How Twitter made me a better copywriter

Yes, yes… I know. The number of social media posts about social media does get a bit much. And yes, I’d love to know what proportion of Tweets are about Twitter, too. I promise not to make a habit of it.

It’s just that something has been apparent to me for a while, but I haven’t noticed anyone talking about it; at least, not online. And it’s this…

I am, among other things, a copywriter. Twitter has made me better at my job.

And I don’t mean “when I use it as a work tool” (though that has been known), nor “because it extends my reach for PR work” (although it does).

I mean “when I use it as a hobby” and “because it makes me better at writing“.

First, though, I have to make what feels like a shocking admission:

Mostly, I use Twitter because it is fun.

That’s right: I’m coming out of the closet. For me, Twitter is a hobby. Well, usually.

(This, gentle reader, is about the time you stare blankly at my profile and think “Really? You’re not very good at it, are you?”. Yeah. As if that’s my only Twitter account…)

Having alter-egos (one of them quite popular, actually) is fun…  and making people laugh, albeit via the internet, is better still. When it’s good, Twitter’s like stand-up comedy for those of us who can write the odd decent line, but could never deliver it onstage.

Yes, it’s a waste of time. But isn’t that what a pastime is for?


Since I started mucking about on Twitter, I’ve become a better writer.

That was never the plan, I assure you. I’m not that conscientious. It just… sort of… happened.

Naturally, I’ve been wondering why – and I’ve come up with three reasons why, for me, Tweeting is the copywriter’s equivalent of going for a workout in the gym.


1. Concision is everything

(Yes, “concision” is a real word. Look it up – I’ll wait here… See? Good, isn’t it? So much better than “conciseness”. It sounds less like “niceness” and more like “precision”)

You think of the funny thing you want to say. You try to get it into as few words as possible. It’s still 268 characters. So you whittle at it… whittle at it… Can you make it simpler? Which words can you lose, and still keep all the meaning?

If you enjoy doing that kind of fractional distillation with language, you should think about copywriting. It’s pretty much what we do all day (well, on the rare days we actually get to do some writing, anyway)… so getting that tweet absolutely drum-tight, so no character is wasted, is brilliant practice.

Your first target, of course, is the magic 140 characters (and knowing that some ranking sites grade you on how many tweets are exactly 140 has ruined me forever)…

…Then, once you get inside that figure, exactly how short and sharp can you make it? Usually, the more succinct you can be, the punchier the Tweet.

Which brings us on to…

2. Learning to command attention

Twitter is a really, really noisy place… all those Tweets chirruping away, competing for a little bit of love and recognition in your followers’ timeline.

Once your Tweet is sent, it’s immediately out in the world, fending for itself, and you can’t help it any more (except for a cheeky ReTweet from an alter-ego *ahem*).

Its fate is immediately determined by your audience, who all have lots of other demands on their attention… so you have to make sure it’s perfectly formed, and well equipped for a long and fruitful life, before you click “Tweet”.

Quickly, you learn about structure… about rhythm. Where to place the most important word in the Tweet, for which effect. How to tickle an interest and how to deliver a punchline.

You learn how to write copy that stands out. That demands attention. That tells the story succinctly, with the most emphasis on the most important bits.

Every time you tweet, you essentially practice writing ad copy for crowded trade media. You build the mental muscles you’d use composing a direct email subject line. You pick up the instincts you need to write a really good press release “nut” paragraph.

Or you do if you pay attention, anyway. Because there results of your work are right there for you to see…

3. Instant feedback

Once upon a time, advertising legends like David Ogilvy spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on research and testing… minutely weighing the effectiveness each aspect of their copy as campaigns evolved over months… years… even decades.

On Twitter, you get a good idea whether something has worked within seconds. You get ReTweets, or you don’t.

As a result, the whole painstaking, iterative process is accelerated – and, if you’re alert, your Tweets start to change like successive generations of laboratory Drosophila mating on a gamma-ray lamp.

And, yes, I know Twitter’s not a numbers game. I don’t chase followers, for example… but, for a hobbyist casting jokes and ideas into the wind, the ReTweet (which, after all, only means that someone has noticed your message and liked it enough to twitch their mouse finger) is a fantastic way of telling whether you’ve hit the mark.

Accordingly, the Tweets I’m proudest of are the couple that captured the moment enough to hit the home page of Twitter (when Twitter still used to do that)… plus one particular slow-burner that is still rattling around, getting ReTweeted on a regular basis, 300 days after I sent it.

They weren’t the funniest I’ve written, or the cleverest. In fact, one of them contained a pretty major error.

But they connected.

And the more I learn how to do that, the better at writing I’ll become.


5 thoughts on “How Twitter made me a better copywriter

  1. Pingback: How to write a quote (that the press might actually use…) | David versus Planet Earth

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