February 23, 2011

#Enough! My Twitter Style Guide

Image credit: Emilie OgezMy Power of the Hashtag training was such a success that I'm moving ahead with our first Twitter style guide. It's also a way for me to do something constructive with my observations instead of complaining. Here it is, an "organic" document at best, but I'm calling this Version 1, Release 1, with a decently sized smirk on my face.

Most tweets are meant to be read left to right, and as such, they still need to be processed as language (c.f. a tweet that is purely meant to get itself into a bunch of search results). Tweet your best using these simple guidelines:
  • Whatever you do, be consistent. I'm only half-joking when I say that in all things Twitter, consistent misuse of a character could easily start a new trend.
  • The @ symbol is an operator that activates the mention feature. Avoid using @ when you mean “at” unless you really need to save one character.
  • Use no more than one hashtag per clause. And you can generally fit no more than one clause in a tweet without a lot of abbreviations.
  • Use no more than one @mention per clause. See above.
  • Multiple hashtags and @mentions are acceptable when strung together at the end of a tweet, where they are not in context.
  • When mentioning several people in a row, as with the #FollowFriday hashtag, there is no need for commas. The names are already set off as links.
  • Avoid state name abbreviations in favor of mixed-case state names, such as #RhodeIsland instead of #RI. (I know that's a lot of characters; more on this issue later. It has generated so much discussion over here that I could do a whole post about it.)
  • If using a cryptic hashtag, as for a conference, put it at the end of the tweet--not the beginning--unless it is part of a clause. For example, use, “Jordan got OLD! I’m rockin’ out at #nkotb11.” or “Jordan got OLD! #nkotb11.” but not “#nkotb11 Jordan got OLD!”
  • Introduce a link with a colon unless your (English, or whatever language you're tweeting in) syntax indicates that a link follows. For example, "You can download my Twitter Style Guide at www.embeddedlibrarian.blogspot.com." However...
  • Text will not become a link on Twitter unless it is preceded by http://
  • Avoid abbreviations that are used in your field but may not be known by a wider audience (E.g. "pwd" is used in some circles for "people with disabilities" but makes a tweet hard to read and understand by others.)
  • Helpful abbreviations for you and your readers:
    w/: with
    ppl : people
    btw : between
    $ : money or funding
    & : and
(Believe it or not, many people forget they can shorten tweets by employing the handy ampersand. For that matter, most people do not derive nearly enough pleasure from writing or saying "Ampersand.")

Now I realize that these tips are less about "style" than they are boring proscriptions that will make an organization's Twitter feeds as unified and consistent as its print publications. But fret not! Version 2 will feature actual style tips, such as how to get your followers to catch on to new, obscure conventions, the diplomatic way to announce a feed's name change, and how to create and maintain identity and voice in your tweets without sounding unprofessional.

There is still a lot to learn, and the only way to do that on Twitter is to pay close attention and keep tweeting. As for referring to the medium itself, I think that the jury is still out with regard to "tweet" or "Tweet" as a noun, and as a verb, and for "ReTweet" versus "Retweet." What say you?

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