So you’ve learned the basics of Twitter symbols (a few strange characters) and have set yourself up with a Twitter client for reading and writing. Now… what should you actually say in Twitter? That is, what to tweet?
If you’ve done any blogging, I want you to consider the following statement. Twitter is more that a “status update” service; Twitter is a blogging service. It just happens that the blog posts are limited to 140 characters — which is why it makes sense to call this “micro-blogging.” So blog away, however you like!
…But If you haven’t done any blogging, that last paragraph was probably less than helpful. Let me try again, giving some more detail on what to tweet:
What to tweet: Don’t answer the standard question
The question that Twitter asks on their web interface is, “What are you doing?” This is unfortunate, because for the most part we lead boring lives! Ever wonder why nobody does a reality TV show about your life? Most of what we do is mundane and uninteresting.
Unfortunately, the “What are you doing?” question perpetuates the myth that Twitter is a stupid time-waster consisting of nothing but “In line at Starbucks,” or “Brushed my teeth.” Are there people who tweet like that? Probably. But you don’t have to read their tweets, and you don’t have to be one of those people.
Instead of “What are you doing,” here are other questions which may lead you to tweet something more interesting:
- What are you thinking about?
- What has caught your attention?
- What are you reading?
- What happened to break your routine today?
Even Facebook, in their latest redesign, changed the update prompt from “[Your Name] is…” to “What’s on your mind?” which is better than the standard Twitter question. What’s on your mind?
What to tweet: Don’t answer any question!
But even the “improved” questions tend to lean towards something that is a status update. There’s nothing in Twitter that says you need to tweet any kind of personal status. You have a canvas — be creative! Artists often find greater “creative juice” when they limit themselves in some way. Well, here is your constraint: You have 140 characters. Go.
- Make people laugh.
- Make people cry.
- Make people puzzled!
What to tweet: …But do answer the standard question
With all that said, sometimes “What are you doing?” is a good question to answer (if the answer is not dull), because it lets people catch a slice of your life and get to know you better. Back to that reality TV show about your life: You know if someone were to make such a show, besides putting you in a contrived situation designed to create conflict, the main thing they would do is edit, edit, edit. The dull bits are left on the cutting room floor, while the interesting bits get attention. What are the interesting moments of your life? Even mundane activities are interesting if they show your personality.
“TwiTip” is a blog of Twitter tips, and a recent article really nailed this idea: How to Be an Endearing Narcissist on Twitter.
What not to tweet: Remember, it’s all public
Finally, an important caution: I put that microphone image at the top as a reminder that Twitter is like a big open mic. Whatever you say may be read by anyone. Even if your settings specify “Protect my updates” so that they’re visible only to people you approve, there’s nothing preventing those people from accidentally selecting “retweet” in their Twitter clients and broadcasting what you just wrote to the world, fully attributed to you!
- Anything you wouldn’t say in person.
- Anything you wouldn’t want your employer to see.
- In anger (you may regret it).
Example of this danger zone: I had a phone interview with a manager I thought was completely lacking in people skills. I tweeted a message like, “Phone interview done, but that manager was somewhat less than human.”
Yikes! What if the manager had decided to move forward with face-to-face interviews, but then looked me up on Twitter to learn more about me? A friend with more Twitter experience was kind enough to sent me a direct message, alerting me that the message could have potential negative consequences. I deleted it immediately, but my friend also warned me that Twitter powers its searches with a separate database. Sure enough, even though I’d deleted the message, a search popped it up for some time. Deleting a tweet doesn’t immediately hide it from search results!
Have I scared you enough? Good. But now let’s relax and get back to the goal, which is to help you to tweet in interesting ways. It’s a new medium, so there will be things you will learn about the rhythms and follies of Twitter as you do them. What to tweet? Be helpful, be funny, be deep… but whatever you aim to do on Twitter, enjoy yourself.
Now it’s your turn to chip in!
- For tweeting, what questions have you found helpful to ask yourself?
- Share examples of people who twitter in creative ways.
- What faux-pas have you committed or seen on Twitter?
Twitter Practical How-to’s series:
- Twitter Symbols: What Do @, d, RT, # Mean?
- Use a Twitter Client
- What to Tweet (and What Not To)
- Who to Follow on Twitter
- I’m Being Followed on Twitter!
More Twitter resources:
- Why Twitter? series
- Before You Sign Up for Twitter series, including How to Choose Good Twitter Names