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The Art of the Tweet

April 14, 2012

Last week I had the opportunity to live Tweet at a conference.  Despite being an almost five-year veteran of Twitter, I found that live tweeting an event is both an art and a science.

My role was that of a hired gun: part of a writing team assigned to cover the event.  While half the team did traditional content capture of the sessions, my role was to listen to the speakers and then Tweet content using the conference hashtag at an average of one Tweet every two minutes or so.  It sounds so simple.

But what it really means is that you need to focus hard on what the speaker is saying, because your job is to distill what they are saying into something understandable, relevant and still interesting…in 140 characters or less.  Actually less, because of the need to both attribute the speaker and use the conference hashtag.  So, let’s say that your little flash of brilliance needs to be less than 122 characters long. Including spaces.

At that length, you need the concentration of a laser beam and the writing brilliance of a Shakespeare, or reasonable facsimile.  As the AV guy said to me, it may look like you are writing Twitter haiku.

After the first day I was so tired I fell asleep on the light rail transit going home.  Luckily I get off at the end of the line.

To help you become an artist of the live Tweet, keep four points in mind:

  1. Concentrate:  The speaker is your source of brilliance.
  2. Craft:  Short. Sweet. Powerful! Is your mantra.
  3. Check: Interesting, no typos, not over the character limit.  Right hashtag. Go!
  4. Repeat!
In haiku form, this might read:

The art of Twitter

Concentrate. Craft. Check. Repeat!

Laser beam Shakespeare.

That little piece is 74 characters, with spaces.

To help you be a live Tweet scientist, here is a bit more detail:

  • Write down key points as you hear them on a notepad or laptop. Write fast.
  • If you have the luxury of waiting until after the speaker to Tweet, great.  You will have time to craft each one for maximum brilliance.
  • If you don’t have that luxury, try to type as you go into the Tweet box.  Judicious use of colons, semi-colons and commas will be necessary.
  •  So will the ampersand (&) and various cheats like “2” for “to” or “w.o.” for “without”, but keep those at a minimum.
  • Try starting off with a word or short phrase that gives context, such as “Keynote:” or “At the trade show:” or “Opportunity!”
  • If possible, use Tweetchat ( as this will automatically enter the right hashtag for you. If not, you may want to copy the hashtag and then paste it into each one to avoid making a typo.
  • Pick your points.  You probably don’t want to Tweet everything, and you may be able to link related concepts in one Tweet.
  • Proofread before hitting “send”.
  • Get lots of sleep the night before!


5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2012 12:59 pm

    What a great account of the project, Elizabeth, thanks! I would add just one point: the need for host organizations to distinguish between the often excellent opinion content that participants generate on Twitter (and other social media), and what we’ve taken to calling “cornerstone content,” the quasi-journalistic reporting that tells the factual story.

    Over the last three or four years, one of the industry’s mantras has been the need to rely on and take maximum advantage of social media content generated onsite. It’s a fantastic and important trend — onsite bloggers and “Twitterati” can sometimes tell stories that staff writers (or hired guns) can’t, they cover more ground by their sheer numbers, and they’re available free, or maybe for the cost of a conference registration.

    The joy and the horror, though, is that social media generate wild content that isn’t (and shouldn’t be) vetted by the conference hosts, or necessarily aligned with a message they may have spent months or years crafting.

    The solution is in the balance. The tweets we produced (and we’ve already discussed this, but yours were fantastic) expressed lots of opinions, but none of them were ours — we were either reporting the podium presentations or recounting “street and tweet” conversations with participants. With that factual skeleton in place, there was every opportunity for participants to add their own tweets. Our client’s story was told, and participants got to experience the power of social media — some of them, I suspect, for the first time.

    • April 16, 2012 7:12 am

      Mitchell, thank you for adding the “why” organizations might want to live Tweet to the “how”. It might seem that harnessing the power of social media is like trying to corral the end of a whip or a bolt of lightning, but live Tweeting content helps the organization have a better chance of getting its message out. Of course, from the “live Tweeter’s” point of view, this raises interesting issues regarding expertise and ethics. Refraining from crafting Tweets to reflect prior knowledge or a different viewpoint is essential when Tweeting for hire, unless that viewpoint and subsequent commentary is part of why you were hired.

  2. April 16, 2012 10:16 am

    Great article Elizabeth…thank you! It is also fun to see the event Tweets compiled on Storify. I should like to see more Conference Managers utilizing it for capturing content.

    • April 16, 2012 10:23 am

      Hello Rosemary! I’ve heard a number of people recommend Storify and I haven’t tried it yet. You have had good experiences with it? I will have to try it. I am at a conference this weekend in Montreal (GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference) and maybe I can try it out then.


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