top of page

Twitter: The writing skills you need to flourish with 280 characters

More than 10 years ago I started living on Twitter. I was off to run my first marathon in New York. Text messaging from a Samsung slider phone was doing my digits in.

But back in those days you could text-message to Twitter. The idea that you could send one line to many people from a mobile device was genuinely revolutionary, and solved the problem of my aching fingers. I was addicted to Twitter in an instant and have been ever since.

There’s more to this anecdote than nostalgia for a time when I could run seven days a week without doing my knees in.

Sure, text messaging to Twitter has long passed. But the fact that so many people were originally using this feature restricted posts to the time-honoured, 140-character limit, which was only lifted a few weeks ago.

It’s still early days, but here are half-a-dozen tips from playing around with the new 280-character Twitter.

–         Variety is the spice of life: Don’t stuff your timeline with non-stop 200+ character posts. Short and punchy is still just fine. When I’m writing I still try to avoid going over ‘six o’ clock’ on the dial that measures the length of your tweets.

–         Hashtag stuffing: Amazed that people seem determined to pad out their posts with hashtags. The good old rule about a maximum of three or four hashtags is still a good one to follow. Anything more just looks spammy.

–         White space and carriage returns: On the subject of hashtags, you can take advantage of breathing room in the new long-form twitter and move hashtags onto a separate line. It’s not quite as neat as putting your Instagram tags in a comment, but a vast improvement.

–         Context, plus photos is a storyteller’s dream: When to go the full 280? I’m finding it easier to tell stories with photos and like being able to add context to shared content. Pulling out a pithy quote from a curated article helps call out the main points in an article.

–         @ mentions: See hashtags above. My colleague, Tim Hughes, compares careless @ mentions with kids who knock on the door and then run away. With extra space you can mention people and provide a bit of context for why they should engage. Much more civilised.

–         Mix it up with original content: When I draft a blog post I normally write half-a-dozen Twitter posts to rotate during the week. With extra space I’m making a conscious effort to mix it up my tweets with shorter headlines, longer context, pull-quotes, anything that gives each post a stronger sense of identity.

Back to that New York trip in 2007.

Standing in the queue at Homeland Security, I looked over the shoulder at a passenger holding a huge device that looked like it had been beamed in from the future.

The screen featured rows of colourful icons; I wanted to reach out and grab it. Of course, it was the first-generation iPhone, just one of many smart devices that have helped propel Twitter from 6 million to 328 million users in 10 years.

How many characters will Twitter make available in 2027? More to the point, will it even be around? That’s the subject for the next post…




Feel the connection?

bottom of page