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How To Write The Perfect Tweet

Twitter has long established itself as the ultimate platform for sharing and exchanging link content. For bloggers and brands, Twitter has surpassed Digg, Stumbleupon, Delicious and Reddit, and is only rivaled by Facebook as the most effective and consistent way to build website traffic through social marketing.

Better still, by building an engaged and relevant community, marketers can continue to reap the benefits of that traffic on a daily basis. Almost by accident, Twitter provided us with a new and improved take on permissive marketing, which has allowed the network to leave other social sharing websites in its dust.

It’s not all gravy, though – it’s easy to make mistakes that can be very costly indeed, leaving your tweet (and content) all but ignored. Continue making those errors, and Twitter will be about as beneficial to your brand and website as a typo-laden, badly-drawn flyer at your local community centre.

And while it’s perfectly acceptable to link to your own content, if you over-sell it, self-promote too much, or adopt the habits of salesmen of old (even slightly), you’re very quickly going to be overlooked. Worse, likely it won’t be too long before you’re labelled as nothing more than a spammer.

Reality check. Only two things really count when striving for the perfect tweet:

  1. Maximum readability
  2. Maximum retweetability

Collectively, these are vital. One does not favour the other. For maximum benefit, both of these elements needs to be perfect every single time.

1. Think Like Your Readers

This is a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s easily overlooked. For your tweet to be perfect, it needs to appeal most to your readers, to the majority of your network, and not to you.

Unless you’re a world-famous celebrity or brand with millions of devoted followers, adopting an attitude of ‘they’ll know what I mean’ or ‘everybody likes this!’ will almost always backfire.

You have to take the time to craft your tweet accurately and pleasingly, thus ensuring that it will be appeal to the highest number of readers.

2. Use Consistent Excellence To Stand Out From The Crowd

Take a moment to peruse your Twitter feed. Refresh the page. Who stands out? Why?

Through prolonged Twitter use we all become tuned into paying attention to certain things in our timelines, notably the avatars and usernames of our favourite profiles. But a friend or valued associate sharing new content isn’t always enough to make us click on that link. We trust their judgement, and we have liked some of the things they’ve shared in the past, but this hasn’t turned us into a robot, automatically clicking on everything they tweet.

Conversely, there are many times when we suddenly notice the tweet of somebody we’ve only recently started following, or have previously not paid much attention to, because it was excellent. It ticked all of our boxes, and we read the tweet and clicked on that link.

This has an additional benefit in that because the tweet was so good, subconsciously we’ll make a little note about the user (particularly their name and avatar) and are more likely to notice them the next time they update. This attention will rise exponentially if their tweets maintain a consistent quality.

Likewise, if the quality of updates dips too sharply or wanders too far off-course, we’ll start to pay less attention, and in severe cases this can lead to a total tune-out and unfollowing. Hence, while being occasionally excellent is better than nothing, being consistently excellent is better than everything.

3. Sell The Headline (In A Non-Salesman Way)

People need a really good reason to click on your link. Remember, at any given time (and in almost any Twitter client) the reader is faced with a number of choices to make – there might be as many as a dozen different tweets on their screen, and a lot more if they’re using columns or groups.

And things move fast – one or two refreshes later, and you could be long gone.

So, even if you’ve been consistently excellent for tweet after tweet and dear reader comes straight to you, your job is not done. They still need a reason to click, which means your copy has to sell that link.

The trick is you have to do this in a way that makes it seem like you’re doing something else. People don’t really like to think they’re being sold to, especially in social media.

Let’s call it unselling.

It goes without saying that statements such as “Click here to buy my stuff!” should only be used if your intention is to be completely ironic or you don’t actually care about people visiting your site.

Learn the difference between selling the link and selling the content – the content is what will sell your product or idea, but nobody is going to care about any of that unless you’ve first sold them the reason to read it. You might have discovered the cure for cancer, but nobody is going to care if you link it next to ‘This is cool.’

The reason can be number of different things. Promises work extremely well, but only if you actually deliver. Lie to people enough and it doesn’t matter how good your headline copy is. Honesty is essentially (and always) your best policy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a fresh coat of paint with a little spin and reverse psychology.

It’s worth noting that superbly-written headline copy can often generate immediate retweets, even if it’s obvious the other party didn’t actually read the content, simply because they trust and believe in you enough to make the (hopefully safe) assumption that you’re going to deliver the goods. After all, you’ve never let them down before – why would you now? This absolute loyalty is what you’re striving for.

A word on linking to website content that is not your own – don’t be afraid to rewrite the headlines of others. Most of the time these are formatted to appease a single platform or marketplace, and won’t work as well on Twitter. Other times they just suck, plain and simple. If you can do it better, do it better. Nobody is going to object if you’re sending them bucketloads of traffic.

4. Use Correct (And Acceptable) Punctuation

Here’s the thing: I’ve never met anybody who was offended or put off when they read something that paid attention to the correct use of punctuation. The opposite is not true – many people (enormous numbers if you use the internet as a gauge) feel that, rightly or wrongly, missing or an incorrect use of punctuation reflects poorly on the writer.

This is certainly true when it comes to first impressions. Like it or not, people will think less of you, and less of your opinion.

Thankfully, it’s easily corrected.

Use full stops and commas. Put your apostrophes in the right place. Use speech marks and parentheses.

Don’t end every sentence with an exclamation mark. A simple hyphen can often be the difference between a real word and one that doesn’t exist.

It can help to read your tweet out loud before you submit it. Are the pauses in the right place? We still need to breathe, even at 140 characters (or less).

Studies have shown that retweets contain more punctuation than normal tweets, even ignoring the colon that is automatically inserted by most Twitter clients (i.e., RT @).

Everything, that is, except semi-colons. I love the semi-colon, which is an underused and misunderstood little fellow at the best of times, but much as it pains me I feel it wise to leave them out of my tweets. It’s all about the little sacrifices.

5. Accept Nothing Less Than Flawless Grammar And Perfect Spelling

If you’re a bad speller, or struggle with grammar, consider writing your tweets in your favourite word processor first. This might seem unnecessary, or even patronising, but let me just echo the sentiments above – people will judge you on how you write, and how you spell, and this will have a direct impact on whether your links are clicked and your updates retweeted.

A quick checklist for every tweet:

  • Always start with a capital letter
  • Always use a capital letter with each new sentence (and you only need one space after the full stop)
  • Learn the difference between your and you’re, its and it’s and there, their and they’re
  • Capital letters make it LOOK LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING
  • Avoid text-speak at all costs. Far better to take an extra minute or two to elegantly craft your message and link into the desired 140 characters than it is to resort to writing like somebody who dropped out of high school (and then banged their head)

Don’t look to celebrities for guidance here. Many of them break most of these rules, most of the time. It doesn’t matter for them, because they’re celebrities. The rules don’t apply. They’re going to get tons of attention and retweets no matter what they do. The same goes for lots of power-users and long-established Twitter veterans.

It’s different for the rest of us. Remember: be consistently excellent. You cannot afford to be anything less.

6. Observe The Magic Retweet Number

The magic retweet number is the total number of characters you need to leave blank at the end of every tweet to ensure maximum retweetability.

Over time, I have given considerable thought to this figure and continue to refine and perfect it. Currently, the magic retweet number stands at twenty. Which means your copy, plus link, should ideally be 120 characters or less. This leaves 20 blank characters – plenty of room for others to retweet your message.

This is a rule that you will need to break from time to time. Certainly, you should not sacrifice a really quality piece of copy to squeeze your tweet under that ceiling. And Twitter’s internal retweet mechanism has somewhat decreased the need to be so mindful of retweet space.

But if you never leave any room for others to share your message with their network, chances are that most of the time they either won’t make the effort, or that perfect piece of copy you wrote will be bastardised and lost to the horror of txt spk. Guess what – as it’s a retweet, now everybody thinks you wrote it like that. Welcome to your legacy – it’s only on the internet forever.

7. Shorten All Links With Bit.ly (And Nothing Else)

This chart says it all.

If you’re using anything other than bit.ly to shorten your links – certainly if you’re using TinyURL – you’re actually hurting your brand. For a long time Bit.ly was Twitter’s URL shortener of choice and that recommendation, plus the stats and convenience that bit.ly provides, make it nothing less than essential for those looking to get their content re-shared. And while the bit.ly interface isn’t quite as slick as it used to be, it’s still the only URL shortener you should be using.

Tip: the bit.ly sidebar is super-convenient.

Conclusion

Twitter is supposed to be fun, and doing everything by the book, or in a very methodical or rule-driven way, can sometimes make it seem just a little bit too much like hard work.

However, if you really want to succeed on the network, then you’re going to have to put in that little bit of extra effort. If you want to be consistently excellent then I’m afraid you will have to work hard – at least until it becomes second-nature. Few people are naturally wonderful, certainly all of the time.

Trust me: it’s worth the sweat. Once you see the benefits that great headline copy, can’t miss unselling techniques and first-class grammar and punctuation can make to your Twitter presence and impact – as well as your website traffic, and sales – you’ll never again settle for anything less than the perfect tweet.

(Blue checkbox image via Shutterstock.)

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