How researchers get heard

The Repeat Tweet Test

Most people will tell you they hate repeat tweeting: organizations or individuals who repeat the same tweets for days or even weeks. What kind of egomaniac would retweet something 20 or 30 times? And expect the rest of us to keep following them?

It turns out that we do keep following them, and engaging with them. And our reflex to judge repeat tweeting by the standards of normal interaction — as if it’s a person who came up to us for a month of days and said the exact same lines every time — might say something important about how we judge what to do and not do in promoting research expertise.

We might call this “the repeat tweet test.” Are you/is your organization willing to repeat tweets, because the data says that’s very effective? Or will you fall back on some general reason why it can’t possibly fit or work for you or your organization?

Physicist Andrew Maynard (who also directs the Arizona State University Risk Innovation Lab) was curious about, as he put it in a recent Medium post, “how many times can you post the same tweet — and get away with it?” His curiosity was piqued by a tweet from MIT Technology Review promoting a 1959 essay by Issac Asimov on creativity:

The tweet had appeared daily in MIT Technology Review’s feed daily for two months — exactly the same tweet, 2-4 times a day, reports Maynard.

He then looked at likes and RTs of the tweet — and, as he writes: “What I discovered surprised me. It also gave me a grudging respect for Technology Review’s Twitter strategy”:

Here’s Maynard’s analysis:

If there’s one overriding message here, it’s that aggressively reposting the same tweet over long periods actually works — no matter how irritating it is to your followers. In his case, posting the same tweet 2–3 times a day for 2 months is still drawing considerable attention to the original article, and has massively amplified the impact that just one or two postings would have led to.

Incredibly, even though this has been going on for two months, there are still people that follow MIT Technology Review on Twitter that are compelled to like or retweet it!

I asked Maynard through a Medium comment if he thought this would work for an individual researcher’s account, and it turned out he had already tried it with his own, @2020science. “I was curious about this as well,” he wrote back, “and so I tried posting the same tweet for a week. I got nearly twice as many impressions and engagements on the last day compared to the first — definitely paid off retweeting repeatedly!”

Yes, Twitter changed its rules last year to prohibit posting the same tweet multiple times about trending topics from one account. Obviously, Isaac Asimov on creativity is the opposite of “trending.”

More to the point: MIT Technology Review is a major publication with more than 1 million followers. If repeat tweeting prompted follower attrition, they’d notice and stop the practice.

But it works. Because Twitter is a stream that most people dip into, not a bar that most people hang out all weekend at. (Most people, I said.)

And now that you know that, will you try it with your organization’s account? Or on your own?

I hear your hesitation. And I’ve heard all the reasons for it. My CEO/CMO/director would never go for it. It feels spammy. Our audience is different. It would turn off the people I’m having conversations with. Etc.

There are huge capacity disparities between big and small organizations. But much of the time, the disparity in turning research expertise into authority isn’t about capacity. It’s about experimentation, boldness and the feedback of data versus fear, conservatism and founder’s syndrome. You have to be able to flip the switch from seeing techniques like repeat tweeting as a risk to seeing not doing them as the risk.

Somebody started repeat tweeting, after all — and found it worked, well before Maynard did his quick and dirty analysis. It just wasn’t you or I.