The Twitter world is usually split right at the center over one interesting point – why do people retweet the compliments they get? It seems particularly odd when celebrities do it and do it with alarming regularity. Here’s an example from Chetan Bhagat’s timeline.

Now, let us consider the reasons and motivations.

1. Does it help in what we see in PR parlance as the holy grail of PR – 3rd party validation? In a way, are these celebrities sharing 3rd party validation of how good they are/their work is?

PR is known to do this too, but there is a fundamental difference – it was always aimed to spread through neutral publications and vehicles. So, PR teams look at getting these 3rd party validations and claims in seemingly neutral mainstream publications – the intent is obviously to convince readers about the fact that 3rd parties that don’t have any direct interest in saying good things about something…are saying it…in a mainstream publication. So it must be good, right? Or at least, that was the logic.

Things change when you change the place where these validations and claims are published. In Chetan Bhagat’s case, the positive reviews/points are posted in a channel owned by Chetan Bhagat – his Twitter profile. Why is that wrong? It is clearly not, but it comes with a rider – it’d display ONLY positive views and not negative. The negative views may be chosen by Bhagat for a conversation or a Twitter dispute, perhaps to fuel further interest and buzz in whatever he is selling.

2. How does this look like in the real world, if you move away from Twitter?
Person X tells Chetan Bhagat, ‘Revolution 2020 is a wonderful book. I loved the blah blah blah in it; thanks for this book, Chetan!’.

Chetan’s Retweet would almost sound like him standing on a stage and telling whoever cares to listen, ‘People, you know something? Person X feels my book is wonderful. Person X loved the blah blah blah in it and he thanked me for writing this book too!’.

I would assume, suddenly, that retweet doesn’t sound as exciting as it sounded earlier.

3. The other critical point – it is not the number of people who say good things about you on Twitter and your retweets, but who says them. If, for instance, Salman Rushdie on Twitter praises Chetan Bhagat’s new book (please collect your jaw from the floor – this is just an example), that is something he should most definitely retweet, perhaps with a note of gratitude – I’m sure you see the reason why. But why bother retweeting aam janta’s praises? I do understand the motivation however – spread as much positive views as possible yourself (since you own a media channel on Twitter) and hence spread the perception that a LOT of people like you/your piece of work. But I suppose celebrities don’t fully grasp how vacuous it may possibly seem.

There is a BIG difference between my stumbling on positive views of about something from my friends circle online, organically vs. coming across random strangers’ praise carefully curated by the owner of the product/service.

To be fair, it is not just Chetan – southern composers like GV Prakash Kumar and Yuvan Shankar Raja are known particularly to retweet twitter praise quite liberally. Many other celebrities do it generously too and there have been frequent murmurs on Twitter, about how silly it generally sounds.

It is strange that celebrities on Twitter are doing something they’d never even dream of doing in real life. They perhaps see sense in doing it – to spread an image (a very PR’ish tactic) about them/their work being loved by masses by highlighting a few/many of those praises. But the praises perhaps clouds their eyes and not let them see the irony of that act – the fact they are spreading those positive views/reviews from a communication channel completely owned by them.

I’m sure you remember those plug’ish articles in Times of India about how well Indiatimes or a Times’ owned radio station is faring…usually given very prominent positioning – in page 1 or a great business page spot. This is not wrong, of course – they own both the things in question and are at complete liberty to say/publish what they want.

But yes, it comes at the cost of losing at least a tiny part of their credibility. Ditto with such celebrity retweets – there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the act itself – the celebrities own the channel, they see/notice positive views and simply amplify it to their own benefit. Just that they may lose some credibility for such an incestuous act.

So, here’s an alternate suggestion for celebrities on doing the same thing with a bit more grace. When someone says great things about you/your work, instead of literally tom-toming it on Twitter via  retweet, you could respond to that person. But, very few people still know a basic rule related to replies on Twitter (meaning…the @username starts your tweet) – here it is, from Twitter’s help page.

  • People will only see others’ replies in their home timeline if they are following both the sender and recipient of the update.
  • People will see any mentions posted by someone they follow (all mentions are treated like regular Tweets).

That means a celebrity responding to a normal person (who praised his/her piece of work) may not be seen by the celebrities followers and others in general. To get such responses to help the celebrity from a PR point of view and without making it seem as cringe-worthy as a retweet, they could start the tweet with a dot (.) and then continue with their reply.

How does this help?

  1. At an operational level, the tweet, by nature of not starting with a @username, becomes a normal public tweet.
  2. Because it contains an @username, the concerned person will see it in his/her timeline.
  3. A response gives a great opportunity for the celebrity to show how human they are, in he choice of words they use to thank someone.
  4. Finally, and most importantly, it could help in an organic search by people who may be interested to know about the celebrity’s latest piece of work to check the original tweet that led the celebrity to respond. The better the response (in the choice of words), more the curiosity for others to see what prompted such a response.

But yes, this is just a suggestion. As I mentioned earlier, there’s nothing wrong with mindlessly retweeting every single positive tweet that comes your way. You may lose your credibility, but that’s something celebrities already deal with even in mainstream media.