Writing by Peter Hilton

What to write on Twitter

the most important part of how to use Twitter - 19 January 2015 #Twitter

photo - songbirds

The first rule of Twitter is Don’t talk about Fight Club, because tweets about Twitter are just as tedious as television programmes about television. In fact, I’ve successfully restrained myself for six and a half years now, since I explained how to explain Twitter Nevertheless, it turns out that for a lot of people, it’s not obvious how you might use Twitter, or even what you’d write about.

There was a time when journalists, having just heard of ‘this new Twitter thing’, would write articles for other Luddites that boiled down the question, ‘who wants to know that you’re sitting on the toilet?’ Meanwhile, millions of people have come up with far more interesting things to write about.

This article is a collection of tips about what to write on Twitter.

Actually writing

Before working out what to write on Twitter, you do need to decide to actually write. Or not, because if you don’t see the point of Twitter then that’s just fine by me.

Retweet in moderation because otherwise you mess with your followers’ own freedom to choose whose tweets they read. It’s especially annoying to retweet a whole series of tweets from the same account, as if you’re trying to force your own followers to follow someone.

Limit tweets that are just links to web pages because that’s another kind of retweet, but worse because it switches medium. The exception is links to something you wrote yourself, such as a blog post, when it’s related to what you tweet about.

Limit photos because Twitter works better for text. A photos-only feed can work, in which case you don’t need to read this article.

Writing about what you’re thinking

Twitter’s user interface asks you ‘What’s happening?’, but you shouldn’t take this literally. The real question is ‘What’s on your mind?’

No-one cares what you’re doing right now. What’s on your mind is more personal and more interesting than what’s happening, and more likely unique.

Writing for an audience

As with any writing, it helps to understand who your audience is, and to write for your audience. It’s okay to say that you’re only writing for yourself, of course, because that’s the same as saying that you’re writing for other people like yourself.

The difference on Twitter is that you know who your audience is: you have a list of followers. While you’re still figuring out who you’re addressing, it can be useful to have a quick look at each new follower’s profile, so you can understand how your audience is changing.

Pivot when necessary. Suppose you start off by tweeting to friends and family, because only people who know you will follow you. You may later discover that you’ve written enough interesting things about your work or where you live, say, that the majority of your followers are people you don’t know. At this point, you have an audience that’s there because of what you’re writing about, not who you are.

Staying on topic

Your followers are generally following you because of a shared interest in a small number of topics. Unless you’re famous, it isn’t all about you.

Limit off-topic posts because it’s unfair to bait-and-switch your readers. Off-topic tweets cost you followers, although you can get away with some. It’s interesting to write about programming in Scala or living in Rotterdam, for example, because there are lots of people doing that, but not from the same account, because there are relatively few people who do both. Not enough to make a respectable number of Twitter followers, at least.

Post off-topic about what you care about, though, because a little randomness keeps life interesting and makes you less one-dimensional as a writer. That’s why and old-school encyclopaedia (in an actual book) is interesting because you often end up reading the article next to the one you were looking up, and alphabetical order is random with respect to topics.

Don’t switch languages - because however much those of us who are trilingual like to brag about it, tweets in a different language are like those off-topic tweets that only mean anything to a small subset of your usual followers. Twitter shouldn’t be monolingual, though, so let’s hope Twitter clients start integrating automatic translation sometime soon.

Photo: Michael Coghlan / CC BY-SA 2.0

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