What to Tweet

Twitter is an ideal tool for technical communicators like me. We like to write, we like technology, and we like to share information about how to do things better. Many of us are introverts, and so enjoy building networks through written communication. We can stay in daily contact with people we may see once a year in real life. These people become our friends and supporters, though they’re scattered around the globe.

Creative writers, I’ve observed, often find Twitter a less natural fit.  Some do quite well, reaching out and sharing relevant information with a wide network. Others connect primarily with people they already know and tweet primarily about what’s going on in their life. And if that’s their goal, then that’s fine.

But if you want to use Twitter as a marketing tool to build your fan base and your network of supporters, you have to do more. Twitter is about adding value for your followers. How do you do that? Figure out what your followers want, and offer them solutions to problems.

Branding Yourself

Before deciding what to tweet, it helps to have a clear concept of your brand. For instance, my interests include gardening, scuba diving, and travel to exotic islands, but those things aren’t part of my brand. So I don’t (usually) tweet about them. My brand focuses on communication: technical writing, creative writing, and public speaking. My unique value proposition is viewing those activities through the lens of personality type. So those are the things I tweet and blog about. Those are the things my followers expect to see from me.

Adding Value

In social media, the unwritten rule is that no more than 20% of your communications will be aimed at self-promotion. The other 80% will focus on other activities that are of interest to your followers. These activities might include some of the following:

  • Articles on the Internet that your audience might find informative
  • Books you enjoyed reading
  • Publications by members of your network that might be of interest to your followers
  • Local networking events
  • Conferences relating to your area of expertise
  • Tweets by members of your network that bear retweeting
  • Pithy observations or quotations
  • Breaking news

Remember, though, that tweeting is to some degree a conversation. If someone retweets you or promotes your activities, then thank them. And if someone follows you, follow them back if you think they’re communicating worthwhile information. Read their tweets and look for something you can retweet, to show them your appreciation. Think about how you can contribute to the Twitter community.

Also, be sure to consider the signal to noise ratio. Twitter is not the place to rant about getting stuck in a traffic jam, unless you’re warning your followers to take an alternate route. It’s not the place to rave about a terrific meal, unless you tell your followers the name and location of the restaurant. If you’re tweeting about your life, be sure to give your followers a reason to care.

What Not to Tweet

Here are my two favorite examples of what not to tweet, both by self-professed social media marketers.

1. “All men are idiots, and I married their king.”

Why this is bad: Rhetorically, this tweet has a certain wit to it. Unfortunately, the author has now insulted half of her prospective clients, and alienated women who do not consider their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, or male associates to be idiots. Moreover, if this author married the king of idiots, doesn’t that make her their queen? I wouldn’t take advice on social media from the queen of idiots.

What she could have tweeted instead: “We all make mistakes. Learn from them and move on.”

Why this is better: A platitude? Yes. But it may be something that one of her tweeps needed to hear that day. Instead of blaming her (ex?) husband for whatever negativity she’s experiencing in her life, she’d be sending a positive message into the world.

2. “Why is everyone watching the Whitney [Houston] funeral?? People die everyday.”

Why this is bad: It’s not hyperbole to say that Whitney Houston was the greatest vocalist of her generation. But even if she’d been a flash-in-the-pan pop diva, it’s insensitive and insulting to trivialize someone’s grief.

What he could have tweeted instead: “Many of my tweeps are watching the Whitney funeral today. My condolences to her family, friends, and fans.”

Why this is better: Twitter isn’t about you. It’s about community, and how you can contribute in a positive way. This requires empathy. If you have nothing positive to say, then say nothing.

That doesn’t mean you can never be critical. You can denounce ignorance and repression without offending too many people. But always consider your brand. Are politics or religion part of your brand? If not, either say nothing, or approach the subject obliquely. For instance, to oppose excessive taxation, post a quote from Abraham Lincoln on personal responsibility. To support gay marriage, post a quote from Martin Luther King on civil rights.

Doing Twitter well isn’t hard, but it does require a strategy. Know the message you want to send. Then, follow the Golden Rule of Twitter: tweet unto others as you’d have others tweet unto you.

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2 thoughts on “What to Tweet

  1. Thanks for the post, answered a couple of the questions I’ve had about twitter. I still don’t have one, I honestly haven’t even been to the twitter website, but recently I’ve been thinking it’s time to get into it, and this post has gone a long way in getting my thought process for it going in the right direction.
    Keep it up,

    Mr. B

  2. I love Twitter and have to force myself to limit my time on it. It can be overwhelming to start with if you don’t have clearly defined goals. I primarily use Twitter to interact with fellow technical communicators—so for someone in my field, the #techcomm tag would be a good place to start. Search on that tag, and follow people who seem to be tweeting good stuff. Creative writers might start with the #writing or #amwriting tag. Look around, see what’s there, and join the conversation!

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