Tweet your subject line

Remember memos? They used to be sent around in manila interoffice envelopes, a list of names crossed off on the outside.  Memos presaged their digital doppelganger, email, with “To:, Cc:, Date:, and Re:” laid out in black and white.

Difference is, you used to get a few memos a day, and when you’d scan a memo, you’d see the whole thing.  So the subject line (“Re: Project status update”) wasn’t important.

Now people are receiving and scanning tens, maybe hundreds, of emails a day, and they are figuring out how to triage and prioritize them based on three fields: who sent the email, the date/time, and the subject line. Since you can’t change your name or what time you sent the email, the subject line has become the most important part of what you’re sending. 

So avoid generic subject lines and summarize the email instead. Create a 140 character Tweet of your email. Be the opposite of generic.


Not “Project update.”   Instead, “We’re on track for Friday’s deadline”

Not “Hope you’ll join us!”  Instead, “Hope we’ll see you Monday at 6pm – tickets running out”

Not “Re: Our meeting.”  Instead, “Sorry I have to cancel tomorrow’s meeting [Re: Our meeting]”

This may work better internally than externally, since externally you may not want to stand out in this way (or maybe you do).  But I bet 80% of the email you send is to your 10 closest contacts anyhow.

Tweet your subject line to help them (and you!) figure out why you’re writing.

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Twitter search

If you’ve been following everything that is going on in Iran right now, it’s impossible to avoid noticing that Twitter has played a role in providing up-to-date information on the ground from Iranians participating in the protest.  Since most people still aren’t on Twitter, I thought I’d share a step-by-step on how to follow what’s going on here.  Just use Twitter Search.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Go to
  2. Search for a topic.  In this case, search for #iranelection.  This will give you all recent “tweets” (140 character updates) that include the “#iranelection” hashtag (an identifier with a “#” in front so people can find tweets on a given topic.
  3. If any of the people posting seem particularly interesting to you, click on their photo to see all of their tweets (updates).  (Also, you might notice in this search that many of the photos are green.  This is because last week a request went out from some active Iranian tweeters for everyone on Twitter to change their photo to green in solidarity with the protesters.)

Of course you don’t just have to use Twitter Search for following what’s going on in Iran.  Search for “#haiku” or “listening to” or “happy hour” near:SF and see what you get.

p.s. In case you were wondering, all the URL’s people post on Twitter look funny because they get shortened so that the URL doesn’t take up too much space…there’s a 140 character limit for each tweet.

Don’t forget

Everything you write online (email, blog, twitter, text) can and will get anywhere else in an instant.  This isn’t news, but ask yourself:  do I write EVERY email/blog/tweet assuming that the people who are closest to this can and probably will read and share what I’m writing?

This isn’t just about search and the fact that web pages from 2002 still exist.  And it isn’t only about whether your party photos on Facebook might get in the way of the job you hope to get a decade from now (though that matters a lot).  It’s really about the power of tribes to amplify any idea and get that idea/thought/reflection in the right hands in an instant.

The most velocity is in tight networks where the word gets out silently and before you know it.

So why not assume that the people who know and care the most are reading everything you write, and there won’t be any surprises down the line?  The upshot is that this isn’t just risk avoidance; it forces you to think big and imagine you have exactly the audience you dream of — because you just might.

This is as much about awareness as it is about discipline each and every time you write.

(and no, I didn’t have something fall into the wrong hands.  But a few things in the last few days  got into the right hands very very quickly, and man was I happy that I was conscious about each and every word I wrote.)

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The sound of silence

One of the newest, and most interesting (also potentially most unsettling) phenomena for public speakers is the prospect of your audience tweeting your presentation in real-time.  If done right, it can serve as instantaneous feedback for parallel conversations that enrich discussions in real time.

But before going all high-tech on you, let me ask: 140 character real-time commentary notwithstanding, how do you know how your presentation is going?

Try this: listen for the sound of silence.

Recently I had the chance to listen to a series of excellent presentations to a medium-sized (45 person) group.  Sometimes, instead of giving all my attention to the presenter, I started listening to the room, and I discovered a distinct difference between quiet and silence.

Quiet was when people were listening.  But they were also taking notes and shifting around and perhaps doing some other small thing.

Silence was when the presenter got everyone’s full attention.  It’s the “you could hear a pin drop” moment  when the entire room was energized and focused on the speaker, hanging on each and every word.

And guess what?  9 of 10 times, it’s powerful stories that create that silence.

If the goal of your presentation is to convince people to act, if you’re trying to sell them on an idea, if you want them to remember what you said after they (and you) walk out the door, how much of their attention do you think you need?

You need it all, for as long as you can get it and hold it.

So lead with your stories.  Lead with the memorable narratives that capture people’s attention.

Your first objective isn’t trying to convince people that you’re smart or credible or have done your homework.  Your first objective is to convince them you’re worth listening to.  Get their attention first,  capture their imagination, get them to put everything else aside and engage with you personally and with your ideas.    Once you’ve done this, tell them what you want them to do.

But not the other way around.

So listen for silence, and build your presentation around finding ways to create it and exploit it.

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Twitter echelons

I recently was talking to a friend who I consider to be successful on Twitter: he has cracked 10,000 followers in a few months, tweets regularly, and his tweets regularly get picked up (retweeted) and cause a stir.

From his perspective, he’s a long way from the top of the Twitter foodchain, where people have hundreds of thousands of followers and are gaining 5,000+ followers a day (apparently @Oprah just tweeted for the first time this week…how psyched is Evan Williams?)

When networks of relationship are created, they are self-reinforcing, giving real power to early movers who establish themselves (who are in a different category than folks like Oprah who bring their fame to the table so are basically impossible to compete with…she joined 10 hours ago, has tweeted 6 times, and has 195,654 followers right now).  This is why it’s incredibly difficult to jump from one circle to the next (100-1,000 followers vs. 1,000 to 10,000 vs. 10,000 to 100,000).

In terms of size of network, Facebook is already in its own category (more than 200 million users!).  Twitter is still new enough (just) that you have a couple weeks left to join before you’re too late (heck, you can even start by following @sashadichter).

And if microblogging is the next big online trend, what does this mean for blogs, whose traffic isn’t growing as quickly?

Here’s my take: microblogging will be good for serious bloggers.  Yes, there will be a migration of “here’s what I was thinking” from blogs to Twitter/Facebook (the blogs that were just about people’s daily activities make more sense on Twitter/Facebook).

But if you consider this spectrum from microblogging to blogging to newspapers/news weeklies, the question to ask is: 5 years from now, after most of the weekly news magazines have gone out of businesses and many major local papers go belly-up, will there be more or less appetite for thoughtful, analytical, 400-500 word opinion pieces on what is going on in the world?

I think more, and I think bloggers who up their game, who serve a need for a loyal and growing group of followers, will be more in demand, not less, in the near future.

(Oh, and if you really want to be an early adopter, now’s the time to check on Flutter, the leading nanoblogging site.  You heard it here first.  Click below)

P.S. note the moment in time: “blogging” and “blogger” are both in my spellcheck.  “Microblogging” isn’t.

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I’m beginning to wonder

If blogging is “here is what I think.”

Is Twitter “here is what I think is interesting?”

Very different, both influential.

(Food for thought: why is it so much easier to get Twitter followers than blog subscribers? Does it feel like a smaller commitment to follow someone on Twitter? Does that mean that in the endgame Twitter wins?)

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I’m feeling twoverwhelmed.  It’s not Twitter’s fault – it’s just another tool.  But I did get on Twitter this week.  The Twitter roar (“you don’t use Twitter?”)* was getting deafening, and I know enough about myself to know that the only way I can learn something is to use it.  (I finally got a handle on Squidoo this week too).

I’m not ready to commit to tweeting just yet – at least for now.  This blog and my day job are more than enough for now.  But how can I pass up the opportunity to follow the latest musings of Nicholas Kristof, Sarah Jones, Chris Anderson, and Evan Williams, to name a few?  It’s a window into what’s top of mind for some pretty amazing people.

But wait, let’s take a step back.  Evan Williams, Twitter’s founder, recently tweeted, “Contemplating new email strategies. Current practice (responding to most of them) not scaling. Interested in doing other stuff.”

Of course Evan doesn’t just care about his Inbox, it’s one of many streams of incoming information / communication he’s managing.

If conquering your email inbox was the “can we be productive in a wired world” question of 2002, things have gotten exponentially more complicated.  (If you want to be surprised by how exponentially, this video gives you all you need to know).

My A-list (stuff I truly want to stay on top of) looks something like: all my email, “must read” blogs in my RSS feed, articles and reports that are forwarded along by colleagues and friends, and now maybe Twitter.

What about the B-list: “contender” blogs in my RSS feed, magazines I subscribe to, the NY Times, Facebook….oh, and don’t forget all the absurdly amazing TED talks that are out there free to the world.  Like Bill Gates talking about what he’s doing to save the world.  And there’s always the Guardian’s 100 greatest works of fiction of all time, which has been nagging at me for some time.

And then there’s the C list, divided between stuff I haven’t spent any time on and stuff I, regrettably, don’t seem to have any time for: Digg, Reddit, YouTube, etc, but also Huffpo, and the Economist.

And have I mentioned that I have a full time job?  And a family?

Pratically speaking, there’s always been an infinite amount of content out there.  But the ease of getting truly fabulous, up-to-the minute content delivered right to my laptop is categorically different than the world of even 5 years ago, before the explosion of user-generated content and social networks.

It’s suddenly realistic to expect that every day, in the 30-60 minutes I have to read up on things, I’ll discover something amazing.

This is my (and your) new curriculum – which is different from “the news.”

I can get really smart about just about anything now.  So I have to choose from whom I want to learn: Greg Mankiw (great economist), Seth Godin (brilliant marketer), Mark Bittman (fabulous chef), Google (organizer of the world’s information), or Michael Sandel (to take his Harvard course on moral and political philosophy – at home!). Or I could forget all that and just take free drum lessons online from a pro.  You get the idea.

Multiply that by a few decades, and I end up a whole lot smarter about some things, but not about everything.  It’s impossible to keep up with everything.

This forces hard choices, not only for me, but for content producers who are trying to find ways to make money in this new world.

Oh, and here’s the kicker: this is all going mainstream, and 10-year-olds today who are growing up on Facebook and with iTunes won’t have any vestiges or nostalgia about the daily paper being delivered at their doorstep every morning and of mom and dad reading that paper over breakfast.

If you don’t figure out how to succeed in today’s world – personally, as a consumer of all this information; and as a content producer / business / nonprofit / you name it – you’re going to end up as quaint and finished as some soon-to-be-defunct weekly news magazines.


* For the tiny sliver of you who are die-hard Marx Brothers fans, the line that comes to mind is “You no gotta’ a Breeder’s Guide?!” uttered by Chico Marx to Groucho Marx in a Day at the Races.

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Know enough

You don’t have to know everything to start something.  You just have to know enough, and be willing to let the other pieces fall into place over time.  In the act of doing you’ll learn how to do “it” better and you’ll learn more about what “it” is.

For example, it’s taken until now for me to figure out how to place all of those fancy Web 2.0 icons at the bottom of each blog post.  But I figured it out (it’s a little more trouble than I expected).  And now I’m glad they are there.  They make it easier for you to spread the word.

So go ahead.  If a post (today, tomorrow, next week) strikes you as interesting, click a button.  People love to hear from other people about what’s interesting and what’s worth reading.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to figure out if I know enough to start Twittering (yes); and if I have time to follow people on Twitter (maybe); and if I have time to tweet (probably not).

I’d probably be better off doing a better job tackling my RSS feeds.

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