You probably missed it, but President Obama held a mini Twitter town hall yesterday. He managed to break many of the rules I’ve posted so far, squeezing too many ideas into single tweets or spreading single ideas across multiple tweets. I’ll forgive him this once for not reading my blog.
This was the first time a sitting president answered a series of questions by typing tweets. What’s remarkable for such a historic event is the low number of retweets Obama received. Over the past year, Obama has sent eight tweets through @BarackObama signed -bo, averaging 3304 retweets. This event averaged a mere 107 retweets, with his kick-off tweet accounting for 47% of that activity.
The low-key nature of this event accounts for part of it. The White House only announced Obama would be answering questions shortly beforehand, and he used the much less followed @WhiteHouse rather than his @BarackObama account. Nonetheless, Obama did manage 655 retweets for his message starting the mini town hall, followed by a severe drop-off. Since we tracked as many as 4000 mentions of the #WHChat hashtag per minute, lack of visibility can’t be the full explanation.
To state it simply, Obama’s answers just weren’t “retweetable.” Users follow a conversation by either tracking a hashtag or watching their timelines. In either case, other messages get interspersed and the central conversation can get lost. When something is retweeted, all context is completely lost. That is why each tweet must stand alone. Twitter is about placing ideas into discrete packages.
Retweets are not merely a means of gaining visibility through virality, they’re also a sign your meme is being embraced. While mentions can be positive or negative, retweets are generally an implicit sign of agreement. If people are retweeting you, then your message is resonating and people want their friends to see. For your message to be “retweetable,” make sure others can support it and want to share it all on its own. Take a look at Obama’s most shared tweet ever, racking in 59,931 retweets to date:
“Same-sex couples should be able to get married.”—President Obama
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 9, 2012
I can support that statement and want my friends to see this history in the making. It stands alone without any context or reliance on a broader discussion. It is a clean, single, succinct idea. The above tweet is perfectly retweetable. We’ll be going through dozens of tips on how to ensure your tweet goes viral, so I don’t want to give away the game quite yet. Keep in mind the following question: will my supporters retweet this? Will their followers understand what I’m saying once all context is lost, support what I’m saying, and want to share it with their friends? If the answer to any of those conditions is no, don’t expect your message to go anywhere.
Look through the conversation below, while keeping in mind that each message from -bo would be cast out on its own once retweeted. It’s no wonder the first mini Twitter townhall by a sitting president slipped under the radar.