Marketing rules for increasing engagement and retweets may not work in emergency situations, according to new research.

 

Marketers and social-media veterans say to always include a link in tweets to offer additional information and, at the same time, play on the psychology that the information is more useful. The post with a link is more likely to be shared, according to conventional wisdom.

But a study by Chinese researchers Zhiming Liu, Lu Liu and Hong Li of Beijing University and published in most recent edition of the academic journal Internet Research suggests those links may get in the way, at least when trying to spread a message during an emergency situation.

Analyzing microblogs during two natural disasters, the researchers concluded that people online in those situations are often using Twitter and similar services along with other media. Even when reading a post with new information, most people reason that an accompanying link will take them to information they they've already seen.

The study also found different kinds of emergency microblogs were shared, each depending on the sender's experience with the platform.

Long-time microbloggers are more likely to share objective tweets ("Nine people have been injured.") while people newer to microblogging were more likely to share subjective messages ("I'm shocked that it happened."). 

The study echoed earlier research that found source trustworthiness, source expertise, and source attractiveness all contributed to the likelihood of retweeting a message. 

Ross Hudgens, a digital-marketing consultant, said many people on social networks have an immediate urge to break news online, which has implications for governments also trying to spread information. 

Hudgens said emergency-services workers microblogging about an urgent situation tend to see a greater percentage of their messages shared and retweeted after the public's "initial ‘find’ itch has been scratched."

After the first wave of messages, official notices get more attention, he said.