How to write better tweets for content sharing

One of the most often discussed topics around Twitter is that for some people, it can be extremely difficult to write for. 140 characters alone can be limiting enough, but writing an effective tweet requires skill above and beyond brevity, especially for sharing content. How do you write tweets that get more clicks, retweets, and attention?

First and foremost, there’s no magic formula, no silver bullet. Let’s put that notion to rest immediately. There is no magic tweet structure, just as there is no aggregate best time or day to tweet.

Think of tweets like teasers for the content you’re linking. When you’re sharing content, the tweet that leads people to the content is effectively its headline, just as the headline of a newspaper article is the draw for you to read the article. Headlines have even less space – as few as 55 or 60 characters, typically – so if you’re able to write a good headline for a newspaper article, then you’re able to write an effective tweet.

One of the critical mistakes that tweet authors make is trying to cram the entirety of the content, of the story, inside of 140 characters. It’s not going to happen, and it can create incredible frustration. If you can’t create a summary, then what do you do? Here’s the secret, to the extent that there is one, for writing effective tweets: write one step away from the lead.


What does that mean? In short, every piece of content has one or more points, one or more benefits or risks to the reader if they consume it, a story lead. Understanding what the lead is means you know what the content is about and how it benefits the reader or harms them if they don’t read it. This article is about how to write better tweets for content sharing, which is the headline and would make a fine tweet. It leads you to the article with the promise that inside, you’ll learn how to write those tweets. The tweet is one step away from the lead point.

The easiest way to write one step away from the lead is to consider the age-old sales question, “What’s in it for me?”. What’s in the article for the reader if they read it? Perhaps it’s 4 tips for a better life or information about the most alarming ingredient you didn’t know was in your food. The hearts of those tweets are easily visible.

Let’s look at an example that’s not as clear-cut. This is a link to the American Association of Public Opinion Research’s best practices and standards for minimum disclosure for surveying, a very important document that’s technical and on the dry side. The lead is that compliance with their standards ensures that your surveying practices meet academic standards for real research.

The benefit to your organization, if you comply with these practices, is that real researchers can examine any research you publish and be able to assess its validity. If your goal is to get the buy-in of prominent influencers in an industry, having research that follows these best practices and can stand up to scrutiny would be to your benefit, and that’s the one step away. Writing the tweet becomes just an exercise in brevity: “Learn 5 essential steps for making your research respectable” is the copy that highlights the one step away headline.

Writing tweets one step away from one of the leads of the story rather than trying to summarize the story relieves you of the frustration of trying to compress large content into tiny packages. By focusing on just one of the benefits, you make a more compelling tweet and you struggle less with the writing process.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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Posted on September 10, 2013 in Marketing, Social Media, Twitter

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change. Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim. He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.
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