Twitter – Why Less Is The New More

Lessismore

When I was first asked to comment on how much Twitter has contributed to the rise of the personal brand, a particular quote immediately sprang to mind; one that’s for some reason, usually attributed to Mark Twain, although actually written by Blaise Pascal:

“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

It’s a profound and an oh so true statement about how Twitter has been able to boil down content to condense its true core message and the same goes for your brand and its core message.

In my post-grad student years, when I first started promoting my one-act plays to drama societies, I remember attending a lecture given by the eminent playwright, Alyn Aykborn, at the University of Wales in Cardiff, South Wales.  I sat in awe as he talked about his approach to scene dialogue and, again, the virtues of the ‘less is more’ philosophy to writing.  He said that he never added to his work but, instead, subtracted, to apply more meaning and resonance to his plays.  He reminded the class that “it’s not what you put in but what you can take out that provides the most power for the audience”.  Looking back at the lecture, he could have very well have been talking about writing for Twitter.

These days, information is fast-flowing and constant, and it has become increasingly hard to sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of what adds value to both my businesses and to myself.  I find those lengthy reads best saved for bed-time reading moments that increasingly never seem to come as, all too often, I crawl into bed in the wee small hours when reading is the furthest thing from my exhausted mind.

In fact, it’s a scientifically proven fact that the way we read content has changed due to the evolution of the way that information reaches us and the speed with which it does so.  And the change isn’t a recent one.  As far back as 1997 research was being carried out by Jakob Nielsen of Alertbox on the way that people read web pages.  What was discovered is that, in fact, we don’t!  Instead we scan, picking out individual words and sentences. In Neilson’s research, he discovered that 79 percent of his test readers always scanned any new page they came across and only 16 percent read word-by-word. Nielson continued on his studies and in 2010 found that this figure had increased to 83 percent, and even further to 85 percent when information was received via mobile devices.

As a result, webpages had to employ ‘scanable’ text, using

  • highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others)
  • meaningful sub-headings (not “clever” ones)
  • bulleted lists
  • one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
  • the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
  • half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

(Neilson 1997)

When you acknowledge this shift and start to incorporate reader style into the content you build, you begin to see how Twitter is a great ally to your brand in ensuring you master the art of succinct and disciplined content whilst confirming that, in today’s society, less really is the new more!

Read more in my latest book ‘Follow Me: Creating a Personal Brand With Twitter‘ (Wiley, 2012).

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3 comments

  1. Chris Jones · January 3, 2013

    Great article Sarah-Jayne. As a twitter newbie I’m finding it easier to get my point across in 160 words than I thought I would!As I read your article something occurred to me – I wonder whether people who spend a lot of time conversing on twitter eventually become more succinct and persuasive in spoken communication? I think we all are guilty at times of using 50 words when 20 will do. I wonder if compressing one’s thoughts over a keyboard can, in time, help people to compress their thoughts orally?Best wishes,Chris

  2. Anonymous · January 3, 2013

    I think so Chris! Twitter certainly has helped me to condense my thoughts to 140 characters (or less). When I edit these days I find myself subtracting rather than adding 🙂

  3. Eric · January 3, 2013

    Superb read. Twitter=160 character, act plays. #Ayckbourn style – what characters R doing whilst they’re [tweeted] is of greater importance

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