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What makes a good Tweet?

There’s no single answer to this question of course.

A good Tweet is like a good book or a good film – different people like different ones.

Nevertheless, The Artist is considered by most people to be superior to Wrath of the Titans 3D.

Most people find that the experience of reading Great Expectations enriches them more than First Among Equals.

In the same way, there is an emerging consensus about what makes a good Tweet and, more importantly, a good Tweeter.

The evidence

It’s a sure sign that social media has entered the mainstream when it becomes the subject of “proper” research.

Three researchers recently designed a site called Who gives a Tweet? which they used to get almost 1500 people to rate over 40,000 from over 20,000 Twitter accounts.

You can find a full account of the research at the @LSEImpactBlog.

What they found accords with my gut instincts – only 36% Tweets were judged as worth reading.


The “judges” particularly disliked:

Tweets about what tweeters were feeling, what they were doing or where they were.

You know the: “Just eating a banana on the train to Coventry” thing.

Generally, people didn’t like too much personal information or whining/moaning/complaining.

Cryptic tweets and tweets without any context were viewed as particularly annoying.

But the single most common reason for not like a tweet was that it was boring “…and so what?”


On the other hand, people valued:

Information sharing (provided it was up-to-date)

Questions to followers – in effect, Twitter conversation starters

Links which included a personal thought or opinion

Conciseness – even within the constraints of 140 characters, brevity was generally appreciated.

What does this mean if you Tweet as a probation or police officer?

First of all, it means make your tweets interesting.

If you are tweeting in a work capacity, you are communicating with the world at large.

You may be trying to convey what your work involves to the general public and the media.

Or you may be targeting stakeholders, budget holders, politicians and influential individuals.

You want people to be engaged by your tweets and to follow you on Twitter.

You know all this, so why is one of the most common probation tweets a variation on:

“Just had a great meeting about IOM with [name of three organisations]” or

“Meeting with local managers. What a fantastically inspired and committed group they are.”

You must remember that social media users are accustomed to all sorts of corporate speak from hundreds of companies, they can smell it a mile off and they are not in the least interested – even when those companies are offering prize draws and discounts.

You don’t have things to give away, so you have got to provide interesting information, insights into unseen work, a different perspective, acerbic wit, playful banter.

One of the best things you can do is to provide links to genuinely interesting stories, case studies etc.

These can either provided by your comms team or the mainstream media.

Even if you have the wit of Oscar Wilde, there is a limit to what you can say in 140 characters.

In the words of @zoestaffsgmpt, remember, Twitter is not a soapbox:


It is a Golf Sale sign:

There are dozens of tweeting styles in the same way as there are thrillers, RomComs, Films Noir and slasher movies.

There is no prescribed approach, but when you write a tweet, read it back and ask yourself if it is likely to be of any interest to people other than your workmates.

If you’re a probation tweeter, I suggest following @zoestaffsgmpt, @londonprobation and @salfordCPayback  for a variety of styles.

If you’re a police tweeter, there is a massive range of choice but I am particularly fond of @pompeyccupolice, @TheCustodySgt and @SirIanBlair (the latter is a copper, but not Sir Ian).

If you are in charge of your trust/force social media policy, I recommend that you follow the advice of  Doutreval of Dijon in the 1952 movie, Scaramouche: 

“Think of this. A sword is like a bird. If you clutch it too tightly, you choke it – too lightly and it flies away.”

In other words, you should set a clear direction and key messages but allow staff to express these in their own words and style.

Here’s my tips to bear in mind as you develop your own approach:

Top Ten Twitter Tips

  1. Make your Tweets interesting.
  2. Flag them up to interested people by using hashtags – #Probation, #CommunityPayback, #Burglary, #Olympics etc.
  3. Link, link & Link again to interesting content on your website/Facebook page etc.
  4. If you want people to re-tweet you, try to leave some characters free – you don’t have to use all 140
  5. Tweets should be authentic (i.e. not done by another person, or generated automatically)
  6. Don’t just tweet corporate day-to-day business – who wants to follow someone that lists their meetings every day
  7. Sound like a human – it’s actually tricky to get the balance between being professional and being real, especially if you’re running a corporate account, but the odd piece of gentle humour or wordplay makes you more worth following.
  8. Engage as much as you can. Social media is about engagement not broadcasting. So when you can, respond constructively to comments and criticisms.
  9. Never tweet when drunk or angry.
  10. Make your Tweets interesting.

It takes time to evolve a Twitter style and there is no short-cut to actually doing it.

You’ll be surprised how adept you can get at communicating in 140 characters.

Just make sure your tweets are worth reading.

Next Wednesday, the art of re-tweeting.

Have a good week, till next week.

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