Tweets that make me want to scream

On Twitter there’s just no excuse for mind-numbing teasers, drive-by rants, and self-congratulatory re-runs.

Subject + Verb (+ Object) + Hyperlink

Is it really that hard to write a decent tweet?

The way I look at it, tweets follow the same basic communications rules that journalism does:

1. Since they’re public, tweets are written in language most people can understand. If they aren’t, they read like a private Twitter message that the author, for some reason, decided to foist on a head-scratching public. When those people stop scratching their heads, they’ll tap the Unfollow button.

2. Effective tweets are usually either a news story, a reaction story, or a provocative question.

News story: “Man bites LOLcat” or “Gingrich supporters keep fundraising.”

Reaction story: “Seattle LOLcat owner bites back with $2 million lawsuit” or “Gingrich loss paves the way for a secret right-wing candidate.”

Question: “So, how many people will be lining up to buy the heavily hyped new [name of gadget]?” or “Am I the only one stuck waiting at a Metro bus stop this morning in .025 inches of snow?”

A big “thank you” to folks like Chris Pirillo, Joe Hage, Steve Sorbo, Green Ronin, and others who follow these rules and whose tweets frequently get me to click through.

A loud hiss to people whose tweets make me want to scream, cry, kick, and give up on Twitter. For example:

  • The clueless teaser: “I thought my updated and interesting blog post was worth sharing with you guys.” (Blog post about what? A tweet that sounds exactly like a spam blog comment.)
  • The spam teaser: “Whoa! Sneak peek at the specs for the iPhone 5.” (This one has a link to a site that sells off-brand iPhone cases.)
  • The stoned hipster chime-in retweet: “Really? Just sayin’, dudes.”
  • The self-congratulatory resume tweet: “So excited about getting the Dingbat Award just a month after my Zapf Award and a year after my Helvetica Prize. Thanks, guys!” (No link. Note that the news portion, sans re-runs, could have been perfectly tasteful as a retweet from the Dingbat Society’s original Twitter announcement.)
  • The drive-by rant, without link: “Stupid idiots! They. Have. No. Effing. Idea.” (And, boy, neither do we.)

Way beyond blogs

A year ago, Peggy Sturdivant, a Seattle neighborhood news blogger, invited me to do a joint presentation for a PR class (the PR Certificate program) at the University of Washington.

We’ve been invited back to present again this year, and, as I’m putting together my notes, I’m discovering two things:

1. That the role of blogging in PR (and in several other areas of business and professional communication) has changed fairly dramatically in the past 12 months; what were emerging trends in January 2008 are so established as to be taken for granted today. (More on this to come.)

2. That the way information is presented in a classroom is pretty much light years away from how I communicate online. It’s slow, it’s boring, it’s cumbersome. Classrooms need presenter computers connected to a large-screen TV or projector screen. In reality, they have nothing but whiteboards or a non-functioning setup that theoretically allows a presenter’s computer to be connected to a screen, but which, in reality, never works because some cord is missing or some software isn’t compatible. Sigh.

Anyway, on to the actual presentation.

Most of what I’ll be presenting tonight are short tips that students can explore later by clicking through to these following links on this blog. Tips are likely to include:

1. Online PR has gone way beyond websites and blogging.

Suggested reading:
Barry’s Hurd’s “Social Media Demographics and Analytics 2008-2009” in which Barry comments that “such things as reputation and brand impact will be occurring real-time 24/7.”

2. Fortunately for those of us who do PR, a much more realistic attitude now exists about blogging. It’s been demystified; is no longer viewed as a magic bullet.

Suggested reading:
Darren Rouse’s post on getting fast traffic to a blog.

3. Unfortunately, the new “magic bullet” that CEOs read about in airplane magazines and decide their marcom folks must create immediately is “community.” That’s simple but difficult to create and maintain. Instead, you need to participate in robust existing communities, a behavior that is antithetical to old-school corporate behavior. (“But is has to have our name on it!”)

Suggested reading:
Barry Hurd’s “PR is killing itself and it hurts to laugh

Chris Pirillo’s YouTube video on creating community.

4. SEO is now the “hot new thing,” a PR essential for blogging and websites.
• Basic SEO is easy.
• More sophisticated SEO is not for amateurs and should always start with analytics before you throw money into implementing SEO.
• Gray-hat (shady) SEO is not as smart as the people telling your company to do it thinks it is. It can, and will, turn around and embarrass you.
• Make sure you understand “social bookmarking” and “tags” of all kinds. You may not need to use them, but you need to know if you need to use them.

Suggested reading:
Boing Boing’s post “Motorola, could you please tell your viral marketer to get out of our comments?

5. Twitter PR is free and powerful, but not easy. (Hint: It’s not advertising, it’s information.) And, watch how closely it’s linked to blogs. Think of it as a headline for your blog posts or for your comments on other blog posts, plus a way to create the credibility that will bring others to your blog.

Suggested reading:
Sign up for a Twitter account and follow:
• moniguzman (Monica Guzman, writer of the P-I’s big blog)
• hrheingold (Howard Rheingold, social media theorist and professor — you’ll get links to his class materials)
• joehageonline (Joe Hage is putting social media principles into action, right in front of you, in his work as a MarCom director at a major corporation, and then explaining it on his blog)
• UDistFoodBank (excellent use of Twitter by a non-profit)
• chrispirillo (Chris epitomizes the concepts of branding and communication; watch how he uses Twitter to drive traffic)

Two more things

A few final words (from me, at least) on Macworld 2009:

I missed Chris Pirillo’s talk on community (ironically, while having a wonderful lunch with a key member of my own community, a person who mentored me at Apple). But I watched the video of Chris’ talk on YouTube, and it was impressive.

“Putting something in front of people and expecting something to happen is asinine,” he warned. “So what is it that makes community happen? It’s all about what happens in your heart.”

This is a must-see for anyone who is attempting to create a community, online or off — or for anyone who works, as I do, with clients who aspire to create communities. Now I’m budgeting so I can attend the next Gnomedex, Chris’ annual tech conference.

Huge accolades go IDG, the company that organizes Macworld. This year’s conference seemed to delight presenters, vendors, and attendees. Everyone was crediting IDG’s vice-president Paul Kent for the success of the event. I am still trying to figure out how this guy orchestrated the conference and managed to play in rock bands at two late-night conference parties during the week!