A lot of people who are very knowledgeable and experienced at leveraging Twitter do not understand the point of the “Retweet” button that Twitter launched last year.  It doesn’t make sense to them for a number reasons, including: 

1. It was unnecessary, because retweeting is one of the most popular activities on Twitter and it needed no encouragement to continue.
2. Twitter is famous for its lack of features, so in the absence of a need to change behavior (see point 1) it makes things more confusing as to why Twitter would spend time and energy on this particular new feature.
3. It makes retweeting even more confusing than it already is for new users, because it gives two options that seem to accomplish the same thing in different ways, with some users preferring one way and other users preferring a different way.

The reason for the new feature, however, is all about monetization.  One of the cool things about Twitter is that every Tweet is equal.  Twitter streams are all about timelines.  If a good Tweet is shared with people, who share it with their own friends, the viral spread is organic and rapid.  This awesome characteristic, however, makes Twitter very difficult to “search” because one Tweet looks the same as all the other Tweets (with the exception of Tweets that are favorited more often than others).  And “search” (that is, “searching for relevant Tweets”) is one of the most promising ways for Twitter make money (and for it to make good on the $1 billion valuation it earned recently).  

So it shouldn’t be surprising that Twitter introduced the retweet button, which seems to be an effort to minimally dilute the experience while adding a layer of potential for it to increase the likelihood that the company will produce significant value.  The big question is, are people using the retweet button enough?  (For the record, it seems that my followers are retweeting me the old way at a ratio of about 4:1, with four penciled in retweets for every one “push-button” RT using the new feature.)

Will Marlow co-founded AlumniFidelity to help his clients reposition their fundraising to benefit from Web2.0 technology and marketing techniques. He’s working with clients such as UVA, the College of William & Mary, the University of Oklahoma, Bowling Green State University, Randolph Macon College, and he loves nothing better than a thorny marketing challenge.  Email him at will@alumnifidelity.com.