I’ve long been a fan of what’s known as the 80/20 rule on Twitter. For those unfamiliar, it means that 80% of the content you share on social media should be someone else’s — the remaining 20% should be your own.

No-one seems to have told brands though, and it’d take a brave social media manager in a small organisation to try and change this. Most management teams simply want to know how a social network is driving conversions —and therefore relentlessly spamming your own content is the best way to do this (after all, the more you shout about something the more likely people are to buy it, right?).

Not only is this approach not going to lead anywhere, unless you take over an already well-loved and well-established brand with millions of followers who hang on your every word, but it can actually harm your reputation.

How can the 80/20 rule help you?

The 80/20 rule takes Twitter back to its core use: sharing useful content. Unfortunately this isn’t often your content, especially if you don’t have the time/budget to be turning out regular pieces every few hours.

Some of the most well-received content I’ve ever shared through company Twitter accounts has been from other people — either in the form of retweets, quoted tweets, or a tweet with some form of attribution. By ‘well-received’ I mean high engagement, either in the form of retweets, favourites (now likes), or link clicks.

What the 80/20 rule does is show that you’re not self-centred, and that you’re trying to take an active part in conversations and wider issues in your sector. It also strengthens your relationship with the content creator or discoverer, as they’ll appreciate you sharing what they’ve made/found. It doesn’t matter if the company sharing something is your direct competitor — as long as your audience will find it useful it’s worth sharing.

Do it long enough and people will follow you because they’re interested in what you’re sharing, meaning when you do drop that 20% of self-promotional content they’ll be more receptive to taking a look.

How do I use it?

There are three main ways you can use other peoples’ content:

  1. Retweet it: Click the retweet button and directly reshare someone’s content. They’ll get a notification (and who doesn’t check their notifications?) and the warm feeling that they did something useful. If they’ve never heard of you they may even head across and check out your profile and give you a follow. The downside is any engagement the tweet generates won’t count towards your figures.
  2. Quote tweet it: Twitter has now made it even easier to add your own comments to a retweet. Add something meaningful (and nice — after all you’re sharing good content!) and post it to your followers. Again, they’ll get a notification, and this time they may even thank you for sharing it or open the discussion further to their own followers.
  3. Share it yourself: This has been the most useful method I’ve found for sharing content. Write your own tweet, insert a link and/or picture, and include some form of attribution, such as ‘by/via/HT @handle’. Again, they’ll get a notification but this time any engagement will be attributed to your tweet.

Ready? Get sharing!

Like most useful strategies the 80/20 rule takes a while to show results. It’s also quite a big shift for a lot of accounts and it may take a while to get the internal buy-in you need to properly implement it.

To start, try sharing one or two pieces of relevant content each week and see how they perform. Then start increasing it. The idea of the 80/20 rule isn’t so that you keep strictly to those ratios: instead it’s to stop your brand becoming one known for constantly shouting about its own achievements. If 70/30, 60/40, or even 50/50 works best for you then do it.

This is the approach I’ve taken for The Online Rule and companies I’ve worked for in the past, and it’s worked. After all, Twitter’s a social platform and if you’re not being social then you’re wasting your time.