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The 5 Surprising Factors Behind the Most Shared Tweets (and How to Use Them)

Would you like to know what goes into creating the most popular and successful tweet? And would you like to know how to use that information to write your very own tweets so they get shared a lot?

Well, now you can.

Researchers from a new study called “The Pulse of News in Social Media: Forecasting Popularity” say that they can predict 84% of the time what tweet will be the most popular. This was after comparing over 40,000 tweets and narrowing down the factors of the top winners.

There are four factors in all: source of the tweet, news category of the tweet, subjectivity of the tweet language and how popular the name is in the tweet.

Let’s look at the four factors so I can help you create your very own popular tweets—and then I’ll introduce you into a fifth factor that will make your tweets even better.

Here we go.

Factor #1: The authority that posts article

The first big find by the researchers is who posts the tweet. You and I are not going to have as much impact on a tweet as Wired or Mashable would—even if we posted the same tweet.

wired tweet

What does this tell us? That trust and credibility are huge when it comes to tweets. So how do you inject trust and credibility into your tweets?

There are three ways you can do this:

  • Create trust with your audience – Share good online content consistently. Reply and comment to other tweets. Re-tweet great content, too.
  • Create a recognizable brand – New York Times is a great brand. Everyone recognizes who they are, and so when they share something you hardly have to think twice about sharing it.
  • Build authority – Focus on a single niche you want to dominate—and then master it. Become the best that you can. Social media experts like Jay Baer and Chris Brogan have been insanely focused, and they are easily recognized as authorities in their field. The same is true for Brian Clark with Copyblogger.

What if you don’t have as high a Twitter profile as say a Brian Clark or Chris Brogan? Here are some strategies to use:

  • Write for the source – It’s not easy, but approach these sources and ask if you can write a guest post for them. The worse that can happen is they can ignore your email. But if you are persistent enough and good enough, you just might do it. These places are always looking for content, so it is worth a shot.
  • Get them to write about you – Do or write something that is worth a tweet. Then get their attention by emailing or tweeting them. You have to be able to promote yourself in order to get attention.

Granted, it’s not impossible to build a great brand, but it does take time. There really are no shortcuts, so if you haven’t already, now is a great time to start!

Factor #2: What news category the tweet is in

In the news category, “technology” was the most tweetable:

twitter density

After that you get “Health” and “Fun Stuff.”

This means you should pick your audience wisely. It’s natural to think that people who tweet technology probably also love technology. In other words, the audience is primed for that tweet.

But most of us usually build a Twitter account with several interests. This means you may be tweeting to a general audience. Instead, target your tweets. Here’s how to do that:

  • Format your tweet like this: At the start of your tweet, type this: “@twitterhandle/listname.” The @twitterhandle is the name of the person who created the list you want to send a tweet to.
  • Type your tweet – After “@twitterhandle/listname,” type a space, and then enter your tweet headline. This will send it to that special list.

This is not a perfect way to target your tweets, but it’s the best way until Twitter creates a function where you can specifically target followers. The model Twitter could use is how Google+ does it:

how to build advocates through social media marketing

The other way to get the maximum exposure for your tweet, you need to find out when your audience is most active.

  • The science tells us that 5 PM is the best time to tweet:

Percentage of Retweets by Hour

  • The best time to get the most click throughs, however, is noon and 6 PM:

twitter ctr by hour

  • And the best day to tweet is in the middle of the week:

twitter ctr by day

But don’t use the data above as gospel. Be sure to gather your own timing data to see what works best.

You will want to understand your audience, and luckily there are a few tools out there (try Buffer, HootSuite and SocMetrics) that will tell you directly when your particular audience is most active so you can time your tweets.

Factor #3: Subjectivity of the language

It seems like people respond better to tweets that aren’t built on sensationalism according to the researchers. That means if you can say something as plain as possible, that will get more traction than if you punched up the copy to make it sound enticing.

Here’s what I mean. Compare these two headlines:

Which one do you think will be more popular? If the study is correct, then the Mashable one will. It’s simple and to the point.

That seems to go against common wisdom, especially since sites like BuzzFeed and Gawker trade on creating sensational headlines for both their articles and tweets. Here’s a sample from BuzzFeed:

And here are some samples from Gawker:

What’s interesting is that sensational headlines don’t really work on Reddit either. If you scan what is trending, it’s really pretty lame. But if you test some sensational headlines, you’ll realize they typically fall flat.

reddit headlines

So, you might want to think about avoiding sensational words like these:

  • Amazing
  • Astonishing
  • Astounding
  • Breathtaking
  • Electrifying
  • Exciting
  • Hair-raising
  • Incredible
  • Mind-boggling
  • Mind-blowing
  • Shocking
  • Spine-tingling
  • Staggering
  • Stimulating
  • Stirring
  • Thrilling
  • Unbelievable

And you’ll want to also avoid superlatives like “most,” “newest,” “largest” or “oldest.” Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t use these words in your headlines of your blog posts.

Just avoid them in your tweets.

Factor #4: Popular names in the tweet

The final factor that makes a tweet popular is the use of popular names in the tweet. If a tweet mentions Justin Bieber or Steve Jobs, then it’s going to get more shares than if it used someone who was a relative unknown.

But that doesn’t mean you have to actually report about them. You can create headlines that use then names of popular people.

You can use Klout to search for popular names via categories. Just hop into the search box at the top of the page:

Use Klout to search for popular names via categories

And then type your search and press enter:

klout search results

This will give you ideas of people who you can write about and include in your article and tweet headlines. Your search will turn up other topics you can explore, too:

klout search results for blogging

Don’t forget to search Google News for ideas, also. If you can ride on a popular trend, whether it is a name like “Mitt Romney” or an event “Colorado Fires,” make sure you use that label in your article and tweet.

(Remember: always modify your headline for Twitter.)

So your tweet could read:

  • “11 Public Speaking Lessons I Learned from Mitt Romney”
  • “How to Get Your Infographic to Spread like the Colorado Fires.”

Google Trends is another great place to spot popular names.

Google Trends

Can you think of a great tweet to write using “Tom Cruise”?

Factor #5 – Always be testing (ABT)

Never take the advice that someone gives you without testing it—including mine. Just because someone tells you something works with their audience, doesn’t mean it will work with yours.

There are so many variables that go into success that you need to experiment and uncover what they are in your own industry. So test your tweets!

But what are the best ways to test? Let’s take a look.

Here’s how I would go about testing my tweets against the four factors we just discussed:

  1. Test the language – The research said that objective language was more effective. Is that true for your audience? Then write two different tweets: objective language v. subjective.
  2. Test popular names – Will your Twitter audience respond to a Lady Gaga or Bill Gates? Will they respond to Bill Gates or Steve Jobs better? What about a Steve Jobs v. Tim Cook? That last one might seem obvious, but never assume. Test anyway…it doesn’t cost you anything.
  3. Test news category – This, too, may seem obvious, but test it anyway. Just because you are in health doesn’t mean somebody might not respond to “lifestyle” or “science” category.
  4. Compare the source – You really won’t be able to test this one since it’s out of your control.

What metrics should you measure? The two obvious metrics you should look at are retweets and click throughs.


The nice thing about testing is that it doesn’t cost anything, so you can do it as long and as often as you want, which is a must if you want to create some powerful and popular tweets.

Try as many combinations as you can with each factor, and you’ll eventually have your own little formula of creating the perfect tweet. And once you do, you have to promise to share it with us!

What factors have you had success with when it comes to creating a popular tweet?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

  1. Would be interesting to know how people respond to tweets from brands (e.g. Playboy) vs individuals behind the brand (e.g. Hugh Hefner).

  2. Great article. However I’d add the important caveat of “relevancy” to some of the points. Adding #JustinBeiber to your Tweet might get you noticed, but if it’s not relevant to your Tweet (or worse, your link), then you could very quickly find yourself labelled as a spammer.

  3. Neil has done a great job in analysing different factors that work,consistency is also another key.The more regular and consistent your tweets are,the more you register yourself in the minds of a large part of your audience.

  4. Just a note, I don’t think the Twitter List thing works anymore. I just tried it and wasn’t able to get it to work. Also, Twitter no longer has the drop down box of “send to list” so I’m guessing they killed it off for some unknown reason.

  5. Hey Neil, nice post!! There’s loads of interesting facts here. Like using popular names in tweets. It may seem obvious because that’s what celebrity news is all about, but we forget to extrapolate that to other mediums, like Twitter and blogging.

    Also, credibility comes from authoritative folks and sources. That’s true. They say self-praise is no recommendation.

    This post is hugely resourceful. Great for news articles. Thank you for the hard work you put into this!


  6. Ben is correct about the Twitter list thing. I couldn’t get that to work. Good tips in your article. Gaining credibility and influence is the hardest part. How many people find metrics/monitoring/ stats useful for social sharing marketing? I think multi-point simultaneous sharing tools like are more important.

  7. I shall be testing some of these out. Thanks for the recommendations. I too dislike feeling misled.I get the same irritation factor when opening an email from some internet marketing campaign or other and find the content totally unrelated to the headline. So I do think we have to be careful how we use celebrity or well known names or brands. It maybe what is one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
    The authorty thing becomes self authenticating I think. By the social proof left behind (or not) as the case maybe.
    Good stuff here! Keep up the great work.

  8. Laureen Wishom Jul 13, 2012 at 2:08 am

    What an awesome article. Excellent tips. I agree that gaining credibility and influence is still the hardest part. Thanks for the value content.

  9. Sounds like the /lists shortcut isn’t working. Too bad, that sounds great!

    Also: please put a link for how to create a list, as not all readers are pro users. (yet)

  10. Great post! Highly informative for us novice tweeters. I have a question. Does HootSuite charge? It sounded like it does after 30 days. Is there a free service out there that tracks Twitter?

  11. Barbara McKinney Jul 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Helpful reminder to b2b marketers doing their social media campaign. Thanks for this!

  12. You’ve got it, whatever that means in blogging. Anyway, You’re definitely someone that has something to say that people should hear. Keep up the wonderful job. Keep on inspiring the people!

  13. Hey!

    This post is really fantastic man, all factors is full of information and helpful for me and yes this is really surprising factors.


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