Although it went unnamed for years, the phenomenon of the tweetstorm has long been practiced among Twitter power users. As the popularity of the tweetstorm has risen, many seem to have a misconception about what exactly a tweetstorm is. After the Spotify branding scandal that erupted on Twitter a several weeks ago, The Next Web posted a story in which the term was incorrectly described as follows: "What sounds like a small change ended up in a relatively huge tweet storm with thousands of people sharing their hate." A tweetstorm is not in fact a deluge of tweets, so what exactly is it and how did it emerge?
The 140 Character Limit
One of the central restrictions that makes Twitter so powerful is the 140 character limit. It enforces concision and thoughtfulness in writing and also maintains a rapid pace in conversations. At the same time, Twitter boasts an incredible network of knowledgeable and influential users. While sometimes overstated, this user base has made the platform ripe for enlightening and transparent discussions. Nonetheless, there has been a constant struggle with this 140 character limitation–how can discussions be elevated beyond pithy remarks to a level of rigor and seriousness?
Many third-party apps have emerged over the years to fill this gap. Initially, it was services like the now-defunct Twtmore, which allowed a user to extend their tweets into what were known as 'long-tweets' after visiting a link to an external website. After a while, these sites fell out of favor. Instead users turned to producing short blog posts to expand on a particular train of thought, but this too seemed unwieldy.
Enter the tweetstorm: an easy, native method of communicating sequential streams of consciousness over Twitter. A tweetstorm sits comfortably between the microblogging that Twitter is known for and blogging proper. The advantage of tweetstorms over long-tweets is that they're more dynamic, the user can address concerns from their audience on the fly, something like an AMA. In this way tweetstorms allow writers to test out fragile material to see how their audience will react before solidifying it into a long-form article.
The most important aspect of the tweetstorm is its continuity as a sequential thread. This is also where many users slip up in their production, instead mistakenly creating discontinuous tweets that make the tweetstorm incomprehensible to anyone who is linked to a particular tweet. There is a lot of incredible thought and discussion that is lost and made unsharable due to these improperly formatted tweetstorms.
Producing tweetstorms has proven so difficult for some users that apps have been developed to aid in their creation, but none seem to be currently online. There are mobile apps available, but it often is inefficient to jump between apps to compose when one's primary aim is to convey thoughts with a sense of immediacy. The Storify service is of a similar nature to tweetstorms, allowing users to compile tweets, among other things, into a coherent narrative. But this is done after the fact and is not native to the Twitter platform.
In some ways the confusion around tweetstorms is quite understandable. There used to be a restriction wherein replying to one's own tweet and deleting the username would result in discontinuous tweets. Tweetstorms were therefore impossible in their current manifestation until 2013 when the restriction was lifted.
Illustrated Guide to Tweetstorms
For many, the following guide may seem obvious, but I have drawn it up to aid those who may not have yet written up a tweetstorm.
Type text into input area and tweet it.
Hit reply on the initial tweet and delete your username. If you leave the @username in your subsequent replies to your initial tweet, the full tweetstorm will not be displayed in your profile timeline. Delete your username to make all of your replies public.
Type second tweetstorm tweet in the input and tweet it.
Repeat step three, but this time reply to the second tweet instead of the first (and so on).
WriteRack is a good automated alternative to the manual method, though it does add unnecessary numbering to the tweets.
- Be selective about when you use tweetstorms–if they are not of interest they may be seen as spam.
- Some people number their tweets "1), 2), 3)" but if a tweetstorm is formatted properly it unnecessarily lengthens the number of tweets and doesn't provide greater context.