If you are tongue (or tweet) twisted trying to learn how to master the world of Twitter, relax. There is help out there.

Many Twitterati and others who have been tweeting since the little blue bird first came out of its shell are willing to share their “knowledge” of what works and what doesn’t (it also gives their ego a boost). There are many excellent “how to” articles out there and I encourage readers of this blog post to send in their suggestions of posts on the topic. In the meantime, since I was too lazy to do the research, here’s a quick round-up of some things I’ve learned (what me, ego?) from experience (i.e. by making these mistakes) about communicating in short bursts of 140 characters or less.

Breaking news: Tweeting is a lot like headline writing

The good news is that although Twitter seems like an entirely new beast to be tamed without the benefit of any prior training, it’s actually not all that new. We can look to more familiar forms of media to guide us. For example, writing headlines for news stories is not that much different from writing a good tweet. Your tweet has to grab attention, make sense and, depending on the circumstances, make the audience want to read more (or at the very least, make them want to continue to follow you).

Cheating is okay

Luckily, Twitter protocols actually allow for some “cheating” given that there is a  strict limit on the number of characters. Some shortening of words (not too much, though), and the use of slang and symbols, are all acceptable. My favourite trick is to use the comma to replace conjunctions (and, but, such as). As is the case with traditional headlines, abbreviations and acronyms are allowed, but make sure you use only those that are well known and understood.

Have fun with hashtags while you can

The future of the hashtag is uncertain. But, while they are still around, they provide a unique opportunity to punctuate your thought. It’s true that some hashtags are purely serving a function (#ableg or #yyc) but they can also be just for fun. Don’t be afraid to use this quirky little feature to your advantage. Experiment a little and become familiar with how others are using hashtags creatively. #havingfunisok

Don’t ramble on

Just say no to passive language. Use strong, present-tense verbs and don’t let them stray too far from the subject or noun.

Do the work for your audience

Don’t expect the audience to follow your link to find out what you really want them to know. When I see a tweet like this, “See what our CEO says about the economy http://bit.ly/CEOspch “ I immediately move on to the next tweet without clicking the link. A tweet like that doesn’t deserve my attention. It’s lazy. It should instead say, “Our CEO says it will take the economy a dog’s year to bounce back http://bit.ly/CEOspch.”

Be clever, colourful and creative

Boring is not going to win anyone over. Think of your audience as a bunch of kids running around at recess. You need to get their attention in a very noisy schoolyard, but must compete with a lot of other activities like dodge ball and climbing the monkey bars. There is also a very short time-frame before school is back in session. Twitter is that frantic! Use visual imagery, pop culture references and words that pack a lot of “punch.” Otherwise, your tweet will scroll instantaneously into oblivion, along with thousands of other tweets every second.

Be selective, don’t swamp the space

Twitter may be frantic but don’t assume it’s total chaos and confusion. A common mistake is to dump anything and everything out there and hope something sticks. On the surface, it may seem like a lot of “noise,” but as in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” if you slow down the soundtrack and screen out the babble, there are actually some meaningful conversations going on out there in the Twittersphere. And the people who are engaged in them are the ones you should really care about. If you flood them with useless information, they will tune YOU out.

Now go forth and Twitter (wisely, though)!

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