Twitter's growing popularity has yielded one unusual result: It has exposed the frailty of writing skills in the business world. You can fudge bad writing in a 20-slide presentation, but not in a 140-character tweet. From abbreviation-laden tweets with no discernible value, to tweets that fail to compel followers to click through on a link, examples abound. The process of constructing a good Twitter message takes careful thought, time and analysis.
Clearly, the 140-character limit adds a degree of difficulty for people who already struggle with writing for less restrictive, more long-form friendly mediums, such as e-mail or blogs.
While we failed to find a panacea for constructing the perfect tweet -- since the "perfect tweet" largely depends on your audience, your profession, and how you use Twitter -- we compiled some guidelines from industry analysts and people who tweet uncommonly well.
Every day, we all receive work e-mails that are littered with improper grammar, spelling and all-lowercase letters. Given how many e-mails most of us receive in a day, such messages become, at best, an unwelcome sight, and, at worst, disrespectful of our time.
Twitter is no different. Some people follow thousands of other people on Twitter, populating their streams (home pages) with, in some cases, hundreds of tweets a minute. Obviously, people will skip over sloppy tweets, or trivial tweets, because they simply don't have the time.
"If you sound like a 13-year-old in an instant message conversation, that's not going to make people want to read your [Twitter] messages," says Susan Daffron ( @susandaffron), president of Logical Expressions, a company that helps people self-publish books.
As your user-base diversifies to include people from different backgrounds, you should avoid abbreviations unless it's absolutely necessary, says Laura Fitton ( @pistachio), who runs Pistachio Consulting, a firm that helps companies utilize Twitter.
"I generally go out of my way to avoid abbreviations," she says. "There are so many abbreviations you really can't always assume people will know what they are."
Twitter power users can be particular offenders with regards to that rule. Despite the fact that Twitter's user base has broadened substantially during the past six months, the majority of its users descend from a technical background. Depending on how your follower list has diversified, people might not know a lot of the Twitter lingo.
"I had people asking me what are these "#" signs," Daffron says, referring to Hashtags, which Twitter users employ to categorize topics, such as #sanfrancisco. "By writing things that are more obscure to new users, you essentially block them out."
Take Your Time
Twitter allows you to publish information instantly. The open field to tweet a message sits in your web-browser or in an app on your desktop. Since it's such a short message, the natural inclination is to post away without much thought. Much like you'd proofread an important e-mail message, you should consider sitting on a Tweet, Fitton says.
"Don't feel shy that, even though they're short, they [tweets] can be a lot work," Fitton says. "If you take your time, you will most likely put more thought into it. Thoughtful tweets are more likely to be appreciated."
Due to the fact a tweet must measure 140 characters, a quick writing job combined with lack of context can create misunderstandings. If you take time to not only construct the tweet, but also analyze your audience to see how it might be received, you can avoid upsetting people, Fitton says.