Brian Armsey’s blog

January 22, 2009

How to write Twitter-friendly Headlines

Filed under: Social Media — brianarmsey @ 8:46 pm
Tags: , ,

By Marshall

Newspapers will have to adapt to social media to survive and thrive in the future. Luckily, it seems that some social media tools have adapted to newspapers as well. Twitter is the best example. It’s a rapidly growing microbloging site where people write one-liners to share links and ideas. What could be more perfect for newspapers? There is just enough room for a headline and a link to a story.

Most major mass media outlets have jumped on board, including the New York Times, NPR, BBC, Anderson Cooper, and many more. It’s great to see. And as a media consumer, I find it’s amazingly convenient to get real-time, yet unobtrusive updates from my favorite news sources. I’ve noticed, however, that most of these news organizations could greatly improve their Twitter effectiveness by writing better headlines.

Here are a few tips on Twitter-optimized headline writing:


The headline tells me nothing. The subhead, which follows the colon, is too long.

1. Keep it short.

Twitter gives you 140 characters to get your message out, but don’t feel obligated to use every space. The print versions of newspapers are so constrained by space that when journalists move to the relatively unrestrained web, they sometimes have a tendency to go overboard. Don’t use 140 characters if you can get the same point across with 139. I suggest using only about 30 characters for a headline, then add the URL to the story.

2. No puns.

We all love a good pun, especially headline writers who are trying to spice up an otherwise mundane story. But cute words games are death on Twitter. If I don’t know immediately what a story is about there is no chance I will click on the link. In many ways, this is a return to the purism of just-the-facts journalism. Puns are coy, and coyness wastes time. Cut it out.

3. Focus on keywords.

I have no idea what this is about. It’s from the City Room, but that doesn’t help much.
Practitioners of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) put a heavy emphasis on identifying and using keywords. Newspapers could take a cue from them. Identify the most important words from the article and put them in your Twitter-optimized headline. Try to imagine you’re a news consumer looking for a certain story, what phrases or words would you Google to find it? Those are your keywords.
(Right now, I’m obsessed with Gaza. If I see a tweet with “Gaza” in it, I read it. But if it says something like “attacks continue,” there’s a good chance I’ll ignore it.)
Top: This is a good example. I know exactly what it’s about in one line. Bottom: This is a bad example from the Deseret News. The consolidated tweet seems desperate and no link follows.

4. Don’t consolidate stories.

Use one tweet for each story you put out. Don’t confuse people by putting two or three different stories into a catchall post. These consolidated tweets often sound like advertisements or shameless plugs. Remember, Twitter, is much more unobtrusive than other new media, like text messaging. It’s OK to put out a lot of content as long as it’s pertinent and helpful to readers.

5. Link directly to the story.

Don’t waste a reader’s time by putting a headline for a specific story and then a link that goes to your main page. Remember using Twitter is a service to help your customers find the news they want faster. Don’t jerk them around in a silly attempt to get more page views.

6. No subheads.

This is related to the first point, keep it short. As a general rule, if you’re using a colon, you’ve already screwed up. Just use the headline. Also, don’t give the section of the paper where the story appears in print. It doesn’t matter. The content matters.

Twitter is an amazing tool for daily newspapers and can be a key to their survival in the future. You’ve only got one line to sell your story to the readers, follow these tips and make it count.

– Marshall has been a reporter and newspaper editor in Kosovo, Korea, Iraq, Jerusalem and the U.S. He is currently the P.R. Director at Advent Creative where he is focusing on social media and its mass media applications.



  1. Awesome article on writing effective Twitter headlines.

    Thanks for the practical and helpful tips!

    Mike Kunkle
    DreamWorthy Gifts LLC

    Comment by Mike Kunkle — January 23, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  2. Good Twitter headline tips, will use it in my Tweet. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Chung Bey Luen — January 24, 2009 @ 6:25 am

  3. You forgot: Turn off Twitterfeed.

    Comment by pcsurvivor — January 24, 2009 @ 8:06 am

  4. This is fantastic advice for someone like myself who has just started tweeting.

    Many Thanks,


    Comment by Peter Ramsden — January 24, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

  5. Agree with all the above comments. Great advice. Never really got the hang of twitter headlines. Thanks.

    Comment by Evelyne Draper — February 26, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

  6. Great tips, I agree with them all. If you want more things on how to use social media check out the blog I wrote for The Talent Buzz:

    Comment by Jay Philips — March 1, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

  7. Thank you for the sharing i have learned a lot and i will be applying these things ASAP.Thank you!

    Comment by Janice Dimaano (LADYwSENSE) — March 1, 2009 @ 8:39 pm

  8. Great tips for a newbie like myself.-S

    Comment by Steve Wirz — March 3, 2009 @ 9:22 am

  9. Chime a Thank You in for me too! I am a newbie as well and the tips will serve to be invaluable!

    Comment by Julie Guthrie — March 5, 2009 @ 8:10 pm

  10. Good points, thanks for the tips.

    Comment by Claire Jarrett — March 8, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

  11. […] How to write Twitter-friendly Headlines From Brian Armsey: A few tips on Twitter-optimized headline writing. […]

    Pingback by HOW-TO: Write Effectively for Twitter & the Social Web — September 15, 2009 @ 4:32 am

  12. […] How to write Twitter-friendly Headlines From Brian Armsey: A few tips on Twitter-optimized headline writing. […]

    Pingback by HOW-TO: Write Effectively for Twitter & the Social Web « Hospitalwebmaster's Blog — September 18, 2009 @ 10:10 am

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