There is an art to writing great Twitter headlines. I call them headlines, because that is really what they are. In twitterspeak they are tweets.

Twitter – the microblogging platform – has become increasingly significant as a source of news and information. It is very different from other social media platforms like Facebook, which are, well … social.

Twitter has become the premier platform for sharing content – in 140 characters, which means that you need to be really skilled to get the most out of your Twitter headline.

What you share on Twitter is not only about the actual value of the content. It’s also about whether the content gets viewed and appreciated in the first place. And this comes down to the writing.

Social media itself has changed writing online – making it more informal and personal. In fact, when you’re writing online these days, you’re writing not only for your audience but also for search engines and social media sites.

80/20 Rule of Headlines

You know the 80/20 rule of headlines? It’s handy to keep this rule in mind which states that out of 10 people that read headlines, only two will actually be reading the rest of the story.

This is in a typical headline environment, such as a newspaper, magazine or web page. Now, think about a Twitter stream, where people are scanning more ruthlessly than ever, looking for interesting tidbits. Your content link is competing with conversations, quips, tantalizing revelations and hot-off-the-press news snippets.

To get noticed on Twitter, you need to have a strategy in place and this has to be supported by good writing. Interestingly, with Twitter being a free-for-all, you get a mix of commercial businesses, various organisations and countless individuals, all trying to grab each other’s attention.

Develop a Persona – Be Clear about your Objectives

Just tweeting away without an aim or purpose is not really going to get you very far. I usually advise clients to develop a strong persona. Readers lap up content written in a charismatic, clear voice. What can focus your voice are your clear objectives when tweeting. Ask yourself: What is the intention behind my tweets? Why am I doing this? Is it for marketing a product? Education? Social activism? This will help you to create clear, concise ‘Twitter-copy’ that will engage your followers and help pull in new ones. Understanding why you’re using Twitter will help you create great copy and write good Twitter headlines.

According to Copyblogger* a good way to make sure your headlines always offer a compelling reward is to use the 4-U approach. This is a copywriting technique taught by AWAI.

Your headlines must:

  1. Be USEFUL to the reader,
  2. Provide him with a sense of URGENCY,
  3. Convey the idea that the main benefit is somehow UNIQUE; and
  4. Do all of the above in an ULTRA-SPECIFIC way.

Is a Good Twitter Headline as Short as Possible?

When we get to the point of how long is a good Twitter headline, many will say “a good Twitter headline is as short as possible. This is not only because of the 140-character limit that Twitter imposes, but also because in order for your headline to spread, people need room to retweet it. Twitter culture dictates that you leave some space that the person who retweets your post can also add something.

Maybe the best thing to say is that a Twitter headline should be as long as necessary, but no longer.

It is a proven fact that people will retweet based on the headline alone, before even clicking through to the content. Quality content, however, is still the essential ingredient. So make sure people actually appreciate the content you share: write it well.


About the Author:

Karen Lotter is a journalist and writer based in Durban, South Africa. She runs a company ( specializing in creating websites, writing creative and interesting content and optimizing sites for search engines.

She has written profiles, features, advertising copy, obituaries, press releases, and columns in magazines, company newsletters and newspapers, and written and produced corporate scripts.

Since she stopped writing political speeches (after 13 years in the trenches), she has focused on writing for the web and presenting workshops on communications-related issues. She is a Feature Writer at Suite (

Karen tutors the Writing for the Web Course at the Writers’ College.