So you’ve chosen to follow a select few hundred Twitter accounts, taken the time to cull them from the millions out there. They’re your information super highway, a constant stream of great, insightful tweets… except when they’re not. Apparently, Twitter users think that a quarter of all tweets they see aren’t even worth reading.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology got together to determine just what people thought of the tweets they read.

They created a website “Who Gives a Tweet?” to survey Twitter users about how they perceive what they read in 140 characters. The site asked visitors to anonymously submit their tweets for feedback, in return for commenting on anonymous tweets from users they already followed.

During a period of 19 days in late 2010 and early 2011, just under 1,500 visitors to the site rated nearly 44,000 tweets from the accounts of 21,000 other Twitter users they followed.

And they weren’t too please with what they read.

Only 36 percent of the tweets that these visitors read were actually considered worthwhile. 25 percent of the tweets were disliked and deemed to be unworthy of even reading, while 39 percent elicited no strong opinion.

So what features do these unworthy 25 percent of tweets share?

The most disliked tweets were usually those that were part of someone else’s conversation, or updates around that user’s current mood or activity.

And the common traits of well-liked tweets included asking questions of one’s followers, information-sharing, and – possibly the most surprising – those that contained self-promotion.

The study’s authors will be presenting their study on February 13 at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work in Seattle. For now, they’ve compiled nine lessons for landing your tweet in the “worth reading” category:

  • Old news is no news: Twitter emphasizes real-time information, so information rapidly gets stale. Followers quickly get bored of even relatively fresh links seen multiple times.
  • Contribute to the story: To keep people interested, add an opinion, a pertinent fact or otherwise add to the conversation before hitting “send” on a link or a retweet.
  • Keep it short: Twitter limits tweets to 140 characters, but followers still appreciate conciseness. Using as few characters as possible also leaves room for longer, more satisfying comments on retweets.
  • Limit Twitter-specific syntax: Overuse of #hashtags, @mentions and abbreviations makes tweets hard to read. But some syntax is helpful; if posing a question, adding a hashtag helps everyone follow along.
  • Keep it to yourself: The clichéd “sandwich” tweets about pedestrian, personal details were largely disliked. Reviewers reserved a special hatred for Foursquare location check-ins.
  • Provide context: Tweets that are too short leave readers unable to understand their meaning. Simply linking to a blog or photo, without giving readers a reason to click on it, was described as “lame.”
  • Don’t whine: Negative sentiments and complaints were disliked.
  • Be a tease: News or professional organizations that want readers to click on their links need to hook the reader, not give away all of the news in the tweet itself.
  • For public figures: People often follow you to read professional insights and can be put off by personal gossip or everyday details.

(Top image: Timurpix via Shutterstock)