December 11, 2014 Ian Blyth

Here’s a Thought: Twitter Favorites are Kind of Worthless

The other day I started noticing that one of my blog posts was getting favorited on Twitter a lot. Like everyday a lot. By the same couple of people over and over.

I’ll be honest, this was the first time a post got favorited.

Not going to lie: How I felt getting favorited four days in a row for the same post.

Me, doing Twitter. Courtesy: http://helentrue.com/

I thought to myself, “Huh, Awesome. Someone liked what I did. I’m doing Twitter!”

In hindsight I was 100% right with my unintended Facebook reference of being “liked” and didn’t know it.

The next day the same post got favorited again by the same people. And it happened again the next day. And again. And again. Same people, same post.

It was really their favorite thing and every time I posted it to Twitter, they would remind me how super it was. I began to imagine I — actually my post — was their whole world.

In all seriousness I started to ask – what’s a Twitter favorite really worth? Those favorites I get throughout the day, where’s the value? Is there value?

A ton of way smarter people than me have written about this but I’ve got a blog and time to kill so here we go.

Is There SEO Value in Twitter Favorites?

It’s worth getting out of the way first and foremost that no one can say with 100% certainty what does and does not impact a page’s position in Google.

(Except for Google’s Matt Cutts, who says Twitter Favorites don’t matter in a video at the end of this section. I’m funny.)

Google’s search algorithms are not public knowledge. You can’t just download Google’s code base. You can’t force Google to give up it’s secrets – folks have tried. Man, even Germany tried. And failed.

Even when Google makes updates to its algorithm — Panda, Penguin, most importantly Hummingbird — we only see the effects and make inferences based on how things change. By the way, to read an excellent article about the previous Google updates, head over to this article at Moz.

All that said, it’s hard to imagine favorites having any impact on SEO. Favorites are just like “Likes” on Facebook – it’s someone saying they saw value in what you posted.

They click favorite, you get the notification, and that’s pretty much the end of it. It’s a one-on-one interaction on a network built on interaction with a wide audience. In other words, its kind of weird to begin with.

When someone retweets you, on the other hand, that’s like sharing it with their entire audience. A retweet from a respected authority on Twitter is a big deal. It’s an endorsement. They are sharing your content with all of their followers. That’s the new SEO strategy for sure.

The quote you’ll hear most SEOs use when talking about retweets comes from a 2010 article from Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land called “What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count?” It goes like this:

“Retweets serve as a new form of link building. Get your page mentioned in tweets by authoritative people, and that can help your ranking in regular search results, to a degree.” – Sullivan.

Dr. Peter J. Meyers, a Marketing Scientist at Moz, talked about this too on Moz’s blog.

Meyers on retweets vs. favorites:

“[Retweets] are generally more advantageous indirectly. They expose more people to your tweet, and those people will click through, drive up engagement, and potentially link to you. Eventually, this can have an indirect but very real impact on SEO. It’s unlikely that favoriting has much impact even indirectly, IMO.”

(Find the conversation here).

Here’s Google’s Matt Cutts:

Is There Any Other Value in Twitter Favorites?

In researching this I happened upon an article written by Rebecca Greenfield over at The Atlantic’s Wire (thewire.com) entitled A Complete Guide to the Art of Twitter Favorites. Greenfield’s article delves into such various kinds of favorites like:

  • The Practical Favorite: Some people use the favorite for its most practical purpose — to bookmark tweets for later.
  • The “Fist Bump” or Thank You Favorite: Earlier this year, Twitter noted a rise in favorites on tweets only meant for one other person (i.e., a conversation).
  • The Hate-Fave: On the other, meaner end of the spectrum, we have the “hate-fave,” which The Awl’s Choire Sicha calls “the most perverse thing you can do” to someone totally awful, as he told The Journal‘s Rosman.
  • The Practical Hate-Fave: “I fave to remember to make fun of something later,” explains The Atlantic Wire’s Elspeth Reeve, who uses this hybrid of both the practical and hate-fave methods.

The list goes on. Important note, the above stuff is her words, not mine. I, nor even the Onion, could come up with this kind of stuff.

definition of favoriteI’m just going to go out on a limb and say this is reading way, way too much into something that means just about nothing at all. A Twitter favorite makes sense to two people: The person who favorited the tweet and the person who received the favorite. You’d literally have to let a third person know the incident happened and at that point, you should probably just go ahead and retweet it.

I like the idea of keeping Twitter Favorites special – like a high-five. When Twitter redesigned it’s profile, Kevan Lee over at BufferSocial wrote a 5 Tips to Optimize Your New Twitter Profile. It’s a pretty great read. Check out No.5 on the post for more on making Twitter favorites special.

Still, on a social network where the point is to engage your audience, build a network, learn, teach, and connect it seems kind of silly to favorite something.imgres

Plus, and now I’m just being cranky, the word favorite by it’s very definition lends itself to either describing something (adjective) or identify a person, place or thing (noun) that is singular. It’s one thing. Your favorite car, sports team, bubble gum. Not a wide array of things.

You just can’t have more than one favorite thing in a class of things – constant bickering with childhood friends over who was the favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle taught me that. You could have one favorite and one favorite alone.

If you can have favorites, well that’s confusing. I don’t see much social value past the value you put into it but even then, it’s just marking tweets to help you keep organized.

Spammers Use Favorites to Gain Followers

To make matters worse, Twitter spammers favorite tweets just to gain followers with no intention of following you back. Read more about that here. Careful who you follow.

, owner of Bossa Nova Interactive, a digital marketing, web design and local seo company in Hampton Roads, VA., wrote a really great blog post about “auto-favoriting” as a strategy and how it’s… not great.

The story goes like this: Malcom posted the following tweet:

Tweet example from Bossanovainteractive

Exhibit A

And minutes later, the tweet was favorited by four people Malcom didn’t know.

Huh? Wait, in what world does that happen? Anywhere?

Let’s imagine you’re at a bar and randomly say to absolutely no one, “Man, sure is hot in here.”

Immediately after, four or five people you’ve never met in your life walk up to you, pat you on the back, and compliment you on your impromptu climate assessment. You’d think you were the subject of a hidden camera show, right?

Let’s also point out here as he did in his original blog post that this is all going down around 9PM. I know a ton of folks that work late into the night but four people favoriting a post right in a row?

So this is obviously some automatic favoriting mechanism built to target certain tweets. The process gets kicked off anytime someone uses a hashtag or string of words. It’s dishonest stuff.

Now, I’m all for marketing automation. We need to get more done in a short amount of time so we can do the important stuff like figure out how a Raspberry Pi works or play with your kids. I use Buffer, for example, to automate tweets on a schedule. It’s awesome.

But there’s a clear difference between marketing automation and building an inflated Twitter following through sleazy, fake tactics like spam-favoriting. And it’s quite another thing all together to pay someone to favorite-spam people.

For a one-hour conversation on this that is totally worthwhile, check out Justin Wise’s podcast and listen to show #212 BE A CYBORG TO GROW YOUR AUDIENCE.

Like Malcom points out, spam-favoriting is a play on people’s ego. It’s meant to make you feel good about your work, and convince you to follow them. The follow is rarely reciprocated and it’s probably for the better. These accounts often try to do a good job looking human by posting inspirational quotes and such but end up just trying to sell you something.

Social media is a tough business – it takes a good long while to build a worthwhile following. If you gain a ton of followers in a short term, it’s unlikely you did it the right way and extremely unlikely it will result in success. This kind of black-hat tactic is right up there with buying lists for email marketing.

By the way, there’s an awesome book called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust that spends a bunch of time talking about why this kind of stuff is bad news. Check it out. I found it on Half.com a while ago for 65 cents.

In short, favorites aren’t all that useful. If someone favorites your post, you almost have to ask why they didn’t just really show how much they liked it by sharing it with their followers. If it was a favorite tweet, doesn’t it deserve a follow or at least a retweet? Kind of devalues the word favorite, right?

Twitter favorites are just a social courtesy nod – no more, no less. Instead of focusing on favorites — or even retweets — just do your best to create compelling, creative, relevant content.

As always, if you’re trying to game the system, you’re doing it wrong.

Just as a P.S., for an exhaustive read on how Twitter, Facebook, and other social interactions impact SEO, check out Your Guide to Social Signals for SEO

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