Tuesday, November 08, 2011

10 non-endorsement ways to use retweets on Twitter

One strong and common phenomenon on any social network is the warning backlash, the move by some users to caution others that a simple sharing activity might be dangerous. I see these warnings as a pre-emptive maneuver by organizations and individuals who don't want to experiment: By calling a function on a social network dangerous, they're making it okay to avoid it entirely. Trouble is, those warnings stick with some users and organizations, and keep them from innovating--or just trying--new options that might help them communicate and get work done online.

Retweeting, the act of sharing someone else's tweet on Twitter, has long been the target of warnings. "Retweets are not an endorsement" say many user profiles, particularly those of journalists and researchers or experts. Since Twitter famously comes without operating instructions and it's up to the crowd to define and decide what works, who said retweets automatically are considered endorsements? Last week, the Associated Press did, that's who. It's just the most recent example. In its updated social media guidelines for its staffers, AP says:
Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you're expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day. A retweet with no comment of your own can easily be seen as a sign of approval of what you're relaying...However, we can judiciously retweet opinionated material if we make clear we're simply reporting it, much as we would quote it in a story. Colons and quote marks help make the distinction...
That wording is telling. AP has decided it wants to control the impossible--what readers think about what it's sharing. It's as if Picasso decided he wouldn't do cubist paintings because his viewers might think people had square heads--no creator of content can control what the person consuming it thinks. (Punctuation won't help, either.) More importantly, however, I think organizations, news or otherwise, that shy away from RTs are missing out on the many potential uses to which this tool can be put. Here are just 10 ways you or your company or organization might put a retweet to good use:
  1. To show what you're following, be it news, issues, opinions or gossip.
  2. To start a discussion and gauge reactions. Call it fishing, call it firecracker-tossing, it's a way to toss something out and see what folks think.
  3. To tip off followers you know might be interested in a topic: For journos, that might mean your sources, who then might share something with you, prompted by the RT. For the rest of us, it's just collaboration and sharing.
  4. To add layers to an ongoing discussion: If there's a story in play and your retweet can share and add a new dimension, it can take that discussion further--or in a new direction.
  5. To pass on what others are saying, new or otherwise: Maybe the most common RT, it's what makes Twitter such an effective broadcast medium.
  6. To show what you know: One way to establish expertise and gain followers is to demonstrate what you know. Passing along relevant, interesting or funny items can, over time, help other users figure out your areas of expertise.
  7. To add perspective: An edited RT can let you tell folks something's an excellent read, sure. But editing and RTing also can add a point, let your users know your connection to this news, correct a misstatement, pose a related question and much more.
  8. To zero in on part of a tweet by someone else: Your interest may be tangential, but you may want to highlight one aspect of another user's tweet.
  9. To seek confirmation: You've seen a report and want your circles to help verify it, so you retweet, perhaps with a question.
  10. To publicly congratulate a colleague or friend, or pass along their work: We can't do enough of that, can we? And if you think that's an endorsement, I see journalists doing it every single day...
And that's just 10 options...I'm sure you have more to share, so please do that in the comments.

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