Have you ever tried to tell a whole story in 140 characters or less? That’s how short a tweet on Twitter must be if you want to leave room for others to share and comment.
Now, I have no problem speaking for an hour with zero preparation, and when I do, I get rave reviews from audiences. But when I delivered a 15 minute TEDx talk, I spent two months preparing and still didn’t deliver as well as I’d wanted. Delivering an effective message that will influence others in 140 characters is tough work. This is especially true when the products and services you offer are complicated. Take business accounting services, for example.
“Accounting is not known for its simplicity,” Brad Hanks, VP of growth at accounting software startup, ZipBooks, told me. “Debits and credits can get messy, and content marketing is hard to master in general, let alone when [you’re] trying to reach potential clients on Twitter.”
For those of you trying to shrink your tweets, or tighten any other writing you do, here are some tips to help you get your point across in short order.
1. Say it once.
Redundancy in writing is a common problem, but it’s easy to fix. Here’s an example:
Original tweet: We put your data in the cloud, so you can access it online whenever you want.
Revised tweet: We put your data in the cloud, so you can access it whenever you want.
Comment: We already know the cloud is online, so remove “online” to conserve precious characters.
2. Get to the point.
Simplicity keeps your sentences short and clear. Here’s how the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, tweeted his support of the Paris Agreement.
Original tweet: So much for the idea that protecting the environment kills jobs. CA leads in job growth, pumping up the US economy.
Comment: For someone nicknamed “The Terminator„ this goes on far too long. He could have gotten the same point across faster and better:
Revised tweet: Protecting the environment creates a job. CA leads growth in jobs AND regulations.
3. Get rid of intensifiers.
Adverbial intensifiers, like “very,” add emphasis to an adjective. Stephen King (whose book On Writing is a must-read for writers, even if you don’t like anything else King has written) said, “The road to hell is paved with adjectives,” so let’s get rid of those as well while we’re at it. I admire the work of expert writer Darren Rowse over at @problogger, so I dug through Rowse’s Twitter feed to test a hypothesis. As I suspected there was not an intensifier to be found.
4. Cut filler words.
Including such phrases as “it is,” “there are,” etc., adds no meaning. See how a small tweak can jazz up a tweet from @SteveKrak (formerly of CNN and TheBlaze):
Original tweet: BREAKING: Comey statement confirms whatever it is you personally believed about President Trump before the statement was released.
Revised tweet: BREAKING: Comey statement confirms what you believed about President Trump before the statement was released.
William Zinsser, the author of On Writing Well, wrote, “Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away.”
5. Don’t “think,” don’t “believe.” Just say it.
Avoid phrases like “I think,” “I believe,” etc. These words are unnecessary. If you’re saying it, people assume that you’ve thought about it and that you believe it, unless, of course, you’re a politician.
6. Stay active.
Active voice keeps your tweets short and sweet because it’s clear right away who’s doing what. Keeping verbs active is a great way to communicate the same amount of information with fewer characters.
Original tweet: Customers with questions can be helped by Mary.
Revised tweet: Mary can help customers with questions.
In the second version, Mary is actively helping customers with questions. Mary is active. So, be like Mary.
7. Use contraction subtraction.
Even if you save only a couple of characters by using contractions, you’ll have that much more room to respond and retweet your tweets. If it fits your brand, you can also use shorteners, like “w/” instead of “with” and “&” instead of “and.”
Original tweet: The Cleveland Cavaliers are not out of the running yet!
Revised tweet: The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t out of the running yet!
If you want to have an outsized influence on others, learn to be concise. Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Brevity is difficult, yet with the limited space on social media, it’s more important than ever that you hook your audience in the few seconds — and characters — you have.