Can Twittering Create an Economy of Words?

How companies should use Twitter. More answers to executives' tough questions about microsharing in the enterprise.

Business leaders tell me they can't use Twitter (or its enterprise-strength counterparts) because they don't have enough space to capture deep thoughts and bright vision. This admission often follows a conversation about why they don't want their people to use these tools, which ironically often has more to do with productivity and legalities than making room to say something big. As part of my ongoing effort to address the skeptics, here is one specific question I hear frequently and details on how I respond.

Question: How can I say something substantive with Twitter?

Answer: Practice. (131)*

* When you "tweet" (the slang for writing a microsharing message) the number of remaining characters you can use appears beside the box where you type. I've included these numbers to give you a sense of how much more I could have been written.

Leadership involves sharing seminal concepts and creating an environment where these ideas can come to life in everyone's everyday work. In an age of shrinking attention spans and economic distractions, clear concise messages play best. Few of us listen long so stop dinking around the edges. Get on with it. Now's the time to be brief even if learning to be succinct can take time.

Blaise Pascal wrote (not in Twitter but in a letter from 1656):
I have made this letter longer because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter. (55)

At first, it can take more time to write something laconic than to write something long. In my experience, working with dozens of leaders focused on this specific challenge, the process gets easier and more effective within a few weeks. And this newfound skill can be used in other settings where being crisp sells.

I suggested recently:
Think of Twittering as training for an elevator pitch completed by the 2nd floor. (62)

Short messages allows readers to approach updates with a headline scanner's mindset, skimming a large number of post quickly, ignoring the ones of no interest, and grasping the interesting ones with little additional cognitive load. This means we can quickly process a message stream and then turn our attention back to other tasks. The efficiency is so palpable.

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:
I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. (0)

The aim of these short bursts is not to be simple (although plenty of people use Twitter for updates that are at best simple). I believe we, as business leaders, are most effective when we say important things in simple ways. Offer up timely stats, your analysis, or a direct link to something you've just read. If you want to help people work smarter by understanding what you're seeing, why not point them directly to what you see and then give them a glimpse of why you believe it matters?

George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research wrote:
Thinking that if the financial ship can be righted, the economy should be OK. (63)

An increasing number of CEOs are using Twitter and similar tools for the enterprise because microsharing also provides an opportunity to open dialog within an organization, throughout an enterprise and with customers-to-be. With a few words of prompting, people (who you might not even know) can provide expert testimony, gut-level hunches and field views you'd never see otherwise. You can even collaboratively brainstorm without ordering in lunch.

Jonena Relth wrote:
Growing leaders in our organizations requires modeling what we want people to do and become.

I believe there is no better way to keep leadership and vision in mind than chronicling and acting on it day in and day out. You just need to begin.

And if you're still stuck on the actual be brief part because you're a member of my friend and colleague Wayne Hodgins' ad-hoc club, "Why use a sentence when a paragraph will do?" — begin modeling by learning how.

  • Ask your kids for tips on text-messaging shorthand.
  • Remove anything that's implied.
  • Edit mercilessly.
  • Dust off that thesaurus or crossword dictionary to find shorter words.

Now get on with it. (121)

Have a question you'd like me to answer? Ask here or in fewer than 140 characters @marciamarcia


Marcia Conner >>

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  • David Mullings

    I would actually say that Twitter does not actually limit thought because you can simply include a link to a longer piece, like a blog post.
    Twitter allows information to be shared and processed quickly but it does not replace deeper discussion, it just makes it easier to find.

  • Marcia Conner

    Some of my favorite tweets that say plenty quickly:

    @padmasree (Padmasree Warrior, CTO at Cisco Systems)
    Writing a very professional memo to Toyota customer service. Subject of memorandum: "So what do you have to say for yourself?"

    @Pistachio (Laura Fitton, President at Pistachio Consulting)
    Z stirs a little in my arms; slips back into deep sleep. I think "Don't wake up. You'll wander off, grow up and suddenly be in college."

    From the Economist: "The four most expensive words in the banking industry are, 'This time, it's different.'"

    The most important skills to have in the tech industry are the ability to quickly acquire new skills and the ability to adjust to change.

    I would like it very much if humans, like leaves, changed color with age, becoming more and more vibrant-hued as their own fall approached.

    Marcia Conner >

  • Joe Levy

    One of my favorite quotes--and rules--is “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery), but the "it's too complicated if it takes more than 20 seconds" generalization is often a sad argument for anti-intellectualism. Thrift works only until it causes undernourishment.

  • Thomas Clifford

    Hi Marcia,

    Spot on!

    As a frequent Twitter user, many people ask me about the commercial aspects of Twitter (and other SM tools).

    We are so blinded by the transactional nature of business that we forget about the social dimensions tools like Twitter can help create within our networks.

    From my lens, Twitter allows a business (or an individual) the opportunity to create value and leadership for its community. Commercialization can happen only after value has been created.

  • Adam Roades

    Great points, Marcia, especially about using Twitter (as a though experiment or real-life exercise) to come up with an elevator speech about your product or company. As with any tool, Twitter is best used for certain activities; namely, communicating short bursts of inspiration. It is not intended to provide full documentation of an organization's CONOPS!

    The relative ease and transparency of a senior leader using Twitter cannot really be compared with any other tool.

    I would like to see more PowerPoint decks "Twitterized" - that would save many "deaths by bullet points."