One year for Christmas, my mom gave me a sweatshirt that said, “Does anal retentive have a hyphen?”
It was a perfect gift considering my inclination to order and perfection.
So, it comes as no surprise my perfectionist tendencies have crept into my approach to Twitter. In my defense, there are at least two reasons this is a good thing:
- Following a consistent approach to tweeting is good for branding.
- Strict attention to readability is critical to engaging and getting clicks.
This is my justification for those who would accuse me of sweating the small stuff. I prefer to think of it as fine-tuning each tweet to make it a little more awesome. Like a concert tweetist.
Of course there are other critical elements that define Twitter success, such as building relationships and sharing valuable content. But first impressions make a difference.
After I had been on Twitter a while, I noticed a hodge-podge of formatting choices people use when writing and sharing tweets. Once I determined the content I would share, I decided to take the next, anal retentive step and format all my tweets the same way. The goal became to make each one look like my tweet. Even retweets.
This was a personal branding decision. Since the Twitter stream moves so fast – with people making split decisions on clicking, sharing and following – I endeavored to leverage consistency in my favor. When clicking on a profile picture, the last three tweets are displayed. If you like the content and it looks consistent and easy to read, it can influence a split-second decision to follow.
In my early days of newsletter publishing, readability was drilled into me by my mentor. Those principles apply even more for Twitter. If it takes more than two seconds to read and comprehend a tweet, people will move on to the next. That’s not based on any studies I can cite. It is my opinion. But I know it’s directionally true based on how I scan the Twitter stream.
So I apply some of the typography rules from my publishing days with the goal of making all 140 characters easy to read and understand:
Capitalize only the first word of the headline, unless it’s a proper noun. Forcing the eye to stop for each unnecessary capital letter slows the reader down and creates friction. I know some online writing style guides suggest upper case letters for every word in a headline. But I’m going with my gut on this one. Scanning with less friction = faster, easier readability.
Structure the tweet the same way every time. The formula I follow is:
- Headline » link » by or via handle » hashtags
- For a retweet: Headline » link » by or via handle » RT handle » hashtags
Here are a couple of examples:
Common Twitter etiquette calls for the RT at the beginning. I break with protocol in the interest of readability and put it at the end. If I get a retweet mention, I don’t care if it’s at the beginning or end.
Let the reader know if the link contains a video, Infographic, chart or other rich media. I note it in brackets immediately following the link as in the example above.
What about comments? I usually preface a headline with my comment, although sometimes it’s appropriate at the end, depending on its context. The key is to apply them consistently. Here is an example:
These are the rules I follow for using hashtags:
- Use no more than three per tweet, preferably two.
- Never put a hashtag at the beginning or end of the headline. It looks like spam and it makes the link harder to spot. (Remember, we’re dealing with split-second reaction times).
- If possible, try not to use a hashtag in the headline. It creates friction in read-through comprehension, so I do it sparingly.
There is already an abundance of great headline writing advice for the Web, so I won’t go in depth here. But the reality is most headlines can be better optimized for Twitter. Improving a headline can make all the difference in getting a click and a share. Here is what I strive for in a Twitter headline:
- Make a promise of usefulness
- Make it newsworthy, timely
- Build curiosity by focusing on a unique or surprising assertion
- Use emotional words that appeal to the interest of the reader
- Use specific language that gets to the core idea
Here is an example of a Twitter headline I tweaked that got the desired reaction. The original read “The bra tree – a new way of thinking about evergreen content.” I shortened it and added an element of curiosity, which succeeded with this fellow tweeter:
So, does anal retentive have a hyphen? There’s no right-or-wrong answer. It’s optional depending on personal preference, just as choosing your Twitter heading, handle, profile bio and picture are. How you write and format your tweets is a matter of personal expression too. This is how I do it, and why. You have to be your own concert tweetist.
What are your rules for writing tweets?
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