Contemplating how to earn more engagement on Twitter? There are several strategies you might employ. Carefully calculating your character count, diligently watching trending hashtags, upping your game with images and videos--the possibilities are endless for experiments you can run with your messaging. A new study from Stone Temple Consulting reveals that before you consider any change in your tweets, you first need to understand your social authority to unmask your Twitter engagement.

Why Social Authority Matters

In their analysis of 1.94 million western language tweets, Stone Temple found that the social authority of an account has a significant impact on the effectiveness of engagement tactics. So much so that depending on your social authority ranking, the tactic you employ could increase your chances of favorites as much as 12 times--or cost you retweets.

For this study, analysts divided the Social Authority (as determined by Followerwonk) of the people issuing the original tweets in the dataset into three categories: Low, Moderate, and High.

Social Authority ranking


It's not new news that images earn more social engagement than posts with text alone. Tweets with images earn nearly 40% more RTs and favorites than those without.

Images increase favorites

Low Social Authority: A tweet with a single image was 2.3-2.7 times more likely to generate retweets and 2.2-3.4 times more likely to earn favorites compared to those without images. Accounts with low Social Authority rankings have the most to gain by adding images to their posts; these accounts saw 6X-12X more favorites and 5-9X more retweets when using images, the highest increase in this strategy.

Moderate Social Authority: Accounts with a Social Authority ranking between 30 and 69 generated modest increases by adding images to posts. Image tweets were 1.6-2.3 times more likely to earn RTs and 1.4-2.0 times more likely to earn favorites than those without images. Accounts at the lower end of this spectrum earned more engagement by using images than those at the upper end; although moderate SA accounts earned a range of 2X-7X more RTs and 2X-10X more favorites overall, there was a marked decline in engagement for accounts with rankings higher than 50.

High Social Authority: The accounts with the highest Social Authority have the least to gain by including images in their tweets, but only because they already have the full attention of their audience with every post. Images were only 1.0-1.2 times more likely to generate favorite and 1.0-1.3X more likely to earn retweets. Similarly, images earned no more than 2X more RTs or favorites the higher the Social Authority ranking of the account.

Ellen Oscar selfie

The bottom line? Photos can make for the most engaging tweets. Low Social Authority accounts can earn the most traction by adding images to their posts, but just because they won't earn as high gains percentage-wise doesn't mean high-authority accounts should ignore the power of visuals. In March of this year Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar selfie became the most retweeted tweet of all time.


Although links are 10% more likely to earn retweets and 2% more likely to earn favorites than posts without links, there are more risks than just a comparably low engagement payoff to consider.

Links reduce retweets

Low Social Authority: Links may be the most detrimental to accounts at the low end of the Social Authority spectrum. Chances of both retweets and favorites were less than 1X more likely for accounts with an SA less than 30. Even worse, for accounts with a score of 9 or lower, links appeared to correlate with fewer RTs and favorites.

Moderate Social Authority: Accounts with a moderate Social Authority ranking are in the sweet spot for utilizing links in posts. Chances of RTs begin to increase with an SA of 30 and the entire moderate range is 1.2-1.6X more likely to earn retweets with links. The increase picks up with an SA of 45 for favorites; moderate SA accounts are 0.81-1.1X more likely to earn favorites when employing links in their post strategy. This is also the only range in which links increase the total number of retweets.

High Social Authority: High-authority Twitter accounts saw some gains with links; high SA accounts were 1.0-1.1X more likely to earn favorites and 1.0-1.2X more likely to generate retweets when posting with links compared to posts without links. However, as with low Social Authority accounts, links led to fewer total tweets overall.

Have you found photos to improve your engagement, or links to hurt your retweet rate? Check out more from Stone Temple's Twitter Engagement findings, and share your experiences in the comments below!

Published on: Dec 24, 2014