University of Southern California

Election 2012

Feature

The Art of the Tweet

August 20, 2010

blue bird twitter edited.jpg
By Ira Kalb

Writing effective headlines is nearly a lost art, one that declined with the passing of great masters of the golden age of advertising: Rosser Reeves, John Caples, David Ogilvy, Shirley Polykoff and Bill Bernbach. This is unfortunate, since Twitter, which restricts users to 140 characters, depends on writing headlines that communicate and sell.

Since Twitter is one of the newer forms of social media, most people don’t really understand its potential or power. This is understandable, because too many people fail to tweet effectively. They use Twitter to tell their friends things they really don’t want to hear, such as: “I’m having a latte at the Starbucks on Montana and Lincoln in Santa Monica.” That tweet might be of interest if written by a favorite celebrity (Ashton Kutcher, who boasts a huge following), but not if it comes from an acquaintance or friend. The complaint most often heard from people who don’t understand Twitter: “I really don’t care to hear when my friend is watching the grass grow.”

Those who do know how to use Twitter have found it to be very effective in distributing breaking news or communicating an important point of interest to followers.

A very small number of people seem to have a gift for writing good headlines; many of these are journalists. Even greater skill is required to create effective tweets, since the social media audience is fragmented over a large number of channels and media.

The successful Twitterer includes several key ingredients in a tweet. When crafting a message, consider the following:
  1. Main points. Does the tweet contain the main points I want to communicate?
  2. Benefits. Do these points communicate important benefits to the target audience?
  3. Uniqueness. Are my points unique and defensible, or can my key competitors make similar claims?
  4. Memorability. Are the unique benefits or main points easy for my target audience to remember?
  5. Target. Does the tweet target the right audience?
  6. Hook. Does the tweet hook the target followers, making them want to read or learn more?
  7. Understandability. Does the tweet use language or jargon that the target audience will surely understand?
  8. Simplicity. Does the tweet follow the “KISS principle” (Keep It Short, and Don’t Be Stupid)?
  9. Name. If I am tweeting for a company, does the tweet include the company and product names?
  10. Standalone factor. Will most of the target followers absorb the main benefits from the tweet itself, or will they be inspired to learn more by following a link?
  11. Believable truth. Does the tweet tell the truth, in such a way that it will be believed by the target audience?
Ira Kalb, assistant professor of Clinical Marketing at the USC Marshall School, is an expert in branding, image creation, marketing and corporation communications.

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