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Penning a 20-Minute Power Tweet

Why devoting 20 minutes to your university’s 280 characters isn’t asking too much. 

May 24, 2018
 
 

Twenty minutes…that’s all you need to upgrade your university’s social media.

Sounds like an infomercial, but it’s solid advice. 

That said, it isn’t easy advice. It’s a grueling 20 minutes, which is to be expected from strenuous, microcosmic creation. To upgrade your university’s social media, you need to grind out those 1,200 seconds of small writing. Because like it or not, crafting 280 characters (i.e., a tweet) demands creativity, commitment and contemplation. 

Taking a Hard Look at Small Writing 

At the university level, social engagement involves multiple levers—creative videos, clever graphics, brand-to-student interactions, etc. But the tedious art of social writing (aka micro-style or short writing) is crucial. Despite this, social writing is rarely mentioned. That’s because 280 characters sounds laughable in the context of creative writing. 

But there’s major muscle in those 280 characters (not just tweets but all small writing). In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath build their entire sticky-message mantra around one main idea: that the more boiled-down an idea is, the stickier it will be. And in order to boil down a social post into something memorable and engaging—i.e., sticky—you need to invest your time and attention. 

If you're shaking your head, don't worry. This isn't all or nothing. Your time and attention sit on a sliding scale. I craft social posts for Oral Roberts University, but they’re not all 20-minute gems. A generic promo gets less writing love than something funny or entertaining. The point is, your university’s digital success hinges on the old-fashioned art of good writing. And good writing demands effort. 

Small Voices Stymie Small Writing

Accept this 20-minute mission, and there’ll be pushback, mostly likely from your inner voice. That voice will plead, “It’s only a few words. Hurry up and move on!”

When I craft a social post, I hear this voice, and it grows louder minute by minute. It grows louder as I stare off into space, thinking about action verbs and alliteration and synonyms. It hammers away as I write and re-write, working in micro-verse. Five minutes turns to 10 minutes turns to 20 minutes, and in that time, I could be creating graphics or monitoring media or unscrambling metrics. It begins to feel like time wasted, but without it, I’d craft something gray, mechanical and formulaic. It’d read like cardboard, and our social engagement* would suffer.  

Again, this rule isn't ironclad, but it is a persistent, if not pivotal, process; “pivotal” because, as Christopher Johnson notes in Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little, “your choice [on the web] of reading material is unlimited, and quality control is often conspicuously absent. There’s a 90 percent chance of drivel.” 

Your university doesn't want to churn out social drivel, which defeats the very purpose of social writing. When thinking about social writing, consider this revelation from Roy Peter Clark, author of How to Write Short: “I remain open to the idea that some words may be worth a thousand pictures.” In coming to this revelation, Clark points out that the most important messages are short. Some of his examples:

  • “Amen, brother.” 
  • “Will you marry me?”
  • “I do.”
  • “Not guilty.” 
  • “The Giants win the pennant!” 

Small Writing, Like Poetry, Is Painting That Speaks

So if short messages are important messages, your university’s social posts should be treated as such. This is reflected in time spent, not characters typed. Author and higher-education writer Adam Palmer once told me a story that illustrates the importance of process (i.e., time spent) in your small writing: 

People sometimes balk when I tell them the price for writing a five-word tagline. What they don’t understand is that they’re not paying me for a few words. They’re paying me for the 5000 words that come first, the ones that lead to me to those perfectly polished five words. 

With time and attention, your social posts become differentiators. If other universities are writing 30-second posts, your 20-minute posts will set your university apart. In today’s world, differentiation—the “art of standing out from the competition,” as defined by Marty Neumeier—is immensely important. In his book Zag, Neumeier warns that in a world of extreme clutter, “you need more than differentiation. You need RADICAL differentiation.” 

Penning those 20-minute tweets is step one in creating RADICAL differentiation for your university. It’s a reflection of the old idiom, “slow and steady wins the race.” In a sense, slow-and-steady social media is similar to good poetry. If you manage your university’s social media, think of yourself as a poet and remember these words from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver: “[Thereal, unimaginably difficult goal of writing memorably] is done slowly and in solitude, and it is as improbable as carrying water in a sieve.” 

So next time you pen a tweet, give it 20 minutes. 

Anything less, and you’re wasting your university’s time. 

Travis Burchart is a communications and social media specialist at Oral Roberts University. 

For the 2017-18 school year, Oral Roberts saw a 98 percent increase in audience engagement across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. 

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