Tweak your tweets: How to contribute to the conversation in 140 characters or less

July 13, 2009

Copyright © 2009 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

By Ann Wylie

The following article appears in the July issue of PR Tactics. Reprinted online with permission.

Think of Twitter as a cocktail party. Spend the evening talking about what you had for lunch, and you’ll soon find yourself socializing with the chips.

Instead of sharing the most mundane details of your day, you want to contribute to a fascinating conversation. When used correctly,  Twitter can be a lively exchange of information and ideas. Here are three tips for creating engaging tweets:

1. Add value with relevant tweets
Make yourself a resource instead of a bore. Here’s how:

• Don’t answer, “What are you doing?”  That question has launched a gazillion tweets.  Just ignore it. Instead of telling your followers what you’re watching on TV, recommend a great article.

• Ask questions. Start a conversation. Remember the “social” in social media.

• Focus on benefits to the reader. Guy Kawasaki  (@guykawasaki), a member of HubSpot’s Twitter Elite, makes himself relevant with interesting, valuable tweets such as “Top Twriters: 25 writers to follow on Twitter."

2. Make the most of 140 characters
Think your big ideas can’t be compressed into tiny tweets? One blogger at Pandora’s Skull has summarized the works of Shakespeare into 140 characters each. It is possible to say a lot in a little space.

In fact, you’re probably already condensing messages into 140-character units. Think of tweets as e-mail subject lines (“Block that cliché,” “Turn ideas into things,”  “How small is small?”).

To say more with less:

• Start with the headline
The headlines in USA Today’s “rails,” or refers, make good models because they’re tight, bright and crisp:
– Medicare, Social Security outlook grave
– Money: Oil prices and trade deficit up
– Sports: Ducks, Bruins fight to Game 7
– Life: Keep it short, funny, meaningful

• Then tighten your tweet
– Cut adjectives, adverbs and clichés
– Use a thesaurus to find shorter words
– Abbreviate often

“With Twitter, I have a new use for those 3-letter city airport codes learned back in the day,” tweets Entergy copyediting guru Chris Smith (@cswriter). “But will the peeps understand? Chris in MSY.”

• Link it to a blog posting, article or tipsheet: Use a url shortener such as or Snip! to condense long Web addresses. Better yet, ask your IT department to create a proprietary URL-shortener for your company or clients. Not only will that help support your branding efforts, but it will also keep you from being subjected to the whims of free, third-party Web services.

 Crafting 140-character messages won’t just make you a better tweeter, it will improve your overall writing, from headlines to e-mail subject lines.

3. Have a personality
Social media suggests that there are actual human beings, not just institutions, involved in these interactions. So let your personality come through — your real personality, not your company’s PR personality.

• Write a personable profile: Remember, Twitter is a cocktail party. How do you introduce yourself at cocktail parties? With your work title? Company name? Maybe your company’s boilerplate? 

No.  You go for something short, accessible and maybe even a little witty. 

• Tap your best writing skills: Smith also writes thoughtful, clever tweets that have the components of a good (although tiny) feature story:

“Today in history: rrrrrrrrriiippp! 50 years ago today,  Velcro registered its trademark. On Stevie Wonder’s birthday.”

• Don’t brand your tweets: This is not a press release. So don’t do this:

“Verizon Wireless yesterday announced that ‘Celebrity Digest’ is now available on the CDM 8615. To learn more, visit”

Instead, go with something concise and conversational like this, from Verizon Wireless’s Ken Muche (@VZWSoCal):

“Celebrity Digest on your cell phone:

Write tweets that are intriguing and conversational.

But what does Jon Stewart think?
You know you’ve made it when Jon Stewart skewers you on “The Daily Show.”

Recently, Stewart ranted: “The media and the government are not suffering because their thoughts are too complex, they are struggling because they have confused new with good. People aren’t clamoring for shorter, more inane chatter.”

When it comes to social media, it’s easy to confuse new with good. But write tweets that are relevant, crisp and personable, and you contribute to the conversation — instead of just generating more inane chatter.

Ann Wylie (@annwylie) works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing services, contact her at


Write for PR 2.0
Do you want more techniques for how to make your tweets and blog postings more relevant, valuable and interesting to your followers? If so, join Ann Wylie at PRSA’s “Writing for  Web 2.0” teleseminar on July 23. You’ll learn how to craft copy that gets the word out via social media.  


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