The Biggest Mistake You’re Making on Twitter

The Biggest Mistake You’re Making on Twitter

Don’t just tweet the headline. Comment on the article. Explain why you’re sharing it.

Tweeting has never been easier. Just click that turquoise bird alongside nearly every kind of content on the web today, and a ready-to-go message presents itself. All you need to do is click “tweet.” The whole thing takes less than five seconds!

Yet there’s no decree dictating that you must use this prewritten gruel. In fact, you shouldn’t use the default text, which is tantamount to a robot announcing the Oscar winners: it’s generic and devoid of any shout-outs, styling, or personal commentary. After all, what you tweet is transmitted over your name and avatar, so it behooves you to stamp it with your own style.

What’s more, if you want to stand out, you can’t just put out what everyone else is typing. You need to offer up something new — even if it’s just your two cents. Indeed, with this little bit of extra effort, you can make each tweet count.

Consider the widely read post, “Facebook: I Want My Friends Back,” by Richard Metzger of the Dangerous Minds blog.


Here’s what happens if we click the “tweet” button:

FACEBOOK: I WANT MY FRIENDS BACK via @dangermindsblog

While the essentials are here — and, to the blog’s credit, the Caps Lock key is employed for emphasis — this tweet typifies the bare minimum. This is an opportunity lost.


Now let’s tweak a few things:



✔ We used Facebook’s handle to ring its bell.

✔ We added the word “hey” so that everyone will see the tweet (not just those who follow @DangerMindsBlog and @Facebook).

✔ We separated the link by way of an exclamation point, thus making the tweet easier to scan.

✔ We capitalized @DangerMindsBlog in accordance with how the blog stylizes itself.


And if we overhaul everything…

Is Facebook scamming you? Check out this eye-opening post by @RichardMetzger: (via @DangerMindsBlog)

… our followers benefit from:

✔ a teaser (“Is Facebook scamming you”?) in sentence case.

✔ a call to action (“Check out”).

✔ a shout-out to both the writer (“by @RichardMetzger”) and the blog (“via @DangerMindsBlog”).

In other words, we’re no longer mindlessly broadcasting. Instead of repurposing a headline written for a blog, we’re now issuing a call to action tailored to Twitter. In short, we’re explaining why whatever we’re sharing is worth reading.


As usual, sometimes you need to break the rules. Consider these alternatives, which play off key points in Metzger’s post:

1. How Facebook killed more than 50% of @DangerMindsBlog’s page views:

2. Don’t let Facebook get away with the biggest bait and switch in Internet history:

3. C’mon, @Facebook. You’re better than this! (by @RichardMetzger)

4. An important analysis from @RichardMetzger: “Facebook has taken a pee in their own pool from quite a lofty height.”


So which publishers embrace the great model? Unfortunately, not many — with a few exceptions.

Here’s how Upworthy, the website known for making serious subjects go viral, masters the medium:

Headline Tweet
A Church Told a Pastor That He Couldn’t Preside Over His Son’s Wedding. He Responded Like a Dad. You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate how amazing @StandWithFrank is.
This Is the Most Inspiring Yet Depressing Yet Hilarious Yet Horrifying Yet Heartwarming Grad Speech This is why it’s good to have strange people like @timminchin give your commencement address.
This Amazing Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular. Zach Sobiech: “You don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living,” by @soulpancake.
If This Video Makes You Uncomfortable, Then You Make Me Uncomfortable Watch this @getup video and just TRY not to be open-minded.
A Brave Fan Asks Patrick Stewart a Question He Doesn’t Usually Get and Is Given a Beautiful Answer THIS JUST IN: @SirPatStew is a friggin’ amazing human being.

Similarly, as documented by Laura Hazard Owen of paidContent, Slate has woven this twin-titling into its content management system. A few examples:

Headline Tweet
Thanksgiving Is Just a Special Dinner Party It’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Stop Eating at Lunchtime.
Can You Hack It? Everything Electronic You Own — iPhone to Subway Card to Power Strip — Can Be Hacked. So How to Defend Yourself?
Doctors Need to Have the Sex Talk Doctors Spend 36 Seconds or Less Talking With Teen Patients About Sex. Grow Up, Doctors!
Wind Chill Blows Yeah, it’s cold out. But wind chill is a lousy measure.

The bottom line (in less than 140 characters, of course):

Don’t be afraid to change the prepopulated, default text. Those 140 characters are yours — own ‘em. Make each tweet count.

How would you have tweeted Metzger’s post? How will you tweet this article? Tweet me your biggest Twitter pet peeve at @jrick.

A version of this blog post appeared in Fast Company on January 23, 2014.

Related Posts