The Anatomy of a Tweet

280 characters. That’s all you get on Twitter to make your point, engage with your audience, add a link, and add hashtags. The pressure is on. How will you make those characters count?

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We admit, it can be a little nerve-wracking. Especially for those of us that tend to be a little long-winded. We all have our soapbox moments, after all! But Twitter is a place for expression, conversation, and networking. This week, let's get the basics down so you can worry less about the characters and more on your content.

First, what actually counts toward that limit? Every character you type, including spacing and punctuation, takes away from your rapidly dwindling character count. There are two notable exceptions to this rule:

  • When you use a link in your tweet, it takes up 23 characters. It doesn’t matter if this link is a paragraph long or has been through a link shortener; it still takes away 23 characters. Don't be afraid to include links, and put them in the middle of your post so you're more likely to get clicks on that link.
  • Images and gifs are your free pass in terms of character count! This was huge in the social media world back in September of last year. Before then, every time you used an image in your tweet it took up precious characters. Now you can add images or a gif “for free," so use that gift from Twitter well! Consider what images or graphics can stop a user mid-scroll so they check out your content.
  • Many users have started to use threads to share long messages in multiple Tweets. When you do this, indicate that you're starting a thread and people should wait for more by writing [thread] in your post, or by simply telling your users that you are starting a thread. They'll know to keep expecting posts, and your posts will show up linked together so that your full message is clear.

Now let’s get in that strategic mindset. Unfortunately, tweeting isn’t as easy as writing a perfectly composed sentence. (We wish it were!) How can you maximize characters while still getting your message across?

  • Mentions are your friends. You know when you type the “@” symbol and someone’s Twitter username, to tag them in your tweet? That’s an easy and quick way to interact with a greater audience, and these don't count toward your overall character limit. Whenever you tag someone they get a notification about your tweet. Best case scenario, they will retweet your post to their audience, increasing your post's reach and hopefully engaging new users. Here are a few more tips on Mentions, such as where they appear and what happens when you reply to someone directly.
  • Just beware of being spammy; don’t start tagging users at random. Instead, think about it strategically. Tag the source that published the article you’re linking to, mention the writer by their username, tag someone quoted in the article, or tweet at an influencer who may find the article particularly meaningful. You get the idea.  
  • Use hashtags! Hashtags are searchable conversations occurring in the Twitterverse, and they can double your engagement rate. Research what hashtags your audience tends to use to reach those who may not already be following you. But again, be strategic; don’t #hashtag #absolutely #everything because not every conversation is relevant.(And it's not that fun to read when your brain struggles to process 10 hashtags in a row.) For a more detailed overview of hashtags, check out our #Hashtag101  and #Hashtag201 guides.
  • As much as this may pain the grammar diehards, you don’t need to use perfect language on Twitter. Are you short on space in your tweet? Try abbreviating some words or sacrificing some unnecessary punctuation. Your audience will still understand your message. We’re not saying a sentence “shld  alwys look lk ths” but you can be a little more creative with your grammar to fit the character count. (Don’t worry, we won’t tell your high school English teacher.)
  • Use links in your tweets. Not only have links been proven to increase engagement, you can strategically use them to add value to conversations, and they don't count towards your character limit, either. Promote your own content or link to interesting articles for your audience to engage with and retweet.
  • Unconvinced about your free character pass for adding an image or gif? Tweets with images can get 313% more engagement. Create some eye-catching graphics, feature images from your blog post, or take it one more step and find some gifs or video. Just keep it professional and relevant.
  • Try using tools like Twitter Polls to change up the content you're posting. They're visual, they help you engage directly with your users, and they're something new in a sea of text with a link. Stand out!

Now for our final Twitter tip of the week: If you're using an editorial calendar (and we hope and pray that you are), consider the character count when you're drafting those posts, and triple-check those links! Nothing is more frustrating than being ready to tweet and realizing that tweet you thought was so perfect is... not. Trust and believe.

Updated August 2018