Twitter Needs Stronger Conversations, Not Longer Spam

Barrack Obama types in the first presidential Tweet with Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey watching.

The Internet is abuzz about how to fix Twitter. The conversation revolves around the potential expansion of Tweets to as many as 10,000 characters.

It’s a bit of a Trojan horse of a conversation. The real issue is how can Twitter break out of a slump that has the social network stymied with no growth, quarterly losses, and lackluster engagement.

Unfortunately, longer tweets won’t fix the problem. Twitter’s slump revolves around the network’s lack of human connection rather than its format. Specifically, the social network’s problem is a never-ending stream of spammy links and a lack of connectivity to other human beings.

Is It Really News?


Twitter made a decision a long time ago to describe itself as a news service, and a place to find out and discuss what is going on. This was an effort to differentiate it from Facebook and other social networks.

The ongoing news focus came with a price: Sharing stories, news, and content in the form of links. Links to useful information aren’t bad, but what Twitter has become as a result of the links, well, that’s another issue. What many people see in there streams are a series of short (and often poorly written) headlines and comments with links. Rare is the conversation or simple reply.


Many of the links featured in the stream of links don’t expand. Even pictures are shown as links half the time, depending on browser and bandwidth.

Worse, because of the public nature of Twitter, it has become brand marketers and PR folks’ number one or number two go-to-social network to share information. Unfortunately, their idea of information is most people’s idea of spam or just boring content (see content marketing rant).

One could say the same for many of the links shared by everyday users. Some are interesting. Most are not.

Of course, you could say shame on the people who follow these folks. But even the most casual friend seems to use Twitter to 1) drop links and 2) rant or complain. It’s hard to follow no one on Twitter and be a part of any experience.

What Can Be Done?


Twitter’s issue is not maximum tweet length. The way 10k would come across, it would look like any other blog post with a lead and link to the whole thing, so I see no inherent value or detriment. No, the issue is feeling that whenever you log in, you’re just going to be sourced a bunch of spammy links, some pushed by brands, some pushed by users (we’ll call this UG spam for user-generated spam). But can Twitter be saved?

Now you see the wisdom of Facebook, Pinterest and Google+. Each of those networks naturally embeds posts and pics in posts. In the case of Facebook and Google+, their algorithm curates the most “interesting” updates to spare readers from what they may consider to be mundane or spammy.

Daniel Waldman

I asked several people for their suggestions on what could fix Twitter. Some of the answers are embedded throughout the post. One of the most compelling ones was simply making the 140 characters used for text, and have posts show images and stories automatically as embeds sans character count.

I agree with Shireen, but am not sure format is enough to save the day. In comparison to the other social networks, Twitter is not fun very fun or useful in the social context.

The other social networks have function beyond sharing news and ranting about it on the side. They offer unique focus on social functions like family and friends (Fakebook), or business interactionss (LinkedIn), or friends who show and don’t tell much (Instagram), or contacts who share and store useful information (Pinterest), or places where you can avoid public eyes (SnapChat et al).


What does Twitter offer that those networks don’t? News trolls? Publicly quantified pundits? What’s missing is the conversation and interestingness, and that’s what Twitter really needs to restore if it wants to continue to grow and develop. After all, it should be about the people who use it. That’s the way it used to be. Perhaps using some sort of an algorithm to filter the stream is necessary, but that would fly in the face of the social network’s stream ethos.

I don’t pretend to have an answer, but maybe you do. Feel free to weigh in.

Fixes for Three Lousy PR Pitches

Image by Melvin Schlubman

We all know how bad the state of media/blogger relations is: Bad pitches abound! But there are some pitches that are worse than others, and as a blogger for the past six years, my in box has become littered with them.

Here are three that all too common, and some suggestions to improve them another:

1) The XXX Blogger Already Wrote About It Pitch

This one is really annoying. It usually comes from someone you know in a passing manner, or is a cold pitch from a PR person. It goes something like this:

“Hey Geoff. I was hoping you would write about xxxx. Joe Schmo (or Mary Doe) already wrote about it here: (INSERT URL). So you should, too.”

OK, let’s make that Super Annoying. If another blogger already wrote about it, why would I? Seriously, and beyond that, it’s insulting to infer that because x A Lister covered a story I should kowtow and follow suit (with a schmoozy link, too).


Suggestion: Provide some sort of unique angle or information that will make my story somewhat unique.

2) The Pre-Written Pitch with Added Fields

This one is the best, a result of publishing an eponymous blog. Invariably, it reads something like this: “Hey Geoff, we were hoping you would feature our new Facebook application in Geoff Livingston.”

I wasn’t aware I could feature an application inside of me.


Suggestion: Stop using email programs to send your pitches. If you don’t have time to do this and reach your full list, cultivate a smaller list so it is must have contacts instead of a list of bloggers.

3) The “We’re So Awesome!” Pitch

This pitch features exaggerated facts, hyperbole and a wonderful amount of pomposity and clichéd buzz words:

“As the leading provider of wireless widgets (which were awarded the greatest on earth by J.D. Power & Associates), Acme helped save 799,291 lives through $1 donations as part of its service.”

Of course this means I should absolutely write about said company. Um, no.


Suggestion: Stick to straight up facts. Instead of talking about how great your company is, talk about the relevant issue that I write about, and how your company fits into the puzzle.

What are some of your favorite bad PR pitches?

Four Storytelling Methods

Uig Locational Storytelling Press Launch
Image by Gaelic Arts

Moving from marketing to an entertaining delivery of useful information creates a much higher likelihood of successful communications between an organization and its stakeholders. Like gamification, storytelling entertains the online reader/viewer/listener, earning their interest. Compelling stories convert dry boring content into worthwhile time expenditures.

Success assumes a few of things: 1) That the storyteller understands what compels its stakeholders; 2) the information presented in the story is useful; and 3) the return on investment for an organization is asked for in a tasteful manner. Meeting those three fundamental building blocks empowers an organization to make storytelling work.

There are many approaches towards storytelling. Personification, third person storytelling, embedded journalism, and metaphors are just four ways to enliven content. Here’s a deeper look:

Personification: The old blogging method of personal storytelling can drive great interest. Well executed, the person and their audience can share experiences together (Example: Beth’s Blog). People want to understand how attending that event made you feel, or how that new technology changed your perspective. By sharing an event, an idea, or reflection, we identify with or at least imagine commonality about conceptual material, and content becomes interesting. There are certainly dangers to personification, including nihilism, over-reliance on opining, and personal branding that negatively impacts the organization.

Third Person Storytelling: This gets back to the basic elements of storytelling a la the original oral tradition of tales like Beowulf and the Odyssey. Third person storytelling is really good for causes and consumer facing companies that resolve problems. Showing how people’s lives have become better or enriched as a result of touching an organization is powerful. For many organizations, this is told via case studies, but there is nothing wrong with enlivening a story by weaving narrative elements into it or discussing trends (Example: Shel Israel).

Embedded Journalism: This approach seeks to provide a journalistic view into an organization or related external events and happenings. Similar to trade reporting, embedded journalism relies on facts, the ability to answer the 5 Ws in any good story (who, what, when, etc.), pyramid style structure, and a general tone that instills objective view points (Example: Invisible People). Of course this is the weakness of embedded journalism: By acting as a member of the Fifth Estate, companies and nonprofits immediately are suspected for pushing their wares and solutions. This means fact telling and objectivism has to be held to a higher standard.

Metaphors: Infusing metaphors into content empowers people to more easily imagine data and hard concepts. By using common metaphors that almost everyone has experienced, the ability to identify with the concepts behind a story become much more personalized. The long journey to successful metaphorical writing can involve wrong turns, potholes and flat tires, over-complication of storytelling route (plot), and more. But with practice, this can become one of the most powerful methods of communicating complicated concepts (example: Copyblogger).

What are some of your favorite storytelling methods?

Article first published as How Storytelling Betters Content on Technorati.