The structure of a tweet seems simple. Add 140 characters to a small box and the "Tweet" button, right? When you were first introduced to Twitter this may have been correct, but the more you use the communication tool, the more likely you will become an advanced user.
The Hello World! Text that almost every Web developer first works with is essentially what you are doing with your first tweet. It's your introduction to the language and culture, but there is a lot to learn. You send the message out there and expect the conversations and followers to flow like a waterfall. Sadly that is a misconception as new twitter users usually join due to two different reasons, for business or pleasure.
Twitter accounts for the average Joe take time to build followers much like it takes time to acquire a lasting relationship. Even though actors like Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) can have over 7,000,000 followers and not tweet every day; it is likely that you are not a celebrity and you will need to use some elbow grease. After tweeting about the most amazing dinner you've ever had, you're still curious why you don't have more followers. That's because it's important to know the structure of a tweet, and how utilizing various methods will increase your voice and presence.
Tweets are comprised of the following:
Text or the message you want to deliver. Journalism 101 would not only have you target the context to a particular audience, but also keep it short and sweet. If anyone can understand your message without a dictionary, you are off to a good start.
A Hashtag is the # symbol followed by text (#empower). Hashtags exponentially increase the viewership of a tweet depending upon how active the community is. Each hashtag has an unofficial community associated with it regardless of sites that claim you can register them. The most you can do is put your flag down on new territory and hope others respect it. Micro-chats also utilize hashtags during specified times. Physical event hosts occasionally also announce an official hashtag so people can communicate on another platform, which is a great way of taking notes through crowdsourcing.
A shortened URL (bit.ly, goo.gl, etc.) allows you to retain characters, and often provides analytic measurements. Links are optional as the overuse of them can create the appearance of a news feed rather than a humanized personality. At times people may be hesitant to use shortened URLs because they may not be secure, or viruses can hide behind them. On Twitter just hover over the tiny address and the full URL will appear in an alt text box. Similar features can be found on Hootsuite and other Twitter applications. The addition of a link also increases your chance to have a message retweeted or engaged with when using a hashtag. When searching for a keyword of hashtag on Twitter, there is an option to view only tweets containing links, which could drastically improve how far your message spreads.
@username - Just like any other piece of news, a microblog or report being provided on Twitter needs a source. If you take information from someone, credit them. As an example during the protests in Egypt there were many sources providing meeting locations, and alerting others where violence was breaking out. It wouldn't be very difficult to have a governmental official create a false identity and create a perpetual message of propaganda, simply because there was no source behind it. Though I say this is optional, the difference between news and opinion is a reliable source.
Image or Video - Tweeting about what you eat doesn't have to be what outsiders make fun of. Adding a visual allows others to understand the contest of your tweet. If you are also at an event, images or video are great additions to those attending virtually. These multimedia tweets are often well shared.
Making the Best of Your 140
Now that you know the components of a tweet, what is the best way to structure it? Well the short answer is that there is no standard or perfect way to format a tweet. If they were all created the same, it would probably take the novelty out of Twitter. However, sticking to these basic guidelines will allow you to remain credible and be retweet friendly.
- Subtract the number of characters in your username.
- Subtract an additional three characters for "RT " (There is also a space before the @ symbol).
- Subtract another single character for the @ symbol.
- Use this number as your actual number of characters you will use.
For example my personal twitter name is @thejournalizer. That leaves me with 122 characters per tweet. This is a clear case for why you should try to get a shorter username if possible. If you are just using Twitter to get your thoughts out there, don't worry about leaving room for the old retweet version. A few suggestions when structuring your tweet:
- The ideal tweet regarding a news item would have a link, context, a hashtag and a username.
- When asking a question on Twitter add at least one active community hashtag and context. If you can ask a particular expert, or someone familiar with the subject you are more likely to get a response.
- The ideal tweet regarding what you are eating would have an image, preferably before you started to eat it.
So what do you think makes the perfect tweet?
I recored a brief 20 minute webinar on this subject to aliviate the lengthy reading here. For those interested, I will be hosting another free webinar next month. We will focus on the hidden communities of Twitter.
TL;DR Be conscious of how many characters are being used if you want the tweet to be shareable.