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Embracing the Twitter thread

May 22, 2017


Photo: Dave Gingrich (CC)

I love the creativity that people bring to social media. Give people the ability to post photos, and they post ones that are all text, or charts, or comic strips. Let them connect channels and we see cross-posting of all stripes.

One of the places to see these imaginative tactics is Twitter. I adore Twitter for the simplicity of seeing all kinds of updates at once: short, pithy, informative. It’s a perfect laboratory for seeing how limits enhance creativity.

Which brings us to the Twitter thread.

This feature, introduced in 2014, connects tweets and replies visually with a vertical line. The intention was to allow users to see how others interacted on a topic, rather than seeing single @replies scattered along the timeline.

What we’re seeing in 2017 is a new form of storytelling. Or, at least, expressing thoughts longer than 140 characters.

Users can chain tweets together by replying to themselves while removing their @username. Not only can a Twitterer make a longer point but also give multiple opportunities for followers to jump into the story.

Often, the user will indicate threads by announcing “[Thread]” in the opening tweet and numbering them 1/15, 2/15 and so on.

One drawback is that we have no simple way to embed Twitter threads on sites. Like this example …

Twitter thread from author Olivia A. Cole, @RantingOwl

The embedded tweet is just the introduction to a funny story about house hunting from Olivia A. Cole. It goes on for an additional 28 tweets, which are revealed after a reader clicks on that first tweet above. (I could’ve also embedded some or all of the other tweets, or archived them in a Storify post or Twitter Moment.)

Sometimes, we have to click at the bottom of a thread to see more tweets, like a vertical slideshow. It’s certainly not as straightforward as a single-page blog post, but we use the tools we’re given. Not every Twitter user has the time or the inclination to write it all out on another site.

Even writers with access to big platforms share stories on Twitter threads.

Twitter thread from author Jeff Guo, @_jeffguo

Jeff Guo, a reporter for Vox, links to a book review he wrote for the Washington Post in the tweet above. But he shares some bonus observations in the thread — click the tweet to see it.

He understands that while his book review will be seen by online and print readers, he can also attract more readers by putting out an interesting thread on Twitter. Guo writes for Vox and was a reporter for the Post, and yet he chooses the immediacy and intimacy of Twitter.

Our companies should consider other ways to tell our stories besides a blog post or an email blast. We wouldn’t create a series of 5-second videos chained together, but we could win fans and customers with a clever Twitter thread. Each tweet should make the reader want more.

It takes care and practice to break a longer tale into compelling bite-size chunks. We must evoke emotions with each part of the story: disbelief, laughter, shock or nervous anticipation.

I’ll share some opening lines that could make for great Twitter threads from brands …

“We just had the craziest exchange with a customer this week …”

“It took 5 months for our site redesign launched today, but did we tell you how it almost fell apart halfway through?”

“Here are a few of the oddest complaints we’ve gotten in customer service …”

“This is Katie, one of our top engineers here. She has always gone above and beyond what’s expected, but we wanted to know why …”

Let the creativity of Twitter infect brands everywhere. Break away from the pack with a great thread. Show off why a company matters.

Go beyond a single tweet to a story that moves readers.

• • •

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