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You Are Boring: 9 Lessons for Improving Your Tweets
By: Brian Wagner
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Seemingly on a daily basis, the Internet lights up with reports of clueless companies that create firestorms by posting a thoughtless or offensive tweet. Hence, we are all used to hearing the phrase "Think Before You Tweet" bandied about in blogs. But now, researchers give us a new reason to think before you tweet: you might be boring.
 
A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, MIT and Georgia Tech set out to understand what is worth reading on Twitter and why that is, in order to design better tools for presenting and filtering content and help people better understand the expectations of other users, according to lead author Paul Andre.
 
To that end, the team created "Who Gives a Tweet?" a rating site where strangers were asked to rate other strangers' tweets on a simple scale of "Not Worth Reading," "OK," and the coveted "Worth Reading." In an affirmation that humans have way too much time on their hands, the researchers were able to draw 1,443 people to the site over 19 days, where the visitors rated 43,738 tweets from 21,014 different Twitter accounts.
 
The reviews were decidedly mixed. Shockingly, it turns out that not everything posted on Twitter is titillating (Twitillating?) or intellectually engaging. Reviewers liked 36%, disliked 25%, and had no opinion on the remaining 39%, of the 43,738 tweets.
 
The key takeaways, according to the researchers, were that the most strongly disliked tweets were those that were part of an ongoing conversation that did not include the reviewer, as well as the abundant "I'm drinking milk" or "I hate my school" lifestyle updates.
 
The most popular tweets were those that engaged followers through questions, shared interesting information, or fascinatingly enough, involved acts of self-promotion for the user (such as Tweeting a link to this blog…five times).
 
The initial report on the study closed with a very helpful summary of "nine lessons for improving tweet content," republished here:
  • Old news is no news: Twitter emphasizes real-time information. Followers quickly get bored of even relatively fresh links seen multiple times.
  • Contribute to the story: Add an opinion, a pertinent fact, or add to the conversation before hitting "send" on a link or a retweet.
  • Keep it short: Followers appreciate conciseness. Using as few characters as possible also leaves room for longer, more satisfying comments on retweets.
  • Limit Twitter-specific syntax: Overuse of #hashtags, @mentions and abbreviations makes tweets hard to read. But some syntax is helpful; if posing a question, adding a hashtag helps everyone follow along.
  • Keep it to yourself: The clichéd "sandwich" tweets about pedestrian, personal details were largely disliked. Reviewers reserved a special hatred for Foursquare location check-ins.
  • Provide context: Tweets that are too short leave readers unable to understand their meaning. Simply linking to a blog or photo, without giving a reason to click on it, was "lame."
  • Don't whine: Negative sentiments and complaints were disliked.
  • Be a tease: News or professional organizations that want readers to click on their links need to hook them, not give away all of the news in the tweet itself.
  • For public figures: People often follow you to read professional insights and can be put off by personal gossip or everyday details.
So next time you are about to tell the world what you are eating for dinner, remember, don’t be boring. Instead, share a link to that hilarious new Chuck Norris meme. The world will laugh, and continue following you, at least for another day.

Note: CMU is a client, but this article was written solely out of professional interest. Far better writers have already addressed this in the mainstream media.


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About the Author
Brian Wagner is a senior manager at McBee|Gibraltar, the strategic communications solution within McBee Strategic. Based in Washington, D.C., he is also a public affairs officer in the Navy Reserve. All opinions expressed are his own.
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