June 15, 2009, 11:04 AM — Twitter users commonly "retweet" fellow users' tweets or links. You will see a user set off a retweet by using the word retweet itself, or the abbreviation "RT" in front of the message. A retweet can increase the pervasiveness of your message across Twitter, while attracting new followers who might be captivated enough by the tweet or link that you shared to begin following you.
But while it's hard enough to write a tweet that people find compelling, it's another thing entirely to measure how well it fared in a retweet.
Luckily, the Twitter ecosystem has responded with a few sites and applications that help you measure the success for a retweet. As we'll show you, many of them break easily and have holes, but they are likely to improve in the coming year as developers refine them.
Twitter's Search Tool
Before you go seeking out a third-party retweet application, you can often find how well your tweet did just by searching for it on Twitter's search tool (make sure you check out our overview on Twitter search).
Using the advanced search tool, you can type the link you tweeted into the "this exact phrase box." Since you most likely used a service that shortens URLs for Twitter, use that link rather than the full one.
Many URL shortening services perform basic analytics on links you tweet. For the purposes of this post, I'll focus on bit.ly, since this capability is the most visually appealing and reliable of the lot in my view. (To utilize the Twitter conversations feature in bit.ly, which will allow you to see retweets, you must sign up for the service, which is free).
After you upload a link to bit.ly's site, you can click on "info" to see analytics data for that link, including the amount of clicks it received. Below the "traffic" section, you will find "conversations." There you can see who retweeted the link.
The problem with tracking your retweets on bit.ly is that someone might have retweeted your link using a different URL shortening service. People often want to manage their own tweets on their service of choice. When this happens, you might not see every single retweet that occurred. Nevertheless, in my experience, people normally will just use the URL you provided.
The New Apps
There are a slew of services that make it their business to track retweets, but I didn't find a ton of them to be reliable in a top to bottom way. Retweetist and dailyRT both allow you to search for retweets, but I frequently received error messages or inconclusive results on both sites, which tells me they need work.
That said, both sites, as well as retweet radar, display what tweets are being retweeted most frequently on twitter. It gives you a clue for what the hottest topics are on Twitter (and thus, more likely to be retweeted on a given day).
Other tools remain in beta. Dan Zarrella, a "social and viral marketing scientist," has built several tools that measure the spread of a tweet and that highlight people who get frequently retweeted. Zarrella also has conducted some interesting (and deep) research on the characteristics of a good retweet.
But for a nicely developed tool, I would visit TweetReach. When you visit the site, it starts with a simple search bar interface. For a search term, TweetReach asks you to "use something distinctive you've tweeted like a phrase, url, or hashtag."
I used the URL search, just because I found it to be the most effective. The results page was quite interesting. This will show you how many people retweeted your link, and it will also show the impressions - or exposure - that your link received on the service. TweetReach culls together the actual retweets from Twitter.
Of the people who retweeted the link, TweetReach gives you an idea of whose retweet gave your message the most exposure (this will generally be proportional to how many followers the person possesses, but not always).
Conclusion: Retweet analytics are far from perfect
While all these tools provide you with a rough idea ofhow your tweet fared on Twitter, just remember that they are by no means perfect. As noted, searching for a link URL can be perilous since people decide to often put the link into another URL shortening service (separate from the one you used). In addition, sometimes people will retweet your work without being prompted to do so, making it more likely they used different wording, link services and descriptions.
C.G. Lynch covers Web 2.0, social networks and consumer apps for CIO.com. He also tracks how these technologies become usable inside businesses. You can follow him on Twitter: @cglynch.