Tweet, tweet: What 140 characters can teach you about great content

I should have been an early adopter of Twitter. To an editor, Twitter’s 140-character limit presents an intriguing challenge: say as much as possible in the fewest possible characters. But, I did not jump on the Twitter bandwagon until recently.

Why wait?

Simple. I thought Twitter was like Facebook except with fewer spaces: all status updates and no real substance. Did I really need another social media platform to spread inane details of my life? Not really. In 2009, Pear Analytics conducted research that showed a whopping 40% of tweets were “pointless babble.” Recent trending topics like #TheGreatKateWait and #SalmanHuggedSRK do little to reverse this impression. Nevertheless, as Twitter has grown, so has its usefulness.

Since the so-called Twitter revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere in 2011, Twitter has evolved into an up-to-the-minute news source. A place where you can learn the latest news, traffic report, or, yes, even what your friend had for lunch.

Why adopt now?

Simple. Self-promotion. Interestingly, this reason formed the basis of Pear Analytics’ hypothesis about tweets. Pear expected that most tweets would fall into this category, and the company was quite surprised when self-promotion ranked fourth on the list of reasons at less than 6%. I started tweeting because I wanted to take my Magnolia2Mumbai website beyond Facebook. I knew Twitter could broaden my audience. More importantly, I could interact with my potential audience differently. I could add someone’s Twitter handle to a tweet without necessarily following them. Likewise, people or companies could tweet or retweet me without necessarily following me. The law of reciprocity does not apply to Twitter in the same way it does on Facebook.

Moreover, many news agencies in India were using Twitter for breaking stories. Even though India has only 20 million Twitter users, Indian news agencies use the platform to break stories much as CNN and others international news organizations do. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi recently became India’s most followed politician. After his recent gaffe using an analogy of running over a puppy with a car to talk about the 2002 Gujarat riots, the Indian Twitterverse exploded with a #puppies hashtag. US Vice-President Biden’s recent visit to IIT-Bombay in Powai resulted in many traffic-related tweets that afternoon. My favorite traffic-related hashtag here uses vowel substitution. Rumors of an alleged terrorist plot against Mumbai started on Twitter. India is starting to come into its own on Twitter. News articles are assessing if Twitter could have a real impact on the upcoming elections. Despite being late to the Twitter game, in India, I am an early adopter.

What’s the content connection?

Simple. Twitter makes you a better writer. It’s true. I swear. Twitter’s origins trace back to text messages. The primary reason for the 140-character limit was that most mobile carriers did not allow text messages of more than 160 characters. Using texting language is organic for this tool. Even the original name, twttr, eliminated vowels for brevity. Although many people on Twitter use texting language and symbols like “u, ur, &, bc, and lol” to abbreviate and gain more tweet real estate to communicate their messages, the best tweeters don’t.

The best tweets read like headlines, and they do so without excessive abbreviation. For example:

This tweet reads like a sentence with only one abbreviated symbol:

// eye-catching, well-written, clickable tweet that is only 75 characters:

This tweet has several hashtags and handles—and still gets the message across:

Twitter forces you to focus, to hone your message. You must decide which words matter most to your audience, which ones will catch their eyes, and most importantly, which ones will cause them to click. If we look at Dr. Biden’s tweet, we learn what matters to her: education, girls, and English language instruction in India. Interestingly, what we don’t learn is where in India she met the girls. (Answer: Mumbai.) Her purpose is not self-promotion, but education. (OK, so maybe a little self-promotion. She is a politician’s wife, after all.) Brian Clark’s tweet is self-promotion disguised as education. He is helping your business, but his ultimate goal is for you to buy his product. Aquent’s tweet targets web designers. Why? Self-promotion. As a creative talent agency, Aquent wants to attract great designers for their clients. Although what Aquent is offering is pass-along value, its true goal is to promote its brand so that great designers will want to work there. Perhaps Pear Analytics had it right about self-promotion after all?

Twitter takes the elevator pitch to a whole new level: the basement. Imagine needing to explain what you do before you even reach the lobby. How would you do it? You’d tweet, of course.

The lessons of Twitter can help you outside the Twitterverse, too. Just remember the 3 C’s:

Clear, concise content

Be clear. Know what you want to say and say it directly. Don’t try to obscure a poor idea behind flowery language. It won’t work. Your audience knows bullshit when it sees it. You will lose your followers if they can’t understand the point you are trying to make. So, don’t prattle on about your favorite tangent.

Be concise. Don’t use 10 words when 5 will do. Likewise, don’t use big words when little ones will work just fine. (Hat tip to Strunk and White for this one.)

Know your content. If you don’t know your topic, neither will your followers. Be the expert, even if you aren’t. Learn as much as you can about your content, and then share it with the world. Your audience will thank you. They may also disagree with you, but that’s the beauty of social media.

One thought on “Tweet, tweet: What 140 characters can teach you about great content

  1. Pingback: W is for writers | Magnolia2Mumbai!

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