How to Write a Viral Tweet
I am head over heels in love with you.
Maybe it’s just my naivete, or the crippling loneliness caused by social distancing, but I can’t get enough of you. You’re always on my mind, in my heart, and adjacent to my left kidney.
I am so smitten that I must give you something: a token of my affection to convey the depth of my feelings for you. But what in this world could possibly be valuable enough to convey my devotion?
Could it be…a priceless Faberge Egg?
Or an enormous diamond?
Or a tissue used by Andy Warhol to clean Raymond Burr’s bowling trophies after Queen Elizabeth II vomited on them after consuming too much Newman’s Own brand moonshine that was actually owned by Paul Newman.
But wait! I have something even more valuable.
A Million-dollar Secret
Within the vaults where I keep all the universe’s secrets, there are more than a few that can be leveraged for personal gain and profit. These are more valuable than any mere trinket. And I am in a unique position to dispense them.
So which of my many secrets will suffice as a token of my affections?
How about…the secret of composing a viral tweet?
Because that one may be the most profitable of all.
The Obstacles to Composing a Viral Tweet
Before we can lift the curtain on the keys to viral tweeting, we first need to be aware of the stumbling blocks that will prevent your tweets from going viral, regardless of their quality.
- Tweets will not go viral if they are not seen.
- Tweets will not go viral if they simply repeat what everyone else is saying.
- Tweets will not go viral if they don’t say anything.
The first obstacle is the hardest: to have a tweet get noticed, you need to have a lot of Twitter accounts following you already. If not, you could be a Twitter Amadeus and still get nowhere.
Second, while topical tweets can certainly get noticed, you won’t stand out if you only repeat what everyone else is already saying. Being camouflaged might not be exactly the same as being invisible, but functionally it’s close enough. As such, there is little difference between having no followers and having many followers who can’t distinguish you from other accounts.
And while a tweet doesn’t have to have the wit of Shakespeare or Twain to go viral, it should at least be readable, concise, and carry a clear message. Muddled, garbled tweets with unparsable grammar, or tweet consisting of nothing but emojis, are not destined for stardom, no matter how otherwise well constructed they are.
But barring all those issues, creating a viral tweet is actually a simple matter, requiring little thought or effort on your part. Let’s examine just how easy writing a viral tweet can be.
Question Marks are Hook-shaped for a Reason
With most forms of communication, it’s clear whether you are supposed to respond. Naturally, it is not appropriate to reply to something you see on a television. Whereas, on a telephone, you know your response is welcome and useful.
This breaks down, however, on Twitter.
Twitter is part stage, part roundtable. And it is never explicitly made clear whether or not you are expected to reply to any given proclamation. And because Twitter’s waters are so perilous to begin with, many users are too timid to engage with you without some kind of invitation.
That invitation takes the form of a question mark: “?”.
If you were to publish the following two tweets—
“All rotweilers are ugly.”
“Are all rotweilers ugly?”
—you’d certainly get responses to both of them. However, the magnitude of these engagements would be much greater on the tweet phrased as a question, because that question mark invites people to come under your roof and make suggestions.
Subjective Questions are Better than Objective Questions
Not all questions are created equal.
For example, asking “How many pints are in a gallon?” will garner less engagement than asking, “What is your favorite color?”
The people on Twitter already know how the internet works, and if you ask them a question that Google could answer, they will leave you to it. If, on the other hand, you ask them a question only they can answer, they will be much more inclined to respond and engage.
Likewise, yes-or-no questions get less engagement than how-many or how-much questions. Questions that feature any kind of nuance demand to be answered.
The Most Important Word is the Y-word
On Twitter, there is such a thing as magic. And that magic takes the form of a magic word.
This word, if included in your tweet, will change fate. Instead of glossing over your tweet without reading it, Twitter users will become magnetically attracted to your tweet and will read the whole of it if it contains this word.
From deep within the vaults of my secrets, I present to you the one word that will change your life, the one word that will completely transform your experience on this planet, a word so powerful it must never be allowed to fall into the wrong hands, a word of power that can kill or heal.
That word…is “you”.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but unless you include the word “you” in a tweet, people will be unsure whether that tweet applies to them. They naturally assume that anything not containing the word “you” is meant for someone else, and will not bother with it.
For this reason, most of your tweets should be written in second person. Do this enough, and it shall become habit. After which you won’t need to consciously remind yourself to do it.
The Final Secret: Piggybacking
Getting people to care about something seems like the hardest thing in the world, but it’s actually the easiest.
All you have to do is take something that people already care about, and place your thing next to it. Association is persuasion.
For example, suppose you live in a world where everyone is obsessed with chickens.
And suppose that you, who live in this chicken-obsessed world, are trying to get people to care about historic golf courses. How do you go about making people care about historic golf courses.
Easy: you take a picture of a chicken, and a picture of a historic golf course, and you place those two pictures next to each other.
Do that enough times, and you succeed.
Putting It all Together
In the real world, people are not obsessed with chickens. But you know what they are obsessed with?
- This or that political persuasion.
And a million other things. All of which you can use to your advantage.
For example, say you are a landscape painter. You really want to get people to care about your landscape paintings, but you don’t know how to go about it.
Here’s what you do: you go out and find a picture of [Celebrity X]. Then you use people’s feelings about [Celebrity X] to get them to start caring about your landscape paintings.
Now, in the past, associating your own personal brand with a celebrity was an expensive operation, requiring costly endorsement deals that a poor landscape painter could never afford. But such an obstacle has been demolished by the rise of social media, and you can take advantage of it.
How do you do this? Consider the following tweet:
“How do YOU think [Celebrity X] would feel about this landscape painting I drew?”
You then include two images inside the tweet: one is a photograph of [Celebrity X] and the other is a photograph of your landscape painting.
Notice that you are not claiming that [Celebrity X] actually HAS an opinion of your painting, or what that opinion should be. You are merely asking a question. Yet now everyone who CARES about [Celebrity X] now also cares about your landscape painting.
And you didn’t spend a dime.
And [Celebrity X] doesn’t even have to be a real person! It can be the Energizer Bunny or Raggedy Ann, or Mary Poppins, or Godzilla.
And [Celebrity X} doesn’t even have to be a celebrity! It can be NASCAR, or NASA, or endangered pandas, or “your wife”, or “your husband”, or “your teenager”, or anything that lots of people currently care about—the thing they are obsessed with.
And now you know everything there is to know about creating an effective and viral tweet. Don’t you understand, now, how much I love you?
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