Saturday, September 24, 2011

How to Tweet (always in progress)

Disclaimer: I will keep editing this blog entry when I find good (or: bad) samples that highlight a particular point. You can participate by tipping me on such at bmdesignhki. Thanks.

Edit 2-Jul-2013: Now, after almost 2 years, I seem to disagree with some of my original points. That happens. :) Will make some commentary today below (this is connected to asking @tuomasenbuske and @alexstubb to visit here connected to their #twitterkirja project).

Twitter is gorgeous, and I plan to use it in business extensively (already do). But many people use it 'wrong', mostly unknowingly. Every means of communications has also an informal 'protocol', whose intention is to make the communication more efficient. This also probably is the underlying rule in this blog entry: make digesting your tweets easier. Make them short, and catchy. Do some work for the reader (not the other way round).

First of all, Twitter is like swimming. It's easy and natural once you're there. It may be hard to explain. You should not use Twitter (to make your own tweets) half-heartedly, as most organisations nowadays do. Do it all, or keep out. Like with swimming.

When starting, I found The Simple Twitter Book by BrentO very useful. It describes the basics (s.a. what is a re-tweet, hashtag etc.) and how to use Twitter from a business angle. Read it.

#1 Don't use hashtags within a message (only at the end)

Jul-2013 :
I now regret this first entry. Maybe it's the learning curve. Hashtags within message body are okay, but don't overuse them. They are similar to using bold in documents, since they are normally rendered in a different color (this also has to do with why overuse is so tedious). 

One way a hashtag helps the reader is it allows a one-click route to see more about the particular subject. It also brings more readers to find your tweet in the first place (i.e. I currently use the #scala hashtag a lot). For this sake it's good to use rather established tags (they're somewhat akin to ad-hoc mailing lists, really). Sometimes, to make a point, you can make a whole unique #iwouldntcareless kind of tag. For fun. :) 

Hashtags are cool, but I find them disturbing when being injected within the message body. Twitter messages are supposed to be glanced at once, and those hashes simply ... don't do no good.

Use hashtags at the end of messages only.

Bad example:

Here @rmchase (whom I deeply admire - sorry for needing to use you as a bad example) uses #bikesharing instead of just writing "Largest bike sharing in the world". Also, note that the #buzzcarFR is actually completely unrelated to this tweet (so I removed it when making my own retweet):

Good example:

     (to be added, please suggest one. Something that has relevant hashtags in the end - and a readable, catchy message body.)

#2 Don't use integrated tools (they suck)

These days, many sites suggest they could do your tweeting for you. Don't trust that. They will simply clutter your timeline with automated-looking unworthy tweets that cause people to lose interest in you.

Also, use of "Twitter integration" may cause situations where the same message ends up through multiple channels on your Twitter feed (see below).

Bad example:

Here, the tweets look different and I actually clicked both links. But they are the same! What I figure has happened is that the user has created a hand-made tweet in twitter ("17 minutes ago") and also entered a note on LinkedIn, but with completely different title ("15 minutes ago"). LinkedIn uses their interim URL scheme to know who pressed what and when (thus the "") but leads one to the same page.

The user might not even realize that this happens. He has simply thought that making LinkedIn updates automatically show up also elsewhere is a good thing. It is not (unless you are aware of it - and rely on it completely).

Good example:

Actually, the exact same (original) tweet serves as a good example. This looks like something carefully crafted for Twitter viewers only. It is easy for the reader and contains all relevant information. It is easy to decide whether I want to click the link or not, and 'via @growvc' gives appropriate credit to the tweet flow.

#3 Don't use multiple links in one tweet

Tweets are supposed to be simple. Putting two URL's is technically possible, but troubling for the reader. If interested in the tweet, which one to push. Both? One of the main benefits of twitter is the shortness of messages; the author is supposed to take care in making the message clear and easily congestible. Do it. Take time. You decide which URL is the best.

Often, this happens because of "integrated tools". Facebook places the original (good) link on the tweet but insists on placing its own (to track, I don't know what) as well. Actually, both of these may lead to the same final page, which is even more annoying for the reader.

Bad example:

Note the two links, both leading to the same page. Also note "via Facebook"

#4 Don't use interim pages

Twitter is supposed to be simple. Straightforward. Fast. Don't annoy your readers by making a tweet that does not take people to the particular page, but some interim page where they must again look for the right link. This is misusing Twitter, and comparable to email spamming.

My friend prtguru does this all the time. I haven't had the guts to tell him (but - please do).

Bad example:

All his tweets lead to the same page, From there, I will need to re-search the particular news entry that I was actually going for.

Even worse, since the news page is often updated, older tweets (that may get new publicity by re-tweets months after their original exposure) will lead to the general link page, covered by more recent entries. This really sucks, from a Tweet reader's point of view.

Correct action is to always use links taking directly to the particular page, links that will remain valid as long as possible (at least some 2-4 months).

Jul-2013: Peter now seems to give links to particular news pages, which is good for both him and his readers.

#5 Mark videos, especially if needing flash

If you're linking to stuff other than a usual web article, say so.

Add "(pdf)", "(pdf 6MB)", "(video)", "(flash)" or similar to the tweet, just prior to the URL. Many people (s.a. myself) read tweets over mobile connection and for such tweets, we'd rather collect them and see at home.

Bad example:

(some tweet that links to a Flash-only site or video, without saying. Completely unusable on an iPhone / iPad)

Jul-2013: In the two years, mobile rates have gotten cheaper. What I've grown to do in my own video tweets is to mark i.e. "(2:30)" for a 2,5 minutes video clip. Twitter clients nowadays show previews of i.e. Youtube links automatically, but it's neat to be able to see the duration of such link. This helps the reader to know how much of time they may be committing if clicking the video icon. 

Good example:

(some tweet to a video with time quoted)

#6 Mark interests other than what your subscribers expect, with hashtags

My followers are probably interested in urban design, cleantech and ecological issues. Anything else may be considered as noise by them, and causing too much noise is a sure way to get unfollows. 

Still, occasionally I want to tweet on other things, but I try to mark them as such.


With this one I was cautious anyways. It's a link to an online petition to call action against shark fin usage - fishery that casts whole shark bodies back to water after the fin has been cut off. They cannot swim that way, and slowly die. I find this shameful for humans, and though a petition does little, it's something. To highlight it's not the usual stuff I tweet, I added '#wildlife'. Could have added '#petition' as well, though it's mentioned in the body.

#7 Be consistent with the language

Many people (s.a. myself) tweet in multiple languages. Since tweets are anyways short, it is unnecessary to burden them with a further remark on which language is being used. Just be consistent. If the link you're referring to is in Finnish, tweet in Finnish. Giving the headline in English won't help your English readers get anything much out of the article behind the link.

btw, it wouldn't be a bad idea for Twitter to somehow (automatically?) find out the language used in tweets, so English readers could i.e. opt out of my non-English tweets. @feedback

Jul 2013: Twitter recently introduced Bing translations of tweets (not available in most clients though). This allows anyone to at least get a clue on what the tweet is about. Good feature (I've used it for Arabic-Finnish translations a couple of times).

Bad example:

Ville's tweet starts with English, says "This looks interesting...", but links to a Finnish page and finally apologises of the language (but at that point, it's too late!).

#8 Have a rhythm

Like in poetry (because it's short) also in tweets rhythm matters. It makes an extra caking on the subject. How you present is important.

Bad example:

This is obviously from an automated delivery "tube" (see point 2, "integrated tools") which destroys much of Sitra's often otherwise relevant tweets.

Also, look at it.

   " renewal:" 

This is completely unnecessary - what added value does it bring? (I only later realized the tweet was actually about revamping their website. Good - it says so in the front but "renewal" lead me to think of internal organisational renewal instead.)

   "Kill your design-darlings:"

Hmm - okay, we are getting to the essence?

   "Art Director (definition):"

Third prelude ending in a colon. Nothing, yet.

   "Person with superior vision of design..."

Now, it seems they ran out of 140 characters, so the integrated "tube" cut the message short. What's the point? This tweet is unnecessary, and it's making the brand of Sitra look bad online. Like most of their other integrated tweets.

Let's see how to say the same with rhythm.

  "Revelations re-designing early feedback and content are king(s). <link>"

That's probably not the best, but it does tell what the story is about. I would still say it lacks rhythm (it's too long). The "(s)" at the end tries to be funny.

(a good example on rhythm here, some day)

#9 Remove extra parameters from Youtube URL's

Be careful when copy-pasting URLs to Youtube videos. Depending on how you came to the clip, they may have unwanted parameters.


This parameter starts viewing the video from a certain place. Usually, you want to remove it so people will get to see the entire clip.


You can remove this one as well.

Jul-2013: This happens a LOT. People simply don't realize it and actually - Twitter could automatically cut out many parameters without damaging content. I think they should. @feedback

#10 Always check your URL's after the tweet. Always.

It's very easy to post tweets that have a completely wrong URL (copy-pasting error) or have a dysfunctional, partial URL. One that I came across recently (now deleted so no snapshot of that) pointed to http://china. Obviously, no such thing - it was supposed to point to .

Tools automatically shorten URL's so spotting these things while you are forming the tweet is no longer obvious. Remember you can always delete a tweet and repost it (there could actually be a 'modify' function in Twitter that would take the existing tweet contents as a template, while deleting the old one, atomically).

(example of a tweet with broken URL)

#11 Use hashtags when sidelining off your usual track

July 2013: this seems to be a duplicate of #6. Sorry.

Hashtags (words #likethis within your tweet) are originally meant for helping the search of content within all tweets in the world. However, you can also help the reader categorize a tweet using them, especially if you are tweeting of something outside your normal focus.

I use i.e. #entertainment, #movies, #ads etc. to tag my tweets that would be outside my normal contents (which would be transport, computers, technology - those I do not tag since people following me are probably expecting such content anyways, and unnecessary tags are a chore).

Like this, today:

What this hopefully does for the reader is to make it faster clear for him/her whether they are interested in the subject. Speeds up filtering (which is *vital* for tweets).

What this does for oneself is it avoids the danger of dropping followers because of sidelining to something that they would normally not be expecting. You don't want unfollows, right. 

#12 No commas between hashtags, please.

Hastags don't need commas as separator.

They should have simply said: #startup #entrepreneur #vc #networking

Another issue altogether is that the "Going the SaaS Route" is a very vague, and bad tweet to begin with. It is not self-consistent. It does not carry enough information to make me know whether I want to click the link or not. It makes me confused, and wastes my time.

Something better could have been:

   "Things to consider about going SaaS (software-as-a-service)."

However, the blog entry itself is rather vague, and a good punch-line is hard to fine. Maybe it is only appropriate that a tweet leading to it would be vague as well. (Sorry, GrowVC - I do like you otherwise)

#13 Do NOT use automatic notifications

Twitter is NOT 4square. Your followers don't want automated announcements on where you are. We want your original ideas, clever tweets and well thought-out retweets. That's why we follow.

This is a problem if an otherwise worthy-to-follow tweeter enables some system to do things like this:


Twitter clients (or Twitter itself) should also start having filters so we can filter these things out of our timeline. I would never ever want to see *any* tweet starting with "@someone is now departing". Ever.

Jul 2013: Or someone gymming. You should exercise for your own good. Don't boast it to the world. It's lame (me thinks). :)

#14 When 140 characters simply isn't enough - multipart tweets

This multi-part tweet from @Battlefield is actually pretty good. "(1 of more)" etc. ties them together. The problem naturally is that one must read them from bottom-up, but...  

Generally I would advice not to go multi-part, but if you absolutely must, this is the way. Well done, @Battlefield.

#15 "Like us" tweets

This one is interesting [July 2013: but luckily rare].

Now, why would anyone *not* want to preserve our oceans? Essentially the tweet is only asking to "RT us", akin to the Facebook "liking".

To my taste, this is cheap, and against the way Twitter is normally being used. This is exactly what keeps me away from Facebook. Companies coming to "social" communications easily fail to grasp the subtle yet vital differences between the way the different forums work. So this is Facebooking the Twitter.

It's not that bad. You can always unfollow. But it's likely not to get you the desired effect on Twitter. Do this on the Facebook side. We thank you. :)

#16 Twitter can take international alphabets - use them! 

I'm attending a seminar tomorrow. The name is "Varaslähtö" (early / false start in Finnish) but the arrangers are proposing the tag #varaslahto.

Why? No reason.

We're so used to cutting down on "umlauts" in emails and web addresses that this extends unknowingly also to Twitter. However, your tag can be in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese or whatever. Certainly Finnish.

So: #varaslähtö it should be. :)

12-Nov-2012: #17 Know what the reader expects - don't give false expectations 

Like with any communication, set yourself in the role of your audience.

Getting this tweet:

..I was expecting to see the presentation. A video, at least some slides. There is a link, after all!

Nope. This was merely about such an event starting in a conference, around this time. How does this make me feel? Disappointed, since I would have wanted to see the stuff. Fooled, since I thought I would get somewhere (other than the program part of the conference). 

How does this make the sender and the re-tweeter seem to me? Like they fooled me, intentionally. Of course, they did not, but the emotional tag is already there.

Don't do this. If you retweet, check the links first. Don't give false expectations. If it's just the agenda, say so. This would provide the necessary info to the reader, and avoid them feeling fooled. 

Better yet, make a tweet when the thing is happening and another once (if) it is available for viewing onling. Thanks. 

Here's the agenda page the tweet pointed at:

28-Dec-2012: #18 Don't dilute your tweets by flooding them 

Tweets are like little chirps of birds. One or two, now and then, is beautiful. Too much, too fast is NOT!

Any of these tweets might be important, but seeing them all at once, tweeted within roughly an hour (and there was more) makes them look garbage. It dilutes their value. Twitter is not a mailing list, it's a forum of serendipity. This is going against its stream.

This hurts the author of the tweets the most. You want your tweets to come out at nice times of the day, among other people's interesting tweets. This leads to people ignoring your messages, and worse, unfollowing. Stupid move.

To avoid this, there is i.e. the BufferApp that allows one to schedule tweets for later deliver. I'm not a huge fan of that app (since it kind of down-plays the serendipity factor, and allows i.e. concentrated efforts to catch the best twitter delivery times - well, to at least a certain time zone. also, it's amazingly complex.). Anyways, it's there and it will release one's flood syndrome.

Sorry, @mbauwens. I never read any of the tweets above. Had it been two, I would have. :)

2-Mar-2013: #19 Do NOT tweet the same stuff. Time flies - fly with it!

Check this tweet from @EV_Innovations:

 Nothing wrong with it, right? And there's not. Except... I had the feeling I had seen that before. Yep.

They only have three unique tweets in this whole time. I do get the idea behind this behaviour: by repeated tweeting newcomers will likely find information about them more likely. But they will not stick. What you want with Twitter is a community, a fellowship, who sticks with you, interacts with you, and promotes you further. This only manages to annoy such followers. You get quick turn-in, and quick turn-out.

Currently, @EV_Innovations has 581 followers. I don't call that success.

This kind of feels lame, and lazy for me. In Twitter, one should do one's best to spare the time of the followers - not your own time. This does exactly the opposite.

17-Jun-2013: #20 Be Relevant

Tweets from Eric Lowitt:

Eric should be able to use Twitter effectively. Collaboration is his thing, and he must spend a lot of time in social engagements. Why then does this not show on his twitter feed?

- there's never anything that's acutely happening Right Now (for which Twitter is the awesomest venue since tweets age in minutes).
- it feels like re-heated porridge from yesterday (that was re-heated from the day before..)
- it lacks person-to-person engagement
- it often lacks relevant links (to material other than his)

In short, it's like reading a mail order catalog. Not the best use of Twitter.

Eric - sorry. I didn't have the heart to send you a link. I'm a chicken. (on the bright side, no-one reads this blog so you're safe :) ).

...more entries may be added...

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