I examined the usability of online texts in my dissertation. I sketched five recommendations for social media editors, based on my research and on my article, The City on Twitter. The five recommendations each appear as a Word of the Week.
If you always compose updates automatically in the same manner, the human behind the writing fades away. At the same time, opportunities for interaction diminish. The most effective updates vary according to the situation and are linked to discussions.
In my research, the subjects wondered aloud about whether their updates would interest the readers, but were afraid that a change in style might differ too much from the linked story. ”It would be nice to catch the reader’s interest, but I don’t want to promise too much… even though I’d like to write something sensational…” When writing updates, the subjects considered the reader’s viewpoint and the attractiveness of the post more than they would for other texts. An update should encourage reactions, either with likes, or with replies.
The updates my research examined ranged from formulaic to free form. Typical formats were headline tweets, tweets with examples, tweets directly addressing a person or group, and replies. Combining a headline with a link saves time for the writer, but does not encourage readers to interact. Often such tweets remain lonely cries and are not retweeted or shared.
You will also find headline and case updates on Facebook, but typically posts there are questions. Writers may use questions in successive updates, or pose several questions in the same post. In either case, a predictable format fails to bring the desired variation to social media communication.