Why the retweet is a powerful engagement tool

Message in a bottle
Image by Kraftwerck via Flickr

Last week Facebook announced that it is rolling out what is, effectively, its own version of the retweet. The new ‘via’ feature allows users to repost another user’s shared items. As with the retweet, it is a way of further sharing content you find and find interesting, and of expressing your interest in the content in the first place.

The retweet, and now Facebook’s via feature, are very powerful tools in these social networks. In any online community or social network, some people are more active than others. In fact, in a natural online community we would expect that out of every 100 users, only one will originate new content. Another nine will add to or expand on this content. And 90 users will just read and learn from this content. They are unlikely to publicly create or add to a conversation themselves, but they are critical to the success of the the online community – without them, the others wouldn’t start or add to conversations.

When we’re managing online communities at FreshNetworks, we work hard to provide these 90 out of every 100 people something to do and a way to express their opinion, without having to start or add to an actual discussion. It’s about finding other ways for them to express their opinion, perhaps by rating or voting for content, organising their favourites or voting in polls. You can engage more people by offering ways for them to express their opinion without actually having to express it publicly in their own words. More often than not just finding a way for them to align themselves with others’ words is enough. Indeed it is often the best approach.

This is where the retweet, and now the via feature in Facebook, really come to the fore. They are a very simple way for all people to say “I agree with this” or “I want you to see this too” without actually having to articulate their own opinion from scratch, or start their own discussion. They provide a real utility to the bulk of users of the social media tools, allowing them to express an opinion and add to discussions and debates, even if they would not typically be the kind of person to initiate or add to a discussion themselves. They are a great tool for engaging the 90 out of every 100 users who do not want to be a primary content creator.