"Explain yourself in 140 characters or less…"

November 26, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Twitter | Leave a comment

Can you explain yourself in 140 characters?

I wish I was there when the guys at Twitter decided to come up with the magic 140 number; if only to find out whether this choice was meticulously chosen through hours of countless research or simply just conjured out of thin air.

But regardless of where 140 came from, it’s now here. The magic 140: the limitation of the number of characters you can put in a single Tweet. This crossed over to other social media sites as well, and is now the new standard for micro messages (taken from the previous 160 via texting).

When I started out working in social media, I honestly thought that 140 was more than enough. I felt confident that I would be hashing out tweets left and right and not even reach that character limit. It goes without saying that I was soon forced to eat those words, but also was forced to take a closer look in the concise language I call lean messaging.

Lean Messaging: The art of writing one word to facilitate two ideas.

140 characters can be a headache to say the least. Counting in the #hashtags, formatting (RT, @’s), conjunctions and prerequisite punctuations, there can only be so many letters that actually contribute to the idea(s) behind the tweet. And if you’re posting something tweet-worthy, you can easily create a full essay on the same idea you’re tweeting. When I encountered this problem, I asked myself: “How in the world could I dumb myself down to write this in a few words?”

Well, that thinking was the first downfall: “dumbing down”. Making a message sexy doesn’t dumb it down, but rather makes it look clean, trendy and to-the-point. This type of writing is partially what made companies like Google famous: simple, effective writing without a lot of inefficient words.

A simple example would be: “There is a really cool site that I want you to look at!” This can be made lean to “Check out this cool site!” See the difference? They both state exactly the same message and half the character length.

So how do you learn this way of writing? Like with anything on this blog, I won’t necessarily say the best way to do it, but rather how I learned about it.

1. I check out a lot of blogs. There’s a lot of good writing out there that is simply begging to be read. Phrases from blogs can easily transition into Twitter, and vice versa.

2. Synonyms. Love it. The English language is highly inefficient by design, so having that Word tool handy always helps.

3. I type as if I’m texting (but smarter). The word “U” is something I believe should never be tweeted professionally (or sometimes even personally) but the snappiness of texts is something to learn from.

4. Watch a lot of comedy. This may seem left field, but sitcom dialogue is as simple as it gets. I’m more of an auditory person, so this may just be me, but I really learn a lot of how to say stuff simpler from watching everything from iCarly to Big Bang Theory. Plus, the general Twitter demographic is massively in this age range anyway!

And to drive the point home, if you were to ask me to make this entire blog into a tweet, it’d say:

“Tweet tip: Aim to tweet towards two ideas with one word”.

56 characters. 🙂

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