Twitter Retweet Function — Does the Length of Your Username Still Matter?

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New Twitter Retweet Function — Does the Length of Your Username Still Matter?

In times of yore, like last month, having a long username was a liability for getting "retweeted" because your Twitter nickname counted toward the character count in the retweet (which sounds like something Elmer Fudd would say to the troops do if being overrun by superior forces: Retweet! Retweet!). Twitter has recently added new functionality that makes the length of the username irrelevant, but I’m somewhat sorry they did. I think that this is a case where the cure is worse than the disease.

Under the new system, if I retweet something, it appears to my followers as if they’re suddently following that person. In my profile picture appearing in their stream, but the person I retweeted appearing out of nowhere in their stream. This is in theory good for the the person who wrote the original post, but not necessarily.

  • From the end reader perspective. I find this confusing. Suddenly people I don’t know are appearing in my stream. Maybe I’m just not used to it, but I don’t particularly like that. On the plus side, I have instant one-click access to the original author’s information.
  • From the retweeter’s perspective. I lose my identity. I may want to share something, but I may want my followers to know that it’s from me. On the plus side, I don’t have to edit a post down to fit into the 140-char limit.
  • From the original author’s perspective. You might think there’s no downside here. Suddenly, there you are with your picture and everything in the stream of everyone who follows your beloved retweeter. The downside here is that you’ve mostly lost the benefits of social proof and the value of a retweet as a personal recommendation.

The last point bears some further comment. Let’s say I’m an author hoping to reach potential readers of my forthcoming book via Twitter (see Twitter for writers). I’m now injected picture and all into the user’s stream, which has to be better, right?

The problem is that the challenge is not in being available to the largest number of people, but in actually finding a way to cut through the noise. I delete at least half of my non-spam emails unopened and read at best 20% of what appears in my Twitter stream. And I follow very few people. I think the numbers are worse with someone who follows 200 or 2000 people. I tend to skim for the people I really want to read. More and more, Twitter applications let me filter into user lists, topic lists, and all sorts of things. So though I will always read something if it has @simplytheresa‘s smiling face, on most days, I skip most people in my stream unless I’m in a serious procrastination mode. And to be clear, I’m not skipping people I actively dislike, because obviously I’m not following those people. I’m skipping anyone that I don’t really really really want to read, some days anyone who isn’t my wife. In other words, when
I’m skimming, it’s a whitelist algorithm, not a blacklist. I’m looking for people I actively want to read. If I’m not looking for you, you don’t get read. So if you someone retweets you with the native Twitter function, that means you. I don’t know you and I won’t read you.

It’s not clear what’s going to happen with the native Twitter. Most people use some third-party application to tweet from and that functionality is not included in most of them yet, though I suspect it will be soon. And then the next question is whether or not it will be widely adopted. I suspect it will.

So that leads to the important question: how can you get people to retweet old-style? In short, there’s not much you can do to positively encourage it. The best you can do is remove obstacles. Above all, that means making sure that your message stands on it’s own and doesn’t need editing to be retweeted.

Again, consider an author who wants to get the word out about his book, in part using Twitter. So if you’re giving a book reading, for example, that you announce on Twitter, you want your fans to be able to pass that on to their friends, which they will usually do with a "retweet". The old and still standard format is to take your message and copy it into their message and add "RT @yourname[space]".

Thankfully for Robert Louis Stevenson, he wasn’t trying to sell books in the Twitter era. By the time he leaves enough space for retweeting, he’s used up 25 characters, 18% of his total allotement. So he can’t tweet this 140 character message

I’m giving 2 Bay Area readings from Kidnapped this month – Dec 12 @ 7pm @ Book Passages in Corte Madera, Dec 14 @ 8:30pm @ Moe’s in Berkeley

Because it would become

RT @RobertLouisStevenson I’m giving 2 Bay Area readings from Kidnapped this month – Dec 12 @ 7pm @ Book Passages in Corte Madera, Dec 14 @ 8

Homer, on the other hand, would have it made.

RT @Homer I’m giving 2 Bay Area readings from Iliad this month – Dec 12, 7pm @ Book Passages, Corte Madera; Dec 14, 8pm at Moe’s in Berkeley

If at all possible, Robert Louis Stevenson would have wanted to get on Twitter day one to reserve RLS or at least RLStevenson. Regardless of the name, when composing a tweet that he wants retweeted, RLS would want to know his retweetable character count. The easy way to do this is to simply compose the post as a retweet, and then lop of the RT @RobertLouisStevenson part. Beyond that, people will do what they do and it remains to be seen whether the new interface features will overcome established practice. As I say, I suspect they will, and you’ll just have to live with it.

What do you think of the new Twitter Retweet function? Add a comment with your thumbs up or thumbs down.

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