Tweet-Talk 101: How to Write Tweets that Start Conversations

Posted By on October 18, 2012

Everybody wants to get into a conversation but how do you start? Master a few Twitter conventions and you’ll know how to write tweets and RTing in no time. © 2012 Cynthia Hartwig

Shouting through a megaphone doesn’t work very well in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Nor is it any fun. It’s a little like sending a tweet to the 500 million tweeters out there and expecting to be heard. One person trying to talk one-way to thousands of people just doesn’t work very well unless you learn how to write tweets that join the conversation.

What if, as you were stamping your feet in the cold waiting for the ball to fall, you began or joined a conversation with the people around you, and that conversation spread to other people, and they spread it to others and so on? That’s how Twitter works. And, luckily, it’s easy to learn how to write tweets that are conversation starters.

Short and Tweet

One hundred and forty characters. Just spell it out and you’re a third of the way there. Not much room to say what’s on your mind. With practice, though, you’ll soon be a master of brevity. You’ll think nothing of explaining your politics or tips on how to make great sushi in <140.

But concise tweets still need to be conversational. When you try to write one, think of all the ways you get someone talking or listening. Asking questions is one way. Being funny or ranting are some others. All the tweeting fools out there will tell you that they never stop inventing icebreakers.

One way to start is by writing a long version of a tweet and pretend you’re talking to someone. I began the one below like this: “Hi, I love making sushi and got to wondering if famous sushi chefs harvest their own seaweed. WDYT?”
The problem with this? Way too long and clumsy. (Would you retweet it?) I shrunk it by asking and answering a question, and added the snob factor (“five-star sushi”) to hook people:

[Note: Cynthia is tweet-erific so she’s the headliner on our Two Pens Twitter account. )

Spread the Word with #hashtags and @reply

Two must-know Twitter conventions help nudge the conversation beyond hello: #hashtags and @reply.

A #hashtag is a way to categorize your tweet. Every other tweet categorized in the same way shows up as one conversation on Twitter.

So if you want to find a lot of other wannabe sushi makers, type #japanesecooking into Twitter’s search box, and you’ll find some friends. Now you can learn how to cook tonkotsu noodle soup from @AnnyChow—and let her know what you think. (This is a very simple explanation of hashtags. Cynthia has a lot more to say about them in Hashtags #Unhashed.)

@reply lets you talk to anyone on Twitter, no matter how famous they are. (If they’re as famous as Jiro Ono, the world’s most well-known sushi chef, then it’s more like tugging on someone’s shirtsleeve in Times Square.) To add an @reply, all you have to do is put an @ symbol before someone’s Twitter handle—for example, @jiroono. When you do that, it guarantees that your tweet will show up in that person’s Twitter stream.

Sadly, I can’t use @jiroono as an example—it’s all in Japanese—so I’ll switch to Rick Bayless as a teaching tool.

Having commuted between Seattle and Chicago (the home of Bayless’s famous Frontera Grill) dozens of times, I agree with Jessie Schupack—he should open a restaurant at Midway Airport. Now I can second Jessie’s motion, and maybe he’ll notice. I click “reply,” and a tweet box opens with two @replies: @rick_bayless and @jschupack.

Ok, so now how do I join the conversation? I concur heartily (“Definitely!”), then I try to make a real connection. I show off my knowledge of Chicago (Gold Coast Dogs and lime-green pickle relish) and add an emotive hashtag (#missingchicago).

Just for fun, I decide to search on the hashtag #missingchicago. Holy cow! Crazy people who like the cold! And me at the top of the stream! Maybe next time I’m in Chicago, one of them will take me to a Cubbies game. You never know.

Have you ever made a wacky real-world connection via Twitter? Let us know by leaving a comment.