What separates the most-retweeted from the least-retweeted? Seven characters, topical buzzwords and lots of verbs.
This is what researcher Nick Diakopoulos found when he analyzed all 5,101 @nytimes tweets from July 1 to Sept. 30. He aimed to apply some science to the question of “what textual and linguistic features of headlines tend to be associated with higher levels of retweets.”
One finding: the tweets retweeeted the most were on average seven characters shorter (75.8 vs. 82.8) than the ones retweeted the least. This seems logical, with brevity being the soul of wit and all, and also because concise tweets leave more room for retweets and additional comments.
Diakopoulos also found the Times’ most viral tweets “were more likely to use words relating to crime (e.g. ‘police’, ‘dead’, ‘arrest’), natural hazards (‘irene’, ‘hurricane’, ‘earthquake’), sports (‘soccer’, ‘sox’), or politically contentious issues (e.g. ‘marriage’ likely referring to the legalization of gay marriage in NY).”
A greater use of verbs — and fewer adverbs, qualifiers and articles – also correlated with a higher rate of retweeting. These also happen to be rules of good headline writing: “Man bites dog” rather than “A man surprisingly bit a dog.”
His research also found that the 5 percent of @nytimes tweets without links were retweeted more, on average, than the 94 percent with links. But that finding is complicated by the fact that most of the Times’ linkless tweets are breaking news alerts. They are likely retweeted the most because they share the biggest and most urgent news, regardless of whether they contain links.
Related: In another analysis, Dan Zarella suggests that posting to social networks in off-peak hours leads to higher engagement. Ethan Klapper explains why you should avoid tweeting on the quarter hours.