Twitter's New Retweet Feature: Yay or Fail? (Please RT)

August 17, 2016

Retweet week trending topics

It's finally Friday, folks, and this week's roundup is all about IMAGE SWIRL!

Just kidding. Who cares about Image Swirl? This week's roundup is all about the retweet. Twitter has completed the rollout of its new formalized retweet feature. I want to say that I haven't seen so many people tweeting about the same thing since Michael Jackson died, but the trending topics indicate otherwise. I guess it's just my dweeby search marketing list.

As Ruud Hein pointed out, it's kind of funny to watch the search results for "retweet." (As long as we're complaining about Twitter, can I just add that this is irritating: because the link in Ruud's tweet was broken in TweetDeck, I arrived at the search page for people instead, then had to navigate back to my home page, where it took me upwards of five seconds, as it always does, to find the regular search box. Why is the search box not more prominent when you're signed in? It makes no sense.)

Anyway, it's amusing that most civilians haven't read the coverage leading up to the launch of the new feature, so we get lots of tweets like this:

No comments on retweets

New retweet is bollocks

No editing on new retweets

In other words, shock and dismay. People are like, Who's in the what? You can't add flavor to retweets anymore?!

Us search geeks knew this was coming, but we don't like it any more than the regular humans. And the inability to add a comment to an RT isn't the only thing stuck in our collective craw.

In a post called "Why Twitter’s New Retweet Feature Sucks," Lisa Barone carefully weighs the pros and cons and comes to the conclusion that the new retweet feature sucks. I mean, she really hates it. She seems to be most appalled not by the no-comments-allowed thing but by the fact that the new feature "puts strangers in your stream." Strangers who may be "muggers, thieves and puppy killers." My question is, why does Lisa follow so many people who retweet puppy killers? #Justaskin

Ultimately it's hard to contest the point, since self-professed "geek icon" Wil Wheaton agrees:

Wil Wheaton agrees the new retweet sucks

Andrew Mueller delineates the various ways people have used DIY retweets, or how retweets have operated as a "cultural convention" as he puts it, including but not limited to:

  • To spread a tweet to a new audience
  • To entertain an audience
  • To comment on a tweet
  • To publicly agree with someone
  • To save a tweet for future reference

The new feature, on the other hand, really only allows you to spread and share a tweet. Because you can't comment on it, approval or agreement is implied. Or, as Lisa puts it, "Now when you retweet something, you’re ‘liking it’ the way you do on Facebook. You’re not creating something new and of value, you’re simply attaching your meta data to something that already exists. It’s no longer a separate tweet." In other words, part of the value—the self-serving part, the part where you add something and get credit and look good—is lost. You're just fluffing someone else's feathers—but even then, only kind of:

people can't see your retweets

And what if, like most "power users" of Twitter, you use a client like TweetDeck or Seesmic rather than the web interface?

Retweets only show on Twitter web interface

It's clear that Twitter didn't design the new feature with users in mind—it's nothing like the retweet that arose organically among active users. As both Lisa and Andrew note, it seems obvious that the retweet feature is constructed to provide valuable metrics to Twitter's search engine partners, Google and Bing. How are search engines supposed to measure the authority of users and tweets? Number of followers alone isn't enough. The formalized RT process will allow some tweets to rack up authority and "tweet equity." Lists, of course, are another signal that could prove useful for search. Not just how many lists you appear on, but how many lists the people who list you appear on, and how authoritative their tweets are, and so on. Likewise, a retweet from someone who gets retweeted a lot (like, I don't know, a Kardashian) is more valuable than a retweet from a plebe.

This plan will only work, of course, if people use the new retweet button instead of sticking to the old method. Here's Mueller on why the feature didn't get a differentiating name, like "Relay":

Twitter likely wants to convert as many people as possible to using the new Retweet feature so they can deliver more value to their search partners.  Thus by calling the new Twitter feature “Retweet” they attempt to gain mindshare over the old cultural convention the community calls “Retweet” in hopes that the latter will fall into disuse.

Sound like a conspiracy? Then it probably is:

Retweet conspiracy

Clearly Twitter has joined TechCrunch and Google at the evil mastermind table in the caf.

(Read More: The Best Tweets Ever: Including Most Retweeted, Record-Breaking Tweets of All Time)

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Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Director of Content and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.

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