Photo: Linda Bernstein via her sewing box
According to her Twitter bio, A’Ziah King (aka @_zolarmoon or “Zola”) invented the Twitter thread. In 2015, the Hooters waitress had an adventure of sorts after agreeing to accompany a stripper/sex-worker she barely knew to Florida. When finally home again after several hair-raising episodes, Zola let loose a 48-tweet synopsis of her exploits. (Warning: NSFW!) Her narrative was transformed into a movie that made a huge splash at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020 and is now streaming on Hulu.
Zola’s tweets tell a great story. There’s drama. There’s suspense. There’s character development. There are references many of us won’t get, which Zola explains patiently and with good humor. Constance Grady (@constancegrady), a culture writer at Vox, regards the Twitter thread as an “epic poem.”
Zola’s thread illustrates exactly why people create threads: they want to tell a story, elaborate on an idea, or provide information in a coherent, easy-to-read manner.
But was Zola’s #thestory (as people refer to it) really the first Twitter thread?
Easy answer. No.
Years before Twitter’s + button enabled people to string tweets together seamlessly (i.e., create threads), clever Twitter users had discovered that if they replied to their own previous tweets serially, used an original hashtag, and perhaps even numbered the tweets, they could create “threads,” sometimes referred to as “tweetstorms.” This was before Twitter increased the character limit of a tweet from 140 to 280 characters in November 2017!
These days “physically” creating Twitter threads is easy. However, creating good Twitter threads that inform and/or entertain still requires some beforehand thought and planning.
[Want to know more about Twitter Threads? Don’t miss Neil Parekh (@NeilParekh), VP, Events and Communications at @Digimentors, discussing Twitter Threads on @MadalynSklar’s #TwitterSmarter Twitter Chat, Thursday, February 10, 2022, 1 p.m. ET. Then join Neil and Madalyn on Twitter Spaces at 5:00 p.m. ET to continue the discussion.]
Two Methods You Can Use to Create a Twitter Thread
Reply to yourself. The method described in a 2014 Quora article still works. You can simply hit reply to your tweet and write another one — and keep going until you’ve said everything you want. These days you don’t even have to take the time to delete the @mention to yourself.
Something to know: If people reply to your replies, their comments may interrupt the thread
Use the highlighted + button. (Twitter recommends this method in their “Help” section.) Click the tweet button (a + in a blue circle on a mobile device and a + with a quill pen in a blue circle on a browser). Write your tweet. Next click the + icon and write another tweet, continuing until you are finished. Finally click “tweet all.” Your whole thread will be published at one time.
Something to know: While you are composing you can delete a tweet by clicking on the garbage can icon. You can also add tweets after you have tweeted out the thread by going to the last tweet and clicking on the + icon.
Twitter Thread “Best Practices”:
Number your tweets. If your thread will have more than two or three tweets, numbers help the reader follow along. You can number several ways. Many people begin each tweet with, for instance, 1/x, showing that as they compose they do not know how many tweets will be in the thread. Other people put the 1/x, 2/x, etc. at the end of the tweet. Still others don’t number at all and depend on the line Twitter uses to link the tweets together. Numbering is probably better than not numbering if you want to retain your audience (and keep yourself sane), but people make non-numbered threads work too.
Use a hashtag (ideally unique) to indicate the purpose of the thread. Again, this isn’t absolutely necessary, but hashtags remind people of the purpose of the thread and signal its purpose.
Indicate when the thread ends. Many excellent thread-creators don’t do this, but it’s helpful to the reader. Some people will fill in a number instead of the x (12/12) when they get to the end. Others stop with /fin or -fin-. Neil Parekh uses -30-, traditional journalist shorthand to indicate the end of a story or article that is submitted for editing and typesetting.
Varieties of Twitter Threads
Plain and simple story-telling. A prize certainly goes to A’Ziah King. Here’s another: the musician Mobley (@MobleyWho) answered a knock on his door one night.
Telling a story from a published news article. Sarah Kliff (@SarahKliff), who writes about health policy for the New York Times, unfolds an astonishing story of a woman who was billed thousands for hospital care despite having insurance. The link to the article is in the next-to-last tweet.
Providing information about an event before it happens. Neil Parekh provides masterful Twitter threads each week to introduce the guests and present discussion topics to those who watch the #NYTReadalong either live at 8:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. ET on Sundays or the YouTube or Facebook recording later. His thread from 1/22/22 with David Cay Johnston (@DavidCayJ) includes threads within the thread!
Live Tweeting an event. Live Tweeting an event as it is happening isn’t easy. A few tips: know the Twitter handles of everyone involved before you begin; research any relevant hashtags; figure out where you will get good visuals; know who else will be covering the story. Here Ben Collins of NBC News reports on an antivaxx rally in Washington, D.C.
Explaining a political stance. In the non-ending struggle to convince some people that the number of COVID hospitalizations is not fake, Ed Yong (@EdYong), a science writer at the Atlantic, took the evidence to Twitter.
(Small criticism: This thread could have benefitted from hashtags and maybe did not need a link to the article in each tweet. IMHO, this thread is not as visually compelling as some of the other threads here.)
A good dollop of humor. Yes, this thread from the director of the Maine CDC, Nirav D. Shah (@nirav_mainecdc), is also quite political, but it had me ROTFL-ing. (Thank you Neil for sending it to me!)
Growing a list over time. Back in 2015 Sree Sreenivasan (@Sree), co-founder and CEO @Digimentors, had an idea: Tweet out Twitter tips and ask others to contribute using the hashtag #learnsocmedia. There are hundreds of suggestions here by Sree and others.
(Note: Sree began this thread before the + tool, and there are many replies, so sometimes the thread is hard to follow. But it’s worth every moment.)
Finding good Twitter threads, etc.
I’m the kind of Twitter user who chases after Twitter threads. Mostly I find them in my feed or on the Twitter home page or app. The AwesomeThread page is pretty random, but you can search for topics, and I’ve discovered some gems. Luckily my friends are also thread-lovers, and I often receive them in my WhatsApp messages.
I don't mind reading threads on Twitter. For those who feel it's akin to reading one line of a book per page, there's threadreaderapp, which unrolls the the whole thread from any tweet in the thread. Threaderapp did something similar; it's now available with Twitter Blue, a new paid subscription-based add-on that adds exclusive features to Twitter.
Marketing-oriented people have told me that threads increase engagement; for many that’s a reason to get in the game. Whatever your motivation, when write a threads — and we’ll see you on Twitter.
Linda Bernstein is VP, Education at Digimentors. She can be found on Twitter @wordwhacker and in Sree’s Facebook Group. (If you're not already a member, click the link and join.) Linda is also an editor and writer and an avid reader of Twitter threads.
Gratitude to Neil Parekh (@NeilParekh), VP, Events and Communications at Digimentors for the inspiration and expert advice about Twitter threads.
Extra, Extra. Read all about it: Neil Parekh (@NeilParekh) is discussing Twitter Threads on @MadalynSklar’s #TwitterSmarter Twitter Chat, Thursday, February 10, 2022, 1 p.m. ET. They will continue the discussion at 5 p.m. ET on Twitter Spaces.