Twitter study: Hashtags and URLs can double engagement

Twitter’s research into how journalists can best grow their followings uses data to confirm what you’ve probably been told at a dozen social media seminars: Be a firehose of information about your beat, use hashtags and @ mentions as much as you can, and share what you’re reading.

Twitter will announce the findings, which follow a six-month study of 150 journalists and news organizations, at the Online News Association’s conference in San Francisco Thursday. The company’s Mark Luckie and Erica Anderson briefed us via phone beforehand.

One surprising finding, Anderson said, was that accounts using old-style retweets grew followers more slowly than those who retweet using Twitter’s built-in button. She cited BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray as a particularly adept user of this feature.

Here’s a little more detail on the study’s recommendations.

“Tweet Your Beat”

Be a source of info for people who follow what you cover — sounds obvious, right? But posting a “concentrated number of tweets in a short time span,” what Luckie calls “tweet burstiness”  — live tweeting an event, for instance — can increase your engagement 50 percent more than your expected baseline. Sara Ganim’s Twitter feed during the Jerry Sandusky trial is a great example of this, Anderson said.

Use hashtags

Those can double engagement for individuals, the study found, pumping their tweets into a conversation that might be taking place outside your immediate circles. Fox News and The Washington Post do this well, they said.

Cite sources

Mentioning people you’re citing by Twitter handle can help in the same way. “Brands that tweet 20% fewer URLs and 100% more @mentions grow followers 17% more than expected,” Luckie says in his presentation.

He cites this Guardian tweet as a good example:

Share what you’re reading

“Individuals receive 100% more (2x) active engagement (on good tweets) when a URL is included,” Luckie’s presentation says. It’s especially important to link outside your news organization’s content. “When individuals share URLs to non-company sources, they experience a bump in follows.”

Retweeting helps, too. People with larger than expected Twitter followings sent three times as many retweets as people with smaller than expected followings.

On our call, Luckie encouraged journotweeters to “really sort of be what journalists are, which is a repository of the best news.”

Related training: Erica Anderson on advanced Twitter for journalists

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  • Page Grossman

    I think that the recommendations in this article are very helpful for journalists trying to communicate more with their audience. But I also see how the real obligation of journalists, providing news to their public, can get lost in the idea of increasing their following. I’m glad that this article ends with the simplest and best way to view journalists, as “a repository of the best news.” Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    @scottishwildcat:disqus your concerns are very valid! I do believe, however, that there are journalists who use Twitter in an appropriate manner that increases the quality of their journalism. There are always going to be people who abuse the tools given to them, but there are always going to be others who make journalism more relevant because of the tools.

  • Praverb

    I love the idea of tweeting your beat. The utilization of hashtags for live tweeting is awesome…thank you for this informative article.

  • numpty

    Depressing direction that Twitter continues to take… it’s never been about growing your following, or who can break a story quickest. The more they worry about either of those things, the closer Twitter comes to implosion.

  • Charles Apple

    Hey, thanks for the tip regarding the Classic RT plug in. I’ve been needing something like that for ages. Very handy!