tweeting too much

The content marketing world is so busy tweeting, they barely write a thing.

So that’s a bold statement, but is it true? Is it even partly true?

For the serious writer-writers of content marketing–those people who treat each blog post as a small research or creative project in its own right instead of something to churn out and slap on a blog just to publish–yes. It’s partly true.

Tweeting Too Much Is Dangerous

Sounds like blasphemy, doesn’t it? How could Twitter possibly hurt your content? Time and time again we’ve talked about how using Twitter can help your content in that it is one of the best ways for your content to get found.

Social media helps you find a bigger audience for your blog, but the same tool that does so well with that can also put a real dent in your content itself. This isn’t about the idea of tweeting too much so that people start unfollowing you because you seem like a spammer. This is about how social media, with its micro-writing and instant gratification, causes your writing to suffer.

Twitter (and other social media, too) can hurt your blog in ways that you might not have considered.

1. Partial thoughts pass as finished thoughts.

Prior to using Twitter in 2007, any clever idea that I had would eventually be fleshed out into a full blog post. I had a great idea–I needed to share it! And, because I wasn’t Instapundit (whose blog functions a bit like Twitter with its micro-posts, doing this long before Twitter was around), I had to write more than just a sentence or two to make a complete blog post.

When Twitter came along, that changed.

Clever, witty, or profound idea? I could toss it on Twitter and tell myself “I should write a blog post about this in greater depth later” and then never would. Why would I need to? I got the idea out to the world, claimed it as mine, got the instant buzz from retweets and favorites, and the whole thing felt done. Idea, write, publish, feedback, done.

It feels finished.

One reason writers feel compelled to write is to get the idea out of the mind, free up space in a way. Another is to have other eyes see it, and even possibly respond to the idea. Twitter lets me do those things without necessarily taking the time to dig in to the idea in great detail.

You lose it if you talk about it – Ernest HemingwayClick To Tweet

What Hemingway refers to is something very similar here: if you make your ideas public too soon, you lose the ability to go any further with them. Sometimes you need to hold back, build the idea in private, write the post without the world knowing, and then publish.

Tweeting every witty idea that comes to your head makes for a fabulous Twitter feed, but it can make for terrible blogging.

2. Micro-focus means missing the larger picture.

How many blog posts have you seen that tell you “10 ways to write the perfect tweet” or “10 ways to ruin your Twitter reputation”? My initial reaction is one of dismay that there could be so many steps necessary in creating a tiny message of just 140 characters.

There is validity in understanding how to use Twitter (and other social networks) properly, of course. Guidelines like don’t use too many vague hashtags. Use hashtags to provide subtle side meanings. Don’t be a jerk on Twitter. Don’t embarrass your company or brand on Twitter. Don’t tweet something every five seconds. Etc. Etc. It’s a tool, and like any tool, you have to know how to use it correctly.

But think of a ball-peen hammer. It too, is a tool. Anyone who intends to use it ought to know how to use it properly. But how would you react to seeing content with titles like “6 ways to know a ball-peen hammer impostor” or “43 creative ways to hold a ball-peen hammer.” At some point, it feels like overkill, a singular small subject expanded in so many ways.

Navel-gazing happens easily with social media, because it is such a useful tool. We laser-focus our writing on something very small and miss a larger picture. Great content comes from seeing a big picture.

John Dickerson, a political correspondent for Slate, wrote an article where he said he didn’t see Twitter as a negative for journalism, but he did have one caveat that I find interesting: Twitter is an easy distraction and you can miss out on seeing the news in a bigger way.

The risk for journalism, of course, is that people spend all day Twittering and reading other people’s Twitter entries and don’t engage with the news in any other way. – John Dickerson, SlateClick To Tweet

3. You are missing great sources of content.

One of the best ways to find blog post materials and ideas is through observation of what’s going on around you. Have you ever looked around as you wait at a restaurant, or at a conference? Here’s what you’ll probably see: Everyone is heads-down, on their phone.

Now this is not going to be a Luddite lecture about our fixation with electronic devices (although I’d be the one to launch into something like that, ha), but consider that the observation of what’s happening around you is very valuable. If you are always on your phone reading Twitter and tweeting, taking photos and fixating on how you’ll share those photos with the world, you miss out on some of the things that have inspired content creators for eons, such as people-watching, nature, and those moments of gestalt where you finally understand something because your surroundings triggered it.

Are you tweeting and in Twitter so much that you are unable to see the peripheral content that your writing needs?

4. Twitter isn’t writing.

Twitter isn’t writing? These are fighting words!

But think about it.

Twitter is an RSS feed for some blogs. Twitter is reaction. Twitter is chat. But very rarely (unless you’re doing Twitter fiction or crafting impeccably great tweets like Steve Martin) is it writing.

If writing is about refining your thoughts, how much refining is happening in 140-character bursts? Long-form content, all SEO benefits aside, is a great way to refine your thoughts. Clever tweets published on a whim when you feel like it are not going to help you refine your ideas, but they will keep you distracted enough so that you don’t sit down and do the things writers know have to happen:

  • Write.
  • Write some more.
  • Edit.
  • Rework.
  • Write when it isn’t fun.

Twitter is full of extremely clever folks. They are adept at the ironic or sarcastic #hashtag. Works great if you’re a comedian, but for most people, it doesn’t help improve the writing they need to do on their blog.

Is Twitter Good For Anything?

Definitely! If Twitter does anything, it teaches you to be succinct. It teaches you to convey a message with as few excess words as possible. You might cheat with abbreviations or acronyms, but the effect is still the same. That kind of brutal self-editing makes for tight copy in your own long-form writing.

Brevity is the soul of wit. – William ShakespeareClick To Tweet

My suggestion?

Understand what Twitter is good at:

  • Live updates of events.
  • Snippets and anecdotes that wouldn’t make it in your blog posts, anyway.
  • Behind-the-scenes peek at your team culture.
  • Sharing links to content that you’ve read and like.
  • Genuine conversations with people you enjoy.
  • Periodic (but not habitual) moments of wittiness to keep your writing sharp.

It’s not that I think texting and tweeting, both brief forms of communication, are destroying the language (completely, at least). But I do think it is worth asking yourself if all of your Twitter (and other social media activity) is having a distracting effect on your blog writing. Be honest about whether you’re using Twitter or social media messages as a replacement for more difficult writing.

Perhaps you should change how much writing and idea energy you devote to Twitter, and refocus it on your blog.

How has Twitter become a distraction for your long-form writing?