Do Twitter Cards really work?

We recently began using Twitter Cards for this site – I like to try out new features and it doesn’t take much to get me excited about metadata! Now that we’ve used them, and gone through the frustration of setting them up (a story for another time), I’m starting to wonder what exactly the benefit is to having them.

Twitter describes the cards as a way to ‘drive engagement’ and traffic to our website, and as a way of adding rich content (images, video, summaries) to tweets, that will be visible to all our followers.

This sounds great, but I’m not convinced it’s actually the case.


The main issue is that Twitter Cards don’t auto-expand, i.e. display fully in the Twitter feed. If all tweets didn’t auto-expand that might be OK, but tweets with directly uploaded images (and Vine videos) do auto-expand. These tweets attract more attention in the Twitter feed because they stand-out visually, as shown below:

Twitter feed showing how tweets with images stand out more


Kevin Skobac described it well when he said that, ‘Auto-expanded images break the democracy of content in your tweet stream.’

Twitter Card types

We use the summary card – this seems the most appropriate for our blog content – it includes a title, description and a thumbnail image.

With this implemented, when we tweet with a link to this blog, the summary card is attached with the inclusion of a  ‘view summary’ link on each tweet (see below). The reader is then required to click this to see the summary.

How the 'View summary' link looks on a tweet

The ‘View summary’ link is circled above.


The expanded summary card

The expanded summary card, displayed below the tweet.


There’s just no way (unsubstantiated opinion!) that the vast majority of Twitter users will click on that. It’s easier to just click the link and go straight to the website. I rarely view the summary on others’ tweets – I probably don’t even see that small link most of the time. I can usually tell from the text whether I want to visit the link or not. In this way, the rich content is technically visible to all our followers, but only if they click on the ‘view summary’ link.

Even the photo card, which displays only an image, doesn’t auto-expand. Only images uploaded manually, via Twitter’s native uploading service, will auto-expand. As such, I’ve noticed a lot of accounts on Twitter using this technique to ensure their tweets stand-out as much as possible. YouTube, for example, include a manually uploaded image with each of their tweets.

Funnily enough, on the Twitter Card guide, they demonstrate photo cards by showing how the Flickr account used it back in January 2014 – but looking at Flickr’s Twitter account now, they mostly avoid the photo card and instead upload the image manually for each tweet.

Images = retweets

Studies show that tweets with images stand out much more than pure text tweets, and are more likely to be re-tweeted.

  • Twitter’s Data Scientist found that including a photo with a tweet can provide, on average, a 35% boost in retweets.
  • Dan Zarella’s study showed that tweets that include an image uploaded via Twitter’s native image uploading service are nearly twice as likely to be retweeted, than images linked from Twitpic, Facebook and Instagram.

Therefore it is in the interest of anyone wishing to attract attention to their tweets to include an image – and to have this image auto-expanded. Currently, the only way to do this is to upload an image with each individual tweet.

So, the way I see it, Twitter is basically incentivising users to NOT use their Twitter Cards, which seems completely bizarre!

Other possible benefits?

Twitter Analytics does provide some extra value for Twitter Card users. There’s a whole dashboard dedicated to analytics for these tweets. Sadly for me, as I’m VERY small fish, my tweets don’t get much action! So try not to laugh at the ridiculously small numbers in this screen shot.

Twitter Analytics, Twitter Cards dashboard

The Twitter Cards dashboard on Twitter Analytics

However, I’m not seeing how this is much different from the main analytics page – other than it displays the numbers visually, with the big circles. The main page, includes the same data and information, just in a table format.

Admittedly, I haven’t spent much time looking at this section, and I can see that there are various screens which could be useful for larger organisations or more popular tweeters. Such as card types – if I was to try using different card types, I could see if there was any noticeable difference in engagements between the different types. I can also keep track of the most ‘influential’ tweets and general activity. However, with many of the big companies not using Twitter Cards, I have to conclude that the value provided for Twitter Cards in Twitter Analytics isn’t enough to encourage them to use them.

So, all that said, I’ll probably keep using Twitter Cards for this site – because I’m too lazy to turn them off, but I’m not expecting much benefit to come of it. I’m also in the process of managing the development of a new website for my current employer. I doubt I’ll recommend the use of Twitter Cards, when the pay-off doesn’t appear to be all that great. I will, however, be recommending that we upload images via the native image uploading service, to ensure our tweets stand out in our follower’s feeds!

Am I wrong, have you had a different experience with Twitter Cards? Let me know!

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1 Comment

  1. Good to know I wasn’t the only one wondering about this. Thanks Theresa!

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