How to write a good tweet

TweetyImage via Wikipedia

My guru Jakob Nielsen has published on research Nielsen Norman Group has just completed on Tweet usability.

To my knowledge, no one else has done this sort of research although many of the recommendations have been picked up elsewhere and some are plain common sense (not that that often stops people ignoring sense … !).

He walks us through their design of a promotional tweet, going through five iterations to end up with:

LAS VEGAS (October) and BERLIN (November): venues for our biggest usability conference ever

Here are some points for this tweet’s development (with some embellishment from me):

  • Capitalising city names draws the eye, breaking up the quick scan
  • Because when people scan they typically only read the first few words of a sentence, those first words need to be information-rich
  • Promotional tweets can be ignored so include some sense of news /new to make them useful / less obviously promotional / more compelling
  • Tweets should be 130 chars or less to allow for retweeting
  • Full sentences aren’t necessary in short content, which users are scanning, so ruthlessly chop unnecessary words and use quickly comprehensible characters like ‘+’ and ‘:’
  • Use a meaningful URL – which may appear elsewhere alone and out-of-context
  • A tweet should be highly focused and not try to make multiple points

Nielsen frets over when to tweet, concluding that 7:51 a.m. Pacific time is his best option as it also catches Europe.

However for others than him it may be more useful to use a service like Twittertise (which allows you to schedule tweets) to overcome Twitter’s ephemeral, stream driven nature (Nielsen says that with click-through decay, Twitter time passes ten times faster than email time) and hit more of your likely audience amongst your followers. Obviously don’t over-egg this!

Finally he reiterates a point which really needs driving home in my experience as many people don’t get it:

Text is a UI

and this applies doubly when you are talking about short text and when you’re calling people to action.

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