Monty: Long-form storytelling in 140 characters or less

Twitter is alive and well - and being used for long-form content.

Scott Monty, Shift Communications
Scott Monty, Shift Communications

Twitter. It's where brands go to make announcements about themselves. It's celebrities' tool of choice to engage millions of fans. It's a treasure trove of story-mining for journalists. It's a long-form storytelling platform.

Wait, what?

With some 300 million users compared with Facebook's 1.4 billion, it's no surprise that Twitter falls under the radar. Because it's always been a platform that can conform to almost any need, it's been more nebulous than its bigger brother.

Twitter has been increasing its product-development efforts of late such as the launch of Curator, a competitor to Storify, multi-photo layouts in tweets, native video posting, group DMs, mobile analytics, and a promise to make advertising a more central focus. Clearly, Twitter is here to stay.

But how can the little engine that could be a source of long-form storytelling?

CEOs and industry leaders such as T-Mobile's John Legere (@JohnLegere) and Andreessen Horowitz's Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) have been known to go on tweet-rants. Legere usually posts multiple tweets to explain an industry issue, such as the time he cleared up the SIM card issue with iOS devices. And Andreessen helpfully numbers his multiple-tweet posts, in order to provide some continuity and to keep his audience with him during the process.

One multiple-tweet barrage that caught the public's attention last week was Norm MacDonald's (@NormMacDonald) two-hour-long behind-the-scenes look at how the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary show came about. MacDonald was one of the writers and was tasked with putting together the "Celebrity Jeopardy" skit. He described the mood on the set and the writers and stars he was working with, taking us from the inception through a side-story about watching Paul McCartney rehearse, to the climax of dealing with Eddie Murphy and trying to convince him to do a bit.

More than just multiple tweets strung together, Norm had a beginning, a middle, and an end, with dramatic tension, humor, major characters, and the lure of an inside scoop that no one is usually privy to. Ultimately, he gave his followers a reason to care about the story, from being curious about what happens next to wanting to know what so-and-so said.

That formula is exactly what brands need to succeed in storytelling in any medium. But making it work on Twitter is a masterstroke. If you can figure that out, you get the attention of your own audience – and potentially of earned media as well. Norm certainly did.

Of course he did. He's a writer.

Scott Monty is EVP of strategy at Shift Communications.

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