Don’t @ Me: Reasons Why Twitter Threads Are Great Commentary

By Gemma Joyce on September 20th 2017

So much has been written about Twitter threads of late that it’s as if a new social media platform with many thousands of users has hit the internet by surprise, ripe for thinkpieces on their merits and downfalls.

Politico calls them “the compelling, incendiary literary form of the Trump era”. Deadspin says, in one of the cleanest excerpts from this critical article, they’re “like being on a soapbox and having 10 megaphones lined up single-file in front of your mouth.” Also that those who converse within Twitter threads are “fart sniffers”.

In a more sympathetic analysis, The Verge likens Twitter Threads to poetry.

Despite their admittedly numerous limitations, I personally think Twitter threads are brilliant.

They enable the writer to string together a whole narrative – one that spans an emotive five minutes or a carefully curated year. You can tell a story with a couple of words, no doubt, but a Twitter thread gives you the space to say so much more, with so much illustration and deliberate pacing.

All without directing your readers’ attention away from the platform, with the loading times, pop-ups and other distractions on a site that so often send them heading for the close button. (I’ll get to the problems with that, but first the good things).

The rise of Twitter threads

Twitter threads aren’t exactly new, but there’s been a huge amount of hype around them lately.

Along with Google Trends data, we searched for mentions of Twitter threads on Twitter over the last few months. There’s been an obvious increase in commentary surrounding them, as well as retweets and threads themselves.

 

The potential for masterful storytelling

The Twitter thread can be used by established wordsmiths and storytelling amateurs alike for big impact.

In the wake of the Parsons Green bomb attack last week, history writer Mike Stuchbery used a Twitter thread to school pessimists on the many things Londoners had survived.

The length, the illustration and the scale of hardship incorporated into the thread wouldn’t have half the impact a single tweet might.

Here’s an example of a post from someone who at the time of writing calls themself “yeehaw girl”.

Yeehaw Girl set Twitter alight when she revived a years-old theory that Avril Lavigne had died early in her career and that a lookalilke had taken her place. If the Twitter thread is the new medium it is often lauded as, think of this blog-theory-turned-twitter-thread as Stephen-King-Novel-Turned-Blockbuster. Just with less money involved.

This thread, like the theory, is huge and detailed, compiling text, video and image “evidence” for the theory and it got an enormous amount of engagement – even if a lot of it was highly skeptical.

We actually covered this post and provided data around the theory it described in another blog post (one that continues to bring in thousands of searchers for “Is Avril Lavigne dead?” on Google) – check it out here.

Here’s another brilliant example – this time of the horror genre.

Adam Ellis documented events in his apparently haunted house using a Twitter thread in August.

As someone who can’t watch the beginning of the ‘It’ movie trailer without crying into my couch, I found this thread genuinely terrifying. Scrolling slowly further down, finding images that (non-conclusively, of course) document the haunting was something akin to watching a horror movie through increasingly small cracks between fingers. For me, it was one of the most impactful uses of a Twitter thread out I’d ever seen – perhaps because it lost me sleep.

Threads are for engagement, not for selling

Twitter threads are a way to get everything out there in one go without sending people to a site where they might need to search the page for the relevant information.

Laying all your content out on your Twitter feed as opposed to just teasing it might sound like madness, but it works for some. Now This don’t have any content on their website, opting to bring you all the relevant information straight to your newsfeed.

Threads offer this option – get all your content out there, get everyone commenting.

We’ve been experimenting with Twitter threads on various React blogs over the last few months. Their contents have been some of the top-retweeted content of ours on Twitter in the time period, and we get plenty of engagement from them in the form of quoted tweets and comments.

Our plan has been to tell the outline of the story of a blog post, and link to it at the end in the hope that we’ll start a conversation with our followers and theirs and that the true data fans who want more on the methodology or to learn more about Brandwatch will reach the bottom and click.

It’s kind of like an extended teaser tweet. Sometimes insights like the ones we create aren’t so interesting in isolation, and threads allow us show how they fit together.

By putting everything out there (or at least a large chunk of it) you aren’t exactly pressing people to click through. Threading doesn’t necessarily pay, so you’ve got to be clear about what you want from them.

Why didn’t we thread this blog post?

While I was writing this I became aware of the irony of writing a blog post about the merits of threading that would inevitably be posted to social, pulling our busy followers onto the site instead of just handing them all the information in a lengthy thread.

Well, maybe you’ll find it again on our Twitter feed soon 👀

Are you a journalist looking to use our data? Want to repurpose this blog post? Email us at react@brandwatch.com with questions or requests.


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Gemma Joyce

@GLJoyce

Gemma is the social data journalist heading up Brandwatch React. As well as being first with the current affairs data, Gemma loves pizza, politics, and long reads. Her work has been featured in publications like Financial Times, Wired, Business Insider, and PR Week