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If there’s one buzzword that resonated in 2009, it has to be Twitter, so it’s fitting that I’m ending the year with a podcast about Tweets.

The week of December 14th I was in charge of Wired’s massive 325,000 follower account (@Wired), so I want to tell you the 10 lessons learned, and break down writing the perfect tweet.

Download the podcast from iTunes, or play it below:


In the podcast I give a background on how the @wired twitter account came to be, but here are the key points:

– At the end of 2008, Twitter really started gaining a lot of buzz and I knew Wired had to look at this up-and-coming platform
– I organized meetings with key decision makers and presented the pros and cons, with the data to back it up
– We decided to make @wired an interactive account (not just a feed of top stories), and that editors familiar with Twitter would rotate on a weekly basis overseeing the account
– This enabled us to give a unique voice each week (using editors from gadgets, science, transportation, programming) without burdening one individual with all the responsibility
– We started the year with only 8,000 followers, and Twitter was #49 on the list of traffic-drivers to Wired
– Three key things happened in early October… we passed 100,000 followers, we threw a party to celebrate that fact, and we were added to Twitter’s recommended follow list
– On 11/6 we passed 200,000 followers
– On 12/11 we passed 300,000 followers, and on more than one occasion Twitter was a top 10 referrer of monthly traffic

My turn at the wheel:

When we first started tweeting, I had every intention of taking my turn as one of the ‘gatekeepers.’  But the first time I asked, I was out of the office for a few days, so I declined. Then I think that happened again the next month. Before I knew it, the awesome editors at Wired were on a roll and hitting it out of the park each week, so who was I to interfere?

But then Wired Science editor Betsy Mason asked if I wanted to take a turn, and I said of course. I have to admit, it was a little intimidating at first. Here’s why:

– When I use my personal Twitter account or post on Facebook, I’m reaching about 500 people. If you mess up or say something stupid, it’s mostly your friends. Probably something they’ve heard before.
– When I send a tweet from @HopkinsonReport, it goes out to almost 2,000 followers. Still a decent number, but I’m pretty good about keeping it marketing-focused.
– Even on Wired’s Facebook page of 50,000, it’s not too bad as it’s just a major story or two that we link to during the day.

But 325,000???


Just one typo, just one misstep, just one bad link, and you’re potentially tripping over your shoelace in front of a quarter million people. And not just any people… there are some key influencers on there.  And not to mention, the millions of fans that each of THOSE followers all have.  So lets just say I double-checked each tweet a little more closely than usual. I go into it in more depth in the podcast, but here are:

10 lessons learned from the tweets I sent from Wired twitter account.

Lesson 1.  Transparency

Wired had already set this precedent a bit. I updated the bio to show that I was the one tweeting that week, and sent out an introductory message.

Lesson 2. Money

One of my first tweets was one of my best. What better topic at this time of year (holidays + recession) than to talk about a HUGE BONUS. It was with this tweet that I also started to find my voice, mixing a question/statement and then the headline. This got at least 1,853 clicks, good for 4th most all week.


Lesson 3. Stories about Twitter

Shocking… stories about Facebook on Facebook do well, and stories about Twitter on Twitter do well. I used my statement+headline method again.


Lesson 4. Be Humble.

On that Monday, there was a lot of excitement here in NYC after we were announced as AdWeek’s Magazine of the Decade. The marketing group was buzzing, the sales team was beaming, Wired rang the closing bell at NASDAQ, and we did a Wired spine contest.

But when it came time to tweet it, I followed the wise words of Gadget Lab editor Dylan Tweney (@Dylan20). Be humble.  Yes, we are proud, and yes, we work really hard. But we’d be nothing without all the great fans.


Lesson 5. Stats Rule.

When I read the story “Baby-by-Number: Parents’ New Obsession With Data” I knew that would be a good one. But the title needed something more. Knowing that new parents are basically on a treadmill of feed baby—change baby—sleep 2 hours—repeat, I knew some of the hard stats from the article would really make this tweet jump out. And that it did… 1,100 clicks.


Lesson 6. Hackers and Puns

I knew Wired readers love the topic of hackers, and love a good pun. With a few already in the headline, I couldn’t help but add on another:

“Wired” story: Hackers brew self-destruct code (DECAF) to counter police forensics tools (COFEE)

Lesson 7. Short and sweet works too.

And lists. And spotting a trend early. I put up the very simple 7 word tweet of “Best of 2009: Top 5 Wii Games” and it did great.  Best of?  Gaming news?  Keep going back to the well.

Best of 2009: Top 5 Wii Games (2,074 clicks)
Best of 2009: Top 5 Multi-Platform Games. (1,069 clicks)
Best of 2009: Top 5 Portable Games. (1,366 clicks)

Lesson 8.  Weekends work too.

This one actually surprised me a bit. Wired gets far more traffic during the week, so I figured that trend would hold true on Twitter as well. Not so.  I scheduled a holiday shopping related tweet to go out early Saturday afternoon, but it was “18-Gigapixel Panorama Offers Breathtaking View of Prague” that ended up as the 2nd most clicked story of the whole week, with more than 2,500.

I also tried to target the tweets to time of day, and what people might be doing:

Why Geologists Love Beer (Friday at 5pm)
Choose wisely tonight, feel better tomorrow? Study shows dark liquor makes for worse hangovers.  (Saturday 8:30 pm)

Lesson 9. Be a little risky and daring.

By Thursday, I was feeling more confident when I came across the holy grail… a Star Trek story involving women and science. Star Trek/Star Wars is always gold. Now I just needed a good lead.  Phasers to stun?  A Captain Kirk Reference?  I wanted to shock, so I went with Spock (1,300 clicks).


Lesson 10. Watch for the perfect storm.

Apple + Macbook  + Airport Security + Photos + Bullets + Triumph over Evil?  This isn’t just a story, it could be Cameron’s next movie. How to phrase it?  Wham Bam, thank you… nope, a little too risque.  Lets go the geekier angle instead. Result: 4,000 clicks.


So that’s the overall look at several tweets. But lets break down my thought process on crafting the perfect tweet. Am I way too obsessive with my writing, to the point where I am going against the very nature of the “say what’s on your mind immediately” culture? Probably. But again, with a big audience, I was extra analytical in formulating my thoughts. Here is…

The 7 Step Evolution of the Perfect Tweet

Step 1. Get my initial thought down… I want to talk about the 1 Wired Wish contest… I want a retweet element… I want to talk about the prize:
Tell us your 1 Wired Wish for a chance at a $10,000 prize package. (pls RT for a chance at an iPod touch)  URL

Step 2. Shorten the $10,000 to $10k to save some space… Remove parentheses as they aren’t needed:
Tell us your 1 Wired Wish for a chance at a $10k prize package. pls RT for a chance at an iPod touch  URL

Step 3. Since the prize money is pretty huge, I want to lead with $10k. Idea to go with alliteration (geek gear grabs) for effect:
$10k in geek gear up for grabs. Tell us your 1 Wired Wish. Pls RT for a chance at an iPod touch  URL

Step 4. Try it with “10 grand” instead of $10k to add another “g” in there, then shorten to 10Gs. Add caps on the G’s for effect:
10Gs in Geek Gear up for Grabs. Tell us your 1 Wired Wish. Pls RT for a chance at an iPod touch  URL

Step 5. I thought the fact that the iPod was Wired-engraved was cool, so I added that. Didn’t want to, but removed the word “please.” Felt that this wasn’t so much asking a favor (please retweet this) as a command (you need to retweet this for the chance to win).
10Gs in Geek Gear up for Grabs. Tell us your 1 Wired Wish. RT for a chance at Wired-engraved iPod touch

Step 6. Need some more space, so change “for” to “4” and “to win” to “2win.” Added caps on WIRED. Added url to see how long that was. Definitely made sure there was room to reweet… wasn’t just that we want people to retweet… it was an essential part of this.  Test everything a few times.
10Gs in Geek Gear up 4 Grabs. Tell us your 1 Wired Wish. RT for a chance 2win WIRED-engraved iPod touch http://ow.ly/Nbsf

Step 7. Make sure to do the follow-up and keep your promise. The next day, picked a winner that had retweeted it and reached out to him. Sent him his prize. He retweeted that he won.

End result was a very good number of clicks and retweets.

BTW… the contest goes until Feb 2, 2010, so hey… Enter to win $10,000 from Wired.


Key Takeaways

- Having a huge audience was a little bit daunting at first, but I quickly settled in and found my voice while staying true to the Wired brand. Know your limitations and just take a little more time.
- Don’t be afraid to go through a few rounds of copy.
- I had one major change in talking about twitter and social media. The selling points I was telling people all year were: It’s free, it works (we’re getting more traffic),  it’s fun and interactive, it doesn’t take a lot of time.

Well, I’m ready to rehash that last point a bit. Yes, you can quickly find a story and tweet it in a minute. However, I found myself taking more time looking for the breaking trend or hot story, time making sure it was accurate and hadn’t been mentioned before, more time crafting the tweet and testing it, and more time analyzing (ok, obsessing a bit) over all the cool stats you can glean from what you’re doing). So maybe it doesn’t take a TON of time, but let’s just say you can spend a lot of time on it if you let it.

In looking at the early returns from my survey, the one thing that was clear is that most people heard about me from a friend. So if you enjoy the content that I’m producing, please pass it on to people you know who might like it as well.

Have a happy holiday, and a prosperous new year

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