If social media has served any profound purpose, it’s been to reveal just how phenomenally selfish we are, and how manipulative we can become in our quest to be the centre of attention.
If we’re not publicly screwing over our best friend and flushing our own dignity down the toilet in the hope of a single Like from a low-end celeb who doubtless hates our grovelling, servile guts, we’re trying to use other people’s traumas as a means to put ourselves in the spotlight. If, by the end of a social media thread, we haven’t placed ourselves right at the epicentre of the issue at hand, we’ve failed. And it just wouldn’t be a poverty thread if an affluent influencer didn’t wade in with a ‘quote-tweet’, claming to have had a desperately frugal childhood.
Just like real life, social media is all about status, and on Twitter, status was traditionally measured by a user’s Followers total. However, it’s become increasingly well recognised that the Twitter Followers total is close to meaningless as a yardstick of status or influence. Using follow-management apps, it’s easy to churn up a Followers total of 100,000 or more, virtually none of whom will ever pay the remotest bit of attention.
So the preferred indicator of influence is now engagement. How many Likes, Retweets and Replies each tweet gets. If you have 200K Twitter Followers, but your tweets get just one or two Likes each, you ain’t no influencer.
Retweets are a particularly important element of Twitter engagement, since not only are they an engagement measure in themselves – they’re also a means to attract a lot more engagement. Retweets can get you more Retweets, more Likes, more Replies, and if they get you new Followers, those Followers are likely to be highly engaged, long-term readers of your tweets. Most unlike the type of follower you get from playing the follow-for-follow game on churn apps. If engagement is currency on Twitter (and in my view it is), then Retweets are the actual mint.
But what if you’re not getting retweets? Well, you can take some of Twitter’s advice, like adding more media to your tweets for greater impact, and posting regularly to maintain followers’ attention. Or you can just, like, ask for retweets. Welcome to the world of retweet-begging…
DOES RETWEET-BEGGING ACTUALLY WORK?
Retweet-begging does, at cursory glance, appear effective. In surveys, tweets that directly ask for an RT have been shown to attract multiple times more retweets than those that don’t. But this is not as simple as it sounds. Often, the people who repeatedly ask for RTs use manipulative ploys to gain them, so it’s not just the fact that they asked.
Getting the ploy to work usually centres around making the retweeter look intelligent, caring, good or knowledgeable. The originator of the tweet doesn’t just ask for an RT – they build in a social or egotistical pressure. For example…
“Retweet if you agree with [this thing that only a total piece of scum would disagree with].”
“Retweet if you know the answer to [this question that only an idiot would be unable to answer].”
But just as there will always be those who think: if I don’t RT that I won’t look cool, caring or knowledgeable, there will also be those who are put off by retweet-begging. If you perceive your audience to be considerably intelligent, blunt retweet-begging is probably a bad move. As soon as someone spots that you’re trying to use them to further your Interests, they’re not going to be at all impressed.
Additionally, the practice of retweet-begging can quickly become a crutch, and thus get more and more repetitive – becoming easily identifiable as a form of spam. Perhaps the worst element of all is that retweet-beggars don’t get to see who, or how many people, they’re alienating. It’s a false economy for a business to be attracting people who won’t spend, if it’s alienating those who will. There’s definitely a link between retweet-begging and low-integrity businesses or traders. Certainly so-called ‘e-marketers’ or ‘digital marketers’. And a lot of scammers use retweet-begging strategies too. It’s not what one would call a reputable area.
So that’s the bad. Let’s head into progressively more ugly territory, as we look at some other manipulative retweet-begging strategies…
Fan-clubbing is a practice in which the retweet-beggar issues obsequious tweets mentioning and relating to a celeb or influencer. Lower tier (or mildly desperate, or has-been) celebs are often chosen, because they’re more likely than a major name to actually read the tweet, and they’re generally a lot more susceptible to ego-baiting. Whilst it’s important that the @mentioned celeb retweets, the real aim is to get their fans and approval-seekers to retweet. Attention paid to the celeb’s business interests usually pays dividends too. Here’s an example of the format…
“If you haven’t bought the new book by @NameOfMinorCeleb, you’re missing one of the best releases of the year! Retweet if you agree it’s a fantastic read.”
This attempts to secure the vital celeb-retweet through ego-baiting and commercial enticement, but if the celeb does retweet, the fanbase will be very heavily motivated to retweet too. The fans want to be seen by the celeb as supportive and helpful, and some are absolutely desperate for the celeb’s approval. Some will feel they have no choice but to retweet.
This is a system in which Twitter User A begs for retweets supposedly on behalf of Twitter User B. But since the begging tweet originates from Twitter User A, the retweets and benefits go to them. Like…
“Hey everyone. Here’s my screenshot of a poem by @SomeStrugglingPoet. Hit RT and let’s get her some retweets!”
No dude. That’s getting YOU retweets. If you wanna get her retweets, retweet her, or post a link to her actual poetry page.
Some RT-beggars using this ploy will even lever in links to their own web pages. Some minor celebs will still retweet them. But the RT-beggar also runs a high risk of being publicly challenged by someone with a lot more social clout, reach, support and virality than themselves. Minor celebs and influencers can sometimes become livid if they think someone is trying to leech off their hard-earned profile. That could prove a PR disaster for the RT-beggar, although retweet-beggars are normally spectacularly thick-skinned.
The beg-by-proxy technique also spills over into more emotive areas…
This is the most difficult area of retweet-begging to criticise. An e-marketer or self-styled ‘influencer’ finds noble causes, and then asks for retweets on the pretext of ‘raising awareness’. It’s all very transient. This week it might be depression, then next week it’s under-nourished hedgehogs, and the week after that it’s their own book on renovating a villa.
Because the issues are so emotive and obviously deserving of sympathy, no one would dare call out the retweet-beggar, and a lot of people may retweet. Here’s an example of the type of thing such an e-marketer might tweet…
“Christmas is a wonderful time for most of us. But it’s a period with very high suicide rates due to depression. Please retweet to raise awareness of this tragic situation and show your support for those who are going through difficulties at this time.”
Difficult to be critical, isn’t it? It sounds so caring. But the reality is that there are better ways to help depressed people, even within the boundaries of Twitter. Retweeting a mental health charity or organisation would seem a much more productive and effective way to help tackle depression than trying to net a pile of RTs for yourself. And when everyone’s trying to position themselves at the centre of the status boost, things can become very slow and fragmented…
“We must help under-privileged children. Please RT.”
“Yes, but let’s do it on MY profile. Please RT.”
“No, I won’t RT either of you. *I* should be the focal point of this issue. Everyone please RT ME!”
“Whoa! Wait! These people are disgusting, prioritising their own, petty self-interest above the needs of under-privileged kids… RT MY tweet if you agree.”
Whilst people obviously won’t say most of those words in practice, we do tend to see a passive-aggressive manifestation of the above. It’s common behaviour on Twitter.
There are many, many genuine cause-campaigners on the platform, and I want to draw a very clear distinction between their laudable, well-researched and often tireless efforts to help people and animals; and the crass, transient, cursory, DGAF cause-hijacking we see from certain e-marketers and self-styled ‘influencers’. The cause-hijacking mentality can get particularly ugly after a major disaster, with marketers even hijacking important disaster hashtags to promote their own, unrelated crap.
You can say that the greed of the general public is to blame, but the prolifery of Twitter profiles which bait retweets with promises of money or goods has continued to boom. The most commonly recognised incarnation is probably “RT to win an iPhone!”, but trends have evolved, and direct offers of cash payments have now become very common. A lot of the men offering “free cash” for retweets specifically target women. People have made businesses out of these ruses, and their accounts can attract hundreds of thousands of followers.
Retweet-begging is not necessarily an indication of ulterior motive, but it usually is. Retweets are currency, and that means when you retweet a Twitter user, you’re increasing their status. If the user is asking for retweets on behalf of another Twitter user, and you feel THAT person, charity or group deserves an accolade or more reach, retweet THEM.
There’s something almost farcical about 2K of people retweeting a millionaire evangelist to show support for the poor, or 2K of people retweeting a man to show support for women, or even 2K of people retweeting a nostalgia bot to validate the fact that their memory still works. Find the people who deserve retweets, and retweet them on merit. Not because people tell you to.