7 proven ways to drive engagement on Twitter (and one that’s surprisingly #FAIL)

One way of measuring success on Twitter is the level of engagement (likes, retweets, replies) that your tweets get. It certainly shouldn’t be the only measurement, but if no one is bothering to engage with your tweets, that can’t be a good thing!

It’s not hard to find an abundance of posts that purport to tell you how to get more engagement with your tweets. However, most of them are based either on pure conjecture or anecdotal experience.

At Stone Temple Consulting (an award-winning digital marketing agency) we wanted t0 know what factors are more likely to increase Twitter engagement. So we set up a research study. And we didn’t look at just a handful of tweets; we examined over 4 million tweets! (See our full study here.)

Here’s what we learned:

How to Increase Twitter Engagement

1. The higher your social authority, the more likely your tweets will get engagement

We segregated our set of 4 million tweets according to the Followerwonk Social Authority rating of the profiles that tweeted them. It turned out, probably to no one’s surprise, that the higher the authority of your profile, the more likely it is your tweets will get engagement.

Twitter Engagement Tip #1: Work hard to build up the social authority of your Twitter account. Important: Follower count is not the major contributor to account authority (although high authority accounts do tend to have larger followings). The single most important contributor to your Twitter authority is having active relationships with accounts with more authority than yours. And by “active” here, I mean that these more authoritative profiles will regularly engage with your tweets.

The best way to make that happen is by working hard at building relationships with influential Twitter users (especially those in your area of business or interest) and then becoming insanely valuable to those people.

More on how to obtain and build relationships with influencers.

2. Tweets with images more than double your chances of engagement

It’s become conventional wisdom that tweets that include images get more engagement, but even we were shocked by how powerful this was. Here’s the breakdown for both favorites (now known as “likes” on Twitter) and retweets:

Twitter Engagement Tip #2: Obviously, add images to as many of your tweets as you can! Note that Twitter (in both its desktop interface and its official smartphone apps) now allows you to search for animated GIF images to add to your tweets, which means you don’t even have to create an original image for many of your posts.

You’ll find a lot more details about how images affect Twitter engagement in our complete study. (Teaser: the image effect is actually more powerful for lower authority profiles!)

3. Tweets with images get more replies (but replies are really, really rare!)

We found that having media in your tweet will give you a 1.2 to 2.9 times better chance of getting a reply, but replies (someone directly responding to a tweet) are the hardest engagement to come by on Twitter. In our data set of over 4 million tweets, only 0.7% of them got a reply. This confirms what many of us have long suspected: Twitter is mostly a broadcast and passive-consumption channel.

Twitter Engagement Tip #3: Other Twitter users are more likely to start a conversation with your tweet if it includes media (an image or video). However, it is probable that this likelihood goes way up for those who are engaging themselves. Regularly strike up conversations with other Twitter users, especially influencers you’re targeting. Because replies are so rare, they really stand out and make an impression.

4. Longer tweets get more engagement

We found that the more characters in a tweet, the greater the chance that it would get at least one retweet or like…up to a point. The effect leveled off at around 120 characters.

I suspect this may be for two reasons.

  1. Longer tweets catch the eye and get more attention than shorter ones.
  2. Longer tweets contain more meaning, so there is more to react to.

Twitter Engagement Tip #4: Add as much meaning and context to your tweets as you can. A tweet that says, “I think point 4 of this post actually works against the author’s thesis” gives me a lot more reason to investigate and respond than, “Don’t like point 4.” Following this tip is easier than ever before, since Twitter now does not count links or images as part of the character count, giving us more characters to work with.

5. Hashtags moderately increase the likelihood of retweets and likes

Much has been made over the alleged power of hashtags on Twitter, so it surprised us in our study data when we saw how weak it was (compared to other factors noted above).

As you can see in the graph above, hashtags only increase the chances of a tweet getting a retweet or like (formerly “favorite”) by a small margin.

Twitter Engagement Tip #5: Use targeted hashtags in your tweets for more engagement. I suspect that one reason hashtagged tweets don’t boost engagement as much as tweets with media or more characters is that in too many cases the hashtags used are obscure or irrelevant. Perhaps try out a hashtag tool such as RiteTag to find the most relevant and effective tags for your tweets.

6. Links moderately increase the chances of a retweet

Having a link in a tweet increases the chances of a retweet by about 30%, but have hardly any effect on getting likes.

Twitter Engagement Tip #6: Regularly tweet links to great content relevant to your audience to get more retweets. Since Twitter is mostly a broadcast-and-consume medium, good curators of interesting content are highly valued there. Become more valuable to your audience by taking the time to find and share great content.

7. Mentions might increase the chances of getting a retweet

A “mention” on Twitter is when you post a tweet with someone else’s Twitter handle included. That person gets notified of your tweet, and the mention also serves as a link to their profile.

What you should be looking at in the graph above is not the overall curve, but the gap between the green line (tweets with no mentions included) and the orange line (tweets that include a mention). Notice the gap is wider at lower authority levels. This means that including a mention has more impact for lower authority users.

Twitter Engagement Tip #7: If you have a lower authority Twitter account and are looking to build up your authority, regularly mention other Twitter users in your tweets (but only when relevant to the tweet!), especially of influencers with whom you are trying to build a relationship.

It may be that your followers are more impressed when your tweet references an influential user, and are therefore more likely to retweet it.

The one factor that had absolutely NO effect on engagement

This was probably the single biggest “shocker” out of our study of over 4 million tweets, because it was the most counter-intuitive (and seems to contradict other studies):

Time of day that the tweet was posted had no measurable impact on engagement.

As you can see in the graph above, the aggregate likelihood of all the tweets in our study getting any engagement at all remained just under 40% no matter the time of day.

But…that doesn’t mean that the time of day has no impact on your tweets.

How can both statements be true? The first stat (the flatline of engagement across all tweets at all times of day) is a beautiful example of something I often point out about social media stats and studies: Your mileage may vary!

Why? Because you aren’t average! I don’t mean that as a compliment (although I’m sure you really are “above average”). Rather, I’m saying that an average or aggregate result hides the fact that the vast majority of individuals in the data set are either above or below the average. So their personal experience will be quite different.

So for you as an individual, time of day probably will matter, depending on things like your time zone (and the time zones where most of your audience lives), your market vertical, and when your target audience is most active on Twitter.

Twitter Engagement Bonus Tip: Never go by anyone else’s recommendations for “the best times to tweet.” Instead, experimenting on your own (by tweeting at all times of the day over several weeks and then looking at your analytics) and/or use tools that evaluate the times your tweets get the most engagement.

All the tips in this post in an infographic!

Thanks to Gill Andrews for creating this. Tweet this infographic

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