Tweeting our way forward: How Twitter has changed language
Twitter’s 140-character limit has had huge ramifications for language. Corporations need to pay attention to these trends as they look to craft their own message with plain language.
In July 2006, an online news and social networking service was launched, called Twitter. Users were restricted to post 140 character messages called ‘tweets’ on this service. They could also follow other users. Since then, this maximum length restriction of 140 characters has had a big effect on how we communicate.
Twitter’s 140-character limit has given rise to many new conventions used in everyday language. These include hashtags, acronyms, and emojis. We touched on this topic in another blog post regarding the use of clear language.
Social platforms are changing language
Twitter and related social platforms have changed language as we know it. A passage from this brief article about Twitter and Facebook’s effect on language sums it up well: “The word ‘friend’ is now widely used as a verb to mean adding someone on Facebook. The word ‘add’ is now widely used to mean sending an invite to connect Facebook accounts. ‘Likes’ are now a numerical measurement of popularity.”
The article continues: “Unless you say ‘birds’ in the same sentence, most social medias will think Twitter when they hear ‘tweet’.”
Here, we will investigate the effectiveness of Twitter’s 140-character limit, and what companies can learn from it. The beauty of Twitter’s character limit is that it forces users to be frugal when they write tweets. The secret of good marketing and communications text is to write clearly.
By forcing users to write concisely, Twitter has become a template for corporate communication. To create the best impression, marketers and bloggers should be writing in clear English, in the active voice, with short, plain sentences. If they can do this, their chances to engage with their audience improve.
The key is to know your audience and your message. If you are clear on who it is that is reading, then you’ll have a better chance of creating articles with plain English. If in doubt, try VisibleThread Readability for your analysis. It’s a lightweight readability tool for scoring the clarity of Docs, Webpages or Text. It flags issues at paragraph level and it’s free. There is also a paid version which generates insightful reports. For our examples below, we used the free version.
Plain language and politics
Twitter has had a huge influence on all aspects of our society. Consider the following tweets from Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Let’s forget about their politics for now and just focus on the language that they use. Is it clear language?
Former president Barack Obama tweeted this in January, 2017, after finishing his second presidential term:
“Thank you for everything. My last ask is the same as my first. I’m asking you to believe—not in my ability to create change, but in yours.”
This clear message has a low reading grade level and readability. This is what we look for when we communicate. US president Donald Trump is famous for communicating in simple language. Indeed, many prospective politicians have followed his lead.
Let’s see how he communicates using Twitter. He tweeted this in August 2017:
“Feels good to be home after seven months, but the White House is very special, there is no place like it… and the U.S. is really my home!”
Even though Trump uses an adverb and a long sentence, the readability of this tweet is very high. Furthermore, the reading grade level is the same as that of Obama’s tweet.
Regardless of your message, it is always possible to communicate in a simple and clear way. If you don’t do that, your customers and clients will disengage and tune out from your message. So, why invest in content strategies which are doomed to failure?
There is so much noise online these days that you must differentiate yourself from the competition. Follow the lead that social networking channels like Twitter facilitate. Make sure that the content you produce is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
- Twitter’s 140-character limit has had great implications for language since the company’s inception.
- This language shift should be noted by all corporate communicators.
- We analyzed sample tweets from both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and identified what made them effective.
- You can easily score content for plain language by using tools like VisibleThread Readability. These tools provide instant reports on problematic content and suggest fixes.
- You can use tools like this for any subject matter, scoring product brochures, blog posts etc.