photo by Josef Dunne

If you’re new to Twitter, you’ve likely already seen retweeting come up. If you’re about to jump on the bandwagon, this is one of the first things you’ll need to learn. And even if you’re a seasoned tweep, the intricacies of the mysterious retweet can be confusing. Don’t you worry; I’m here to help. Let’s walk through the details step by step.

What a Retweet Is

A tweet is 140-character message. When someone else publishes a tweet that you like, you can share it with your own followers by “retweeting” it – which you’ll commonly see abbreviated as “RT.” There are several ways to retweet someone, and we’ll cover those below.

What a MT Is

You might see “MT” floating around the twitosphere; it stands for “modified tweet.” A modified tweet is exactly like a retweet except it’s used when you’ve changed some of the original tweet. So if you have to cut out some of the original tweeter’s words or adjust their phrasing for some reason, you should use the abbreviation MT instead of RT to let your followers know you’ve tweaked something.

Why You Should Retweet

Retweeting is the heart of Twitter, which is why I’m dedicating a whole post to it today. The beauty of Twitter is in its brevity; the fact that tweets are so short make them easy to share and pass along. Retweeting excellent tweets does several things: it improves (and varies) your content for your followers, it supports the original tweeter by getting their content viewed by a new group of people, and it lets someone know you appreciate their tweet – an easy way to make steps toward connecting with others.

How to Retweet

There are two ways to retweet: manually or by pushing the retweet button.

Pushing the buttons is very straightforward; the original tweet will appear in your followers’ timelines just like your own tweets do. The original tweeter’s photo and Twitter handle will still appear next to their tweet. This option is ideal for when their tweet is complete, self-explanatory, and you have nothing to add. Easy-peasy.

A manual retweet involves copy-pasting the original tweet and putting it after “RT” (or “MT,” if you’re changing any of it). Usually that looks like this:

My comment! RT @strange_writer Original content.

Occasionally, you’ll also see old-school users do manual retweets like this:

RT @strange_writer “Original content.” My comment!

Or this:

RT @strange_writer Original content. // My comment!

The manual retweet is a great option for writers who are sharing links to blog posts or other external content. Twitter is flooded with writers, and most of us aren’t famous. Since you’re hard at work on building trust with your followers by making your Twitter full of quality connections, your endorsement can go a long way to getting a link from a stranger viewed. So instead of pushing the retweet button on this:

@strange_writer Read my latest blog post! “Muddling through Chaos.”

You can let your followers know why it’s worth checking out, like this:

I love this smart post about how to organize your story submissions! MT @strange_writer My latest blog post: “Muddling through Chaos.” #pubtip

How Not to Retweet

There are two types of manual retweets that I believe no one should use. This:

RT @strange_writer Original content.

If you don’t have a comment to add to someone’s tweet, don’t manually retweet. Some people are actually offended by this, as it takes their content and puts your name and avatar next to it for no reason (unlike the retweet button, which simply publishes their tweet as-is in your timeline, or the manual retweet with a comment, which adds incentive). So if it’s fine as-is, just push the button.

This is another no-no:

RT @strange_writer Original content. My comment!

If you’re manually retweeting, there must be a clear divider between the original content and the retweeter’s comment, not just for clarity but for attribution. You don’t want to appear to be “stealing” someone else’s copyrighted content. Think of retweeting properly as citing your source when you share.

And no matter how you decide to retweet, don’t forget to include the original tweeter’s handle. If you “retweet” their tweet without including their name, you really are stealing!

What to Retweet

Funny jokes. Thoughtful comments. Things that ring true to you. Blog posts that you found useful or insightful. Exciting news from your closest friends. Anything you think your followers would benefit from reading.

What Not to Retweet

Everything that crosses your path. Everybody wants to be nice, but there is such thing as too nice. If you retweet every sneeze that graces your timeline, I stop looking at all of them. And if you retweet things without reading them first, people will eventually find out. Ever clicked on a link with a completely incorrect description or comment and realized the person who shared it didn’t even read it? Yeah. That person loses your trust. So don’t be that person. The more quality you share, the more likely people will be to trust your taste, and the more weight your recommendations will carry. And of course, sharing others breeds goodwill and leads to them more readily sharing your content. A little friendly back-scratching never hurt anyone; just don’t get carried away. It’s not about keeping score or sucking up.

Sometimes people say nice things about us, and it makes us really happy. The instinct upon seeing such a tweet might be to push the retweet button. But wait… when was the last time you did so? There’s nothing wrong with tooting your own horn every once in a while, but constantly retweeting your own compliments makes you look like a self-important egomaniac. Refrain, and hit that “favorite” button instead. It still shows your gratitude to the person who said it, but doesn’t flood your followers’ timelines with your praises.

Likewise, don’t retweet #follow lists:

Thanks! RT @strange_writer #FollowFriday @RandomPerson1 @RandomPerson2 @RandomPerson3 @RandomPerson4

We are all well aware that this, too, is a compliment. But worse than an actual compliment, it looks like mindless clutter. You should never retweet any type of @ list. Especially if you’re in said list. Period.

How to Deal with RTaholics

Okay, so you’ve learned not to be a RTaholic, but how do you deal with those who haven’t? You could unfollow them, but sometimes, for whatever reason – maybe it’s your boss or something – you just can’t. Luckily, I have a solution. At their profile, click on the little box of the man’s silhouette next to the “follow” button. Scroll down the options to “Turn off Retweets.” Ta-da! [Note: this only works when they’re pushing the retweet button. If they’re manually retweeting, the only solution is death by rabid squirrels.]

One Last Tip

When you manually retweet someone, change the hashtags. This is a consideration to the person you’re trying to help, as it gets their tweet seen by a new search term. So instead of keeping it #amwriting, you might change it to #writing, #writetip, or #books. It’s also a nice courtesy to other Twitter users, as it helps prevent the same tweet from showing up countless times in a single hashtag search.

And if you have no idea what hashtags are… don’t worry. That’s a post for another day. ;)

Retweet questions? Throw ‘em at me!

About Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a novelist, short story author, and award-winning poet. She has stories and poems appearing in over forty venues, including Black Static, Deep South Magazine, Fireside, and Buzzy Mag. She's an active member of the Horror Writers Association and webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas. When she’s not frightening strangers with her writing, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their two cats, Buttons and Snaps.