A new day, a new thing

My goal to learn something new every day

Day 9: Have I been doing Retweets wrong?

I’ve been on Twitter since 2009 (although that was through a different account to begin with), and I like to think in that time that I’ve gotten the hang of it. I know, for example, what a hashtag is, how to interact with others, not to start a tweet with someone’s username or else it won’t get seen, and so on. But the other day, I was sitting watching my Twitter feed go by, when someone retweeted the following:

I didn’t think much of it until I had a little spare time today. The tweet itself is almost 2 years old, but it was my first time to see it (not surprising since it’s only had 66 retweets). The thing that first struck me (after the greengrocer’s apostrophe of course) was number 4 on the list: ‘manual RT’s [sic]’. According to @canadasandra (who it turns out retweets a lot!), manually retweeting is worse than not retweeting or favoriting at all! Um… really?

For those not in the know, a manual retweet is when you stick the letters ‘RT’ in front of someone else’s tweet text and tweet it out from your own account. There are a couple of ways to do this, you can just copy and paste the text from another person’s tweet, but I guess the most common way is through third-party apps, such as Tweetdeck or the Android Twitter app. Both of these give you the option to ‘quote’ or edit a tweet, and automatically add ‘RT’ before the text (Twitter’s web version does not give you the quote option).

A little bit of history on retweets

When Twitter first started back in 2006, there was no such thing as a retweet. It’s something that Twitter’s users came up with all by themselves. At the time, the only way to retweet someone was to manually retweet. When I first joined Twitter that was the case, and was in fact part of the reason that I found Twitter so confusing initially and never really got involved until much later on. Late in 2009 though, Twitter introduced the automatic retweet feature: a button that allows you to instantly retweet another user’s tweet. The difference with automatic retweets is that rather than your name and image appearing next to the tweet, your followers see the original tweeter’s name and image.


But back to @canadasandra’s tweet.  I was quite surprised to see her opinion that manually retweeting was worse than not retweeting at all, and only just better than stealing tweets. Afterall, ‘RT’ is my most commonly tweeted term, as this wordle from Day 4: Searching Twitter shows:

My tweet terms in a wordle. The bigger the word, the more often I've used it in tweets.

My tweet terms in a wordle. The bigger the word, the more often I’ve used it in tweets.

But, I thought to myself, perhaps this is just one person’s opinion. I was wrong, as a quick search of Google reveals:

Manual RTs search 547

Out of the top ten Google search results, four of them refer explicitly to the negative aspects of manual retweets in the title. A further three of the search results refer to the negative aspects in the post itself. Only one of the links talks about manual retweets being a positive thing, and preferring manual retweets to automatic ones.

What’s the problem with manual retweets?

According to the articles that I have read today, there are a couple of issues with manually retweeting. First, it can make it look like you are taking someone else’s idea and claiming it for your own, even if you include the original tweeter’s username in your tweet. Kind of makes sense because, afterall, it’s your photo that appears next to the tweet.

Related to the first point, if you manually RT, and then someone else retweets your RT, you get the ‘credit’ and not the original tweeter. Twitter will usually tell you that someone has tweeted a tweet that you were mentioned in, but does that ever really feel the same?

Another point brought up by the articles is that it could deprive a user of getting more followers.

The BuzzFeed post says this:

The ire comes from two places. Firstly, a manual retweet in a way claims someone else’s tweet as your own — sort of a Twitter version of putting your watermark logo on someone else’s photo. Secondly, a manual RT robs the original tweeter of potential retweets and favorites. By manually RTing, you’re bogarting the favs, man.

The wikiHow page, which is genreally less biased has this to say:

Be aware that manually retweeting content without adding comment is viewed as poor Twitter etiquette in many circles, as it appears as though you are taking credit for the tweet, while also denying the original tweeter the possibility of gaining more retweets.

And theshake.com.au sums up with this:

[F]or the most part, the polite thing to do is to use the native retweet option so the author of the tweet gets full attribution and you are not stealing their thunder. Or their favourites. Or their retweets. And you are not slapping your name all over something not written by you.

The only article from the top ten Google search results that promotes manual RTs is this one from HubSpot.

Twitters own guidelines, which appear in the top ten search results above, don’t necessarily say that manual retweets are a bad thing, but do say this:

How to Retweet and add your own comments (RT):

  1. Copy the content of the Tweet you’d like to share. (Note: this only works if the Tweet is much shorter than 140 characters. We recommend using the official Retweet button.)
  2. Open a new Tweet box and paste the content into the message.
  3. Add the letters RT and the Tweet author’s @username to show that it’s a Retweet and isn’t your own content.
  4. Add your comment at the beginning of the message, as shown below. 
  5. Click Tweet to post the message to your followers.

Notice step 4 (highlighting my own). From Twitter’s own guidelines then it appears that their intention is for you to use a manual RT only when you want to add a comment to the original tweet.

What do I do?

I’ve already described how I use Twitter over on my other blog. I mention RTs in that post, but not manual retweets specifically.

Looking back over the last couple of months, I have used manual RTs 24 times since the beginning of November. With the exception of one, all of those RTs have inlcuded links. Sometimes links to news websites (from tweets sent out by news agencies), sometimes links to blogs, usually from the blog writers themselves, or sometimes just an interesting link that someone has posted. Why did I use a manual RT and not an automatic one? Well, my rationale was that by adding RT to the front, more people would see it. An automatic retweet, you see, doesn’t show up in someone’s feed if they follow the original tweeter (unless the RT comes some time after the original). So, I wanted more people to see the link/tweet/message and opted for a manual RT. In trying to assist my friends on Twitter, have I done them a disservice by depriving them of the chance to take more credit and/or gain more followers? Maybe. Where I have manually retweeted a link to a user’s own blog, would it have been better for me to tweet a link directly from their blog instead (is there a difference?)

My apologies go out to anyone who I have manually retweeted who feels hard done-by, my intentions were genuine!

In summary, what did I learn today? (1) My Twitter etiquette when it comes to retweeting may have been poor. (2) There are legions of people out there who believe that manual retweeting without adding your own comment is wrong.

I’d love to hear everyone else’s opinion on the manual RT issue.

Featured retweet image courtesy of iconfinder.com under a Creative Commons License

6 comments on “Day 9: Have I been doing Retweets wrong?

  1. This is very interesting – thank you for sharing!

    Two situations in which it makes sense to do a manual RT (apart from adding a comment) are when adding personalised hashtags and when adding some other handles to draw specific people’s attention to the tweet.

    What really gets me (and I don’t get at all) is when people retweet with just inverted commas, no ‘RT’ even!


    • David Harbinson
      January 10, 2015

      Thanks Florentina. I agree that the two situations you outline are definitely valid reasons for manual retweeting. And I know what you mean about the inverted commas but no RT. I wonder whether it’s a different app that’s doing it that way, or perhaps people are running over the character limit so omitting the RT? I think the RT should be more important than the inverted commas though.


  2. Hana Tichá
    January 10, 2015

    Wow! Really interesting. I have a question: I’ve already heard about the issue of not starting a tweet with someone’s username or else it won’t get seen – I think I actually read the post you shared some time ago – but I still don’t get it. It won’t get seen by whom exactly? The thing is that I can see other people’s tweets that start with someone’s username. What am I missing here?


    • David Harbinson
      January 10, 2015

      Hi Hana. When you start a tweet with someone’s username, only the mutual followers see the tweet in their feed. So if I tweet you starting with your username, the tweet will only show up to people who follow both you AND me. But if I were to tweet, say someone in my family, you wouldn’t see that in your feed because you don’t follow them. Every time you see a tweet that starts with someone’s username, it means that you must follow the sender and receiver. You can of course see all tweets if you go to a users Twitter profile.

      I think that the main reason for doing so is that when people get into a dialogue on Twitter, it doesn’t start clogging up all of their followers’ feeds.

      I guess that in the ELT community, we all have so many mutual followers, which is why it’s so common for us to see tweets that start with a username.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Helen
    January 24, 2015

    Interesting! I use Twitter on my Android tablet which only gives me the option of replying, quoting (those inverted commas) or retweeting (without RT). I tend to quote when I want to add a comment or hashtag, but retweet directly most of the time. I feel I retweet too much and it’s a bit impersonal, if that makes sense, but I tend to tweet between trams and trains so I go for the most efficient option!
    I am really enjoying this blog, by the way!


    • David Harbinson
      January 24, 2015

      Hi Helen, thanks for the comment. I’ve consciously started retweeting automatically a bit more since I found it about the etiquette, but I know what you mean about it feeling a bit impersonal at times. I don’t think that retweeting too much is such a bad thing though. Afterall, depending on the time of day, tweets can quite quickly get hidden when your Twitter feed is moving by at a pace. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog, it’s definitely helping me to keep my eyes open more often.


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This entry was posted on January 9, 2015 by in Tech and tagged , , , .


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