Copywriting 101 for Twitter

“Washing the Pig” and Other Tidbits for Twitter Copywriting Success

By Staff Writer
In January 7, 2014

I suspect that copywriting (let alone Twitter copywriting) may be the most difficult form of writing. You know your audience and you know your brand, and now you have a few sentences, perhaps only a few words, to sell the former on the latter in what would ideally take paragraphs. While balancing quality content with tight parameters has historically been a hallmark of a copywriter’s plight (fighting to cram five minutes of information into a 30-second commercial, for example), Twitter takes narrow space constraints to the next level with its absolute limit of 140 characters. Copywriting for Twitter is a niche sub-family in which brain-draining creative effort couples with rigid space constraints AND (the fun one) near-instantaneous audience feedback. These tips aren’t a playbook for foolproof Twitter copywriting success (that’d be rather pretentious and probably full of lies), but they will keep you from falling on your face while you tweak your tweeting technique.

1. Identify your goal

As you would in any other copywriting assignment, figure out what it is you want to say before you try to say it. Though what you say on Twitter is pretty flexible and comes down to what kind of brand you want to build on social media, most companies have some sort of call-to-action in their tweets. Are you trying to sell something, get feedback on something, share something or simply converse? Once you’ve decided what the tweet’s purpose is, make it clear. Twitter copywriting tends to be refreshingly straightforward in that people don’t like to decipher what your tweet is trying to say. Want to rave about a rad video your company released? Start the tweet with “VIDEO” or “WATCH.” It’s mind-numbingly simple as far as calls-to-action go, but it works. The beauty of copywriting on Twitter is that you’ll know almost immediately whether you’ve succeeded or failed as your audience gets to bounce their feelings right back at you in real-time, and Twitter followers have a lot of feelings. The scary-fast response time means that you don’t have to wait for weeks for reports on performance. Not getting a lot of clicks in the way you’re marketing a new blog on Twitter? You’ll know that day and you can try something new the next. Keep your tweets simple and your intentions transparent to keep your Twitter followers placated.

2. Say it tight

You’ve identified what your Twitter copywriting is intended to do, now here comes the hard part: Writing it. With a maximum of 140 characters (not words, characters) to make an impression, there’s no such thing as getting wordy with your copywriting on Twitter. Couple the character limit with a link or an image and your tweet copywriting becomes an exercise in finding ever shorter synonyms and new abbreviations. Though you may be used to client restrictions on copy length, there’s no option to try and justify a longer length for a tweet. It’s either short enough to send or it isn’t. I sometimes feel like Twitter’s character limit boils down copywriting to its most essential elements: How do you get anyone to do anything in a limit as minute as 140 characters? There’s no shortcut around this; you simply must learn to speak concisely. The best way to do this is to practice. A handy tool to keep at-the-ready is a digital character counter to check your work as you write it. If you don’t want to do that, you can open an Excel doc, enter a character-counting formula and type your tweets in Excel. It might be frustrating to track each piece of copy you write for character counts, but soon your inner Twitter bird will take flight and it becomes more natural to think in 140 character chunks (that’s natural, right?).

3. Learn the etiquette

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Twitter is not free real estate for copy from your other advertisements. Say it with me: “I will not recycle ad copy on Twitter.” Though I won’t delve too far into why this is the bane of my existence, reusing copy from one of your print or digital advertisements on Twitter is a quick way to get ignored and unfollowed. Besides that, it’s not an effective strategy to write Twitter copy with the attitude that you’re launching a military information strike on your customers. Twitter followers don’t want to be blasted with sales pitches, they want to learn, to be entertained and to converse. Watch your followers and pay attention to how they converse with each other and with other brands. Take the time to respond to users that contact you. Retweet or favorite tweets that you find either particularly interesting for your audience or that have painted your company in a positive light. Also, be sure you know how to properly phrase and format your tweets. A few beginner tips include:

• Hashtags go at the very end of the tweet when they’re used after the fact, but can also be placed within a sentence. Both of these examples are correct: “.@PartnersRiley is quite a fun #advertising agency to work at!” or “.@PartnersRiley is quite fun to work at! #advertising.” One uses the hashtagged word as part of the sentence, one uses the hashtag to categorize the tweet and both are acceptable.

• Links go at the end of the tweet, but before the hashtags.

• If you’re going to start a tweet with an “@” mention that you want everyone to see, put a period before the @. Example: “.@PartnersRiley always makes my day!” Twitter processes tweets that start with the @ sign differently and will not show them to all of your followers without a period before. Some consider this misuse of @ signs to be the number one Twitter mistake.

• When sharing another Twitter user’s content, give them a shout out with a “via” and their Twitter handle at the end of the tweet. It builds relationships and shows you’re a team player.

4. Proofread, then proofread again

There’s nothing worse than a shoddily thrown-together advertisement to put-off customers, and a willy-nilly approach to spelling and grammar is the epitome of shoddy. There is no reason whatsoever for copywriters to misuse their homophones when they’re writing copy. See what I did there? No? Good, but I bet many of you would have if I screwed it up. Using proper grammar is like wearing pants. Assuming you’re part of a more traditional culture, you’re expected to wear pants every day and no one gives the notion much thought, until you notice that someone forgot to zip up or is sporting a sexy spaghetti stain. Suddenly you’re hyper aware of those pants. You can’t take your eyes off those pants. That person might be telling you how he’d just love to set you up on a date with his cousin Jennifer Lawrence, but you can’t even hear what he’s saying; he’s become nothing more than a wonky pair of pants in your line of vision. Just as it’s hard to take someone who can’t keep their pants in order seriously, it’s hard for audiences to take your brand seriously when you’re caught with your grammatical fly down. When in doubt, look it up, and if that doesn’t answer your question, phrase it a different way. Every second someone wastes trying to muddle through atrocious grammar is valuable energy that could have been spent considering your message. Each tweet you send places a tiny tile of the mosaic that is your brand. Why wouldn’t you spend the extra minute to make it perfect?

5. Wash the pig

One of my favorite quotes on creativity is from advertising legend Luke Sullivan in his very excellent read on copywriting, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This:

“Creativity is like washing a pig. It’s messy. It has no rules. No clear beginning, middle or end. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, and when you’re done, you’re not sure if the pig is really clean or even why you were washing a pig in the first place.”

Creativity is chaotic and messy and sometimes it doesn’t make a lot of sense, so if you can boil it down to an easy four-step how-to list, you’re not doing it right. Don’t be intimidated if, when you’re being creative within a medium that’s new to you like Twitter, you’re not sure what you’re doing, how you’re doing or why you’re doing it in the first place. That’s just the nature of washing the pig. Too many corporate Twitter accounts go stagnant after a few months and I suspect it’s because they’ve run out of ideas. Creativity isn’t a one-and-done process and it will take plenty of practice before you’ve got your Twitter wings of creativity ready for flight. Keep at it and before you know it, you’ll be tweeting with the eagles. Oh and, Luke Sullivan has his advertising classes literally wash a pig as a class assignment, and the pictures are awesome.

Need some help on Twitter, or just want to chat about your own tried-and-true Twitter copywriting techniques? Drop us a line at our very own Twitter account, @PartnersRiley!

Staff Writer

So who is this mysterious staff writer? Could be anyone really, as long as they meet our very strict criteria. 1) Worked with us in one capacity or another. 2) Have something pretty interesting to say. 3) Want to use our blog to say it. See? Told ya they were strict!