A great Twitter thread is like a mystery novel. It draws you in with details you know will be relevant later but you don’t yet know how. It makes you feel smart and astonished with every new reveal. Plus, you can always flip to the end to make sure it isn’t too long.
But, much like a good mystery novel, a great Twitter thread doesn’t just happen. It requires solid structure and pacing. It needs to be compelling, informative, and, most important of all, worth reading. If done correctly, a Twitter thread can be the secret to increased engagement to your website or brand. A Buffer experiment from 2018 found that Twitter threads, on average, generated 63% more impressions and 54% more engagement than a single tweet with a link.
Below are some tips for crafting a great Twitter thread, featuring examples of threads we loved here at Inside.
- First and foremost, tell a good story.
You may have a specific intention with your thread (sharing data, promoting your brand), but we’re an emotional species, and the best way to engage readers is with a good story. Mario Gabriele, investor and writer of The Generalist, wrote 30 Twitter threads in 30 days in 2020, and he says the best-performing thread was this story about the life of Nikola Tesla.
It was even more popular than a follow-up thread where he revealed what he learned from his experiment. Here are the primary reasons he thinks the Tesla thread performed so well:
- It’s a topic people are interested in. Readers know who Nikola Tesla is these days (after all, a company named after the guy is one of the largest by market cap in the world).
- But, there’s plenty people still don’t know about him. Gabriele was able to efficiently give readers additional information about something they’re already interested in.
- Plus, it’s a pretty engaging story. And Gabriele piques our interest with a compelling introduction: “Nikola Tesla was the greatest inventor of his era. He died penniless and alone, swindled by both Thomas Edison and JP Morgan.” Who won’t want to read the full story after that hook?
The remarkable thing is that literally anybody could have told this story. Information on Nikola Tesla is freely available for anyone who wants to do the research. Gabriele is just the one who did it in a succinct and digestible fashion.
Huddle Up writer Joe Pompliano had a similar strategy for telling the story of former NBA player Lee “Junior” Bridgeman. His opening tweet: “An NBA role player turned his $350,000 salary into a net worth of $600M.” Again, Pompliano doesn’t reveal any new information or break any news in his thread. The information is widely available online. He turned a 500-word article into a <400-word Twitter thread that inspires the reader to keep scrolling, and only promotes his own work at the very end. As of this writing, the first tweet has more than 41,000 likes.
2. Make your reader smarter
It’s simple to dismiss Twitter as the place we all go for little bursts of dopamine or to seek validation for a joke, but this ignores its true purpose as a place we go to connect with like-minded individuals and learn from them. Any Twitter thread that earns significant engagement almost certainly teaches the reader something new and helps them achieve a specific goal.
This 25+ tweet thread starts by telling you exactly how it’s going to help you. It will help you get a job through LinkedIn. Abeng breaks the thread down into four sections: “Your Profile,” “Your Content,” “Your Engagement,” “Your Network” and gives readers only the clearest and most direct information necessary.
Even though this is a long thread, Abeng packs it with valuable advice. The density is necessary since readers are likely combing through the thread at their current job (the first tweet was published just before 11 a.m.) and are scanning for the most relevant information. All this advice could easily have been repackaged as a blog post or lengthy article, and there’s certainly a place for that – but on Twitter, there’s no time for flowery introductions.
As a complementary tip to “Make your reader smarter,” follow your expertise. If you’re an expert on a certain subject, you can use that expertise to educate others. Readers will feel like they’re getting the inside scoop and will revel in the ability to pass that knowledge on to others. Here’s an example from emergency room physician Dr. Michelle Lin.
Note the date on this thread. This was published the week COVID-19 changed daily life in the U.S. (For reference, March 11, 2020, was the day Tom Hanks announced he tested positive and the NBA suspended its season.) Dr. Lin shared her expert thoughts on something most of us were extremely ignorant about at a crucial moment in time. If you read through this thread now, you’ll likely be intimately familiar with the terminology she uses and advice she shares, but at the time, Dr. Lin’s expertise and authority in discussing the coronavirus elevated her thread to a signal among noise.
Of course, some people with specialized knowledge can see a viral thread stay popular well into the future. Take this 2019 thread from @somenerdliam explaining “How to DELETE 99.9% of your digital footprint from the internet.” The information in this thread is completely novel to the layperson, but effectively details all you’d need to do to vanish entirely from the internet, if that’s something you wanted to do. Without his expertise in this arena, the thread wouldn’t have spread to the tune of 106,000+ retweets.
3. Use data and imagery
Investor Sahil Bloom is one of the modern masters of the business thread. He even has a thread where he keeps track of all his threads. One simple reason Bloom has had such success on Twitter: his threads are visually stimulating.
Take this nine-tweet thread on stock market bubbles. Bloom combs through Ray Dalio’s “7 Classic Signs of a Bubble,” and analyzes each one in a single tweet to see if the current market (as of June 2020) is a bubble. The first eight tweets all have an accompanying image – some of the images are simply cosmetic, while others contain graphical representations of data. You’ll notice, though, that Bloom doesn’t rely exclusively on charts and graphs to elucidate complex topics. In fact, he frequently uses only cartoon images and gifs to give his threads a playful tone, ostensibly to avoid putting off readers who are new to a financial concept.
Crypto-investor Nick Chong got a little more granular in his thread on the cryptocoin market cap crossing $1T. This is a dense topic, so Chong backs up his analysis with plenty of visually-representative data on the growth of several cryptocurrencies since 2017.
Few on Twitter use visual data as effectively as Max Roser, founder of Our World In Data. Graphs using data sourced from his website make the story Roser tells about the smallpox vaccine easier to follow and more engrossing than it would be on its own.
Thread writers need to be careful here, as too many graphs can clutter up a thread and distract from valuable insights. However, appropriately used, charts and graphs can add an essential visual element to number-heavy content.
4. Sound like a human
This one can be harder than it sounds, especially when each of your thoughts has to be edited into 280-character (typically under 50-word) chunks. You may be trying to provide data and context, and show off your expertise, but you should also be trying to start a conversation. Remember: Twitter is a dinner party, not a lecture hall.
Take this example, called “10 significant lies you're told about the world,” from writing and growth marketing specialist Julian Shapiro, who tweets writing tips and, occasionally, life lessons. The most interesting thing about this thread is that Shapiro doesn’t simply list the lies and then debunk them. The thread doesn’t read like a blog post at all; it reads like a conversation filled with insights.
In 42 and 49 words, respectively, Shapiro is imparting wisdom but making it read like one piece of a conversation, not a formal address. People tend to gravitate to those who sound like them and share their values, so excessive formality, like you might read in The Wall Street Journal, will turn readers off.
- If you can use a conversational tone, and...
- Split suggestions into bullet points, like this...
- That’s even better.
Some of the most successful threads are those that emphasize the conversational and collaborative aspect. Storage Squad founder and “sweaty startup” advocate Nick Huber received more than 5,000 likes for a thread recommending 30 people to follow on Twitter, along with his favorite tweet (or thread) from each.
Huber’s recommendations are based on his real experience with these individuals, and you can tell through his introductions that he genuinely values the insights he gained through these tweets. These aren’t just tweets to pad out a listicle. He’s a human, just like the rest of us, and this colloquial tone makes his readers want to go through every tweet and follow the recommended accounts.
5. Recognize how all these tips point back to…. 1. Tell a good story.
Not every story is “Lord of the Rings.” Some are simple breakdowns of how short-selling works. Some are over-the-top (possibly invented?) anecdotes about a co-worker at a movie theater. Some are literally just info-dumps with links about how to become a better copywriter. The one thing great threads have in common is that they tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
- Beginning: Here’s what I’m going to tell you.
- Middle: Here I am, educating you on the thing I told you about.
- End: Now that you know what I know, go off into the world and do it yourself.
The tools to building a great Twitter thread are the same tools used to make a great movie.
- “Make your reader smarter” = “Teach the viewer a valuable lesson about life.”
- “Use data and imagery” = “Be visually stimulating”
- “Sound like a human” = “Make it relatable”
- “Tell a good story” = “Tell a good story”
Finally, one last tip: Now that you’ve put in all this work, tweet it between 1-3 p.m. ET on Monday-Thursday for maximum engagement.