facebook just announced last week that it is cutting organic reach even further for certain types of posts (although this is more likely to affect brands, not health agencies). On Pinterest, a channel growing in popularity for Federal health agencies, much like on Twitter, reach is dependent on getting people to re-pin content.
The PLOS ONE study points to the importance of 1) understanding that engagement and reach are critically intertwined on social media, and 2) optimizing your content ruthlessly for channel best practices and what is popular with followers. You have to know which of your content is popular, and which isn’t. For the content that isn’t popular, agencies have to think: how necessary is the content? If it is necessary, they need to determine strategies for making it more popular so that they can drive the engagement that leads to more reach.
What have you seen on Twitter? Do the authors’ findings mesh with what you’ve experienced?