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How Twitter Can Teach Us Crisp Messaging

Kim Brebach - Monday, August 13, 2012

How Twitter Can Teach Us Crisp Messaging | Technoledge

Twitter power

Twitter has provided people with a simple platform for sharing short messages, links about news and other interesting stuff. Just look at Twitter’s success in politics, the music and celebrity world. Twitter has even played a role in overthrowing dictatorships.

Twitter gives you just 140 characters for writing a message, less if you copy people or attach a photo. That’s pretty tight, and you soon find yourself over the limit. Next you look for flab you can get rid of: superfluous words or conjunctions. You replace AND with & or EIGHT with 8. If you’re still over, rewriting the sentence is the next option. So it goes

Twitter discipline

We’ve said more than once that today’s online readers tend to check headlines and skip read paragraphs. Unless something grabs them in the first few seconds, they’re gone like butterflies attracted by a brighter flower. That means our messages need to be clear, concise and compelling, and that is true whether we’re writing headings for blog posts or marketing emails, slogans for ad campaigns, Google Adwords or video scripts.

For most of us, crafting punchy messages is a process of reduction not unkike thickening a sauce on the stove. We might start with a line like: ‘How many presentations have you sat through that bored the prospect to tears and lost the sale?’

Far punchier is: ‘How many sales have you lost through boring presentations?’

Better still: ‘Stop losing sales through boring presentations.’

Less is more

Gradual reduction is the process copywriters use to write crisp lines like ‘All the news that’s fit to print (New York Times). Here’s an example of a longer sentence that works because the words flow like a mountain stream around polished pebbles: ‘At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.’ David Ogilvy penned that famous line decades ago, and said it was the result of 108 edits.

The line looks long but contains not a single superfluous word. The rule that less is more applies to all good writing, even to a long essay or a book. It makes less work for the reader, for one thing. Twitter is much less forgiving, and that makes it a hard taskmaster.

The Elevator Pitch

This is one of the toughest word-smithing jobs. An elevator pitch typically lasts 30 seconds, enough time for about 500 – 700 characters or 100 words, depending on how fast you talk. This is all you have to describe what you do and how you’re different from your competitors. It’s also roughly the same number of words you should use on your ‘About’ web page to do the same thing.

For the Elevator Pitch to hit the target, it must be clear, concise and compelling. It must also be credible, and the words must flow easily. It’s no good crafting a great pitch if it you can’t deliver what it promises, and it’s no good crafting a hell of a pitch that you can’t deliver without stumbling over words.

Twitter’s 140 characters are a tough restriction, but Cecil B. de Mille the movie producer was a lot tougher. When writers tried to pitch movie scripts to him, he would pull out a business card and ask them to write the pitch on the back of it. Makes Twitter look generous, doesn’t it?


Kim Brebach
Content Chief

I've always loved people and words. As long as I can remember, I've been a story-teller and the team here says I'm pretty good at it. That's probably why I head up the Content Team: I create the arc of the story and others add their magic. 

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