Josh Pitzalis

December 16, 2021

Why do some Twitter threads blow up while others bomb?

There is nothing worse than pouring your soul into creating a Twitter thread that no one reads. You spend ages refining and editing your ideas. You organize all your images, find the best time to publish, and then nothing.

This guy tweets about sniffing a slice of bread and gets 350+ retweets.

What is the point? Why bother creating substantial, valuable content if no one is going to read it? 

Joining a K-pop band can't be the answer. I've spent the last few weeks trying to understand why some Twitter threads go viral. I managed to boil it down to two factors:

  • Being able to deliver on a compelling hook.  
  • Building a crew to boost your thread early on.

Deliver on a compelling hook    

I dislike the idea of having to write a hook. 

I put all of this time into creating fantastic content and now I have to reverse-engineer some clickbait-y title to get people to read it. 

Writing a hook feels gimmicky and disingenuous.

The fact is that opening tweet is disproportionately important. It's competing with cat memes and Korean pop stars.

From this perspective, the worst thing you can do is put all that time into writing something fantastic and then not give the hook the attention it deserves.

At the most fundamental level, your opening tweet must answer two questions (from your reader's perspective):  
  • What is this tweet about? 
  • What will I get out of reading it?
  
Answering these two questions clearly can turn a rubbish hook into something decent. If you want to bump things up a notch then you have to address a third question: 

  • Do I have a strong opinion on something people care about?

The emphasis here is on what 'people care about' not on having 'a strong opinion'. The idea being that you don't get to make something interesting. You can pick the topic, but then you have to listen for what needs to be said about it. Shuffling words around at this point won't make your content more compelling. It's more of a receptive process than a creative one, you're paying attention to what your audience wants to know about a topic.

The stronger the opinion the better but the key is to find problems people resonate with. 

One way to approach this is to spend time in online communities where the people you are trying to reach hang out. Listening to how they articulate recurring struggles tells you what they care about and how to phrase it. 

I should also point out that having a compelling hook is only half the battle. You have to deliver on it. A great hook that doesn't deliver is clickbait.  

Unfortunately, doing all this doesn't guarantee your next thread will take off. This is where the second piece of the puzzle comes in:
  
Building a crew to boost your thread    

Earlier this year, Aadit Sheth and Brandon Zhang ran a course that broke down how to make good things happen on Twitter.  It was eye opening to learn that hustling to get people to retweet your posts is an important part of the process.

This isn't a growth hack, this is good old-fashioned PR.

The way this began for me is by asking people for feedback on early drafts of my threads. I would message people who have the problem I'm writing about. I'd also message anyone I'm on a first name basis with who writes about the same problem. 

I explain what I'm writing about and ask if they're interested in taking a look at an early draft. This is why Chirr App has the ability to share drafts of threads. 
  
Doing this helped me understand if the hook was interesting enough to respond to and if I was delivering on it. 

I want to understand what people liked the most about a piece, and which bits I should get rid of. I'd incorporate their feedback and rewrite the thread. 

The outcome is that when I post a high-effort piece like this, most of the people that helped me write it would retweet it.    
  
I straight-up ask people to retweet the post when it goes live. I don't want the whole interaction to feel like some over-engineered ploy to get a boost. This not contrived. I'm putting the time into understanding what they care about. Then I'm working with them to write it. I'm listening to their feedback and incorporating it over many revisions. If they don't want to retweet it after all that, I need to understand what I missed. 
     
At the moment, I have a private Twitter list with 62 people on it for this exact purpose. I can only put someone on the list if:
  • I have to have an open line of communication with them on direct messages.
  • They are dealing with the problem I'm writing about or they write and contribute to the problem space themselves.

I'm working my way up to a list of 150 people because I can't keep asking the same people for feedback every week. I need a pool of people to rotate through. Posting one solid thread a week means a crew of about 150 people. That way I can ask about 10-12 people for feedback each week, and rotate through them every 3 months.
 
150 is the upper limit here. This is not a one way relationship. We're talking about a crew, so I have to be available and ready to support them on what they are doing when they need my help. 
     
I realize this is a bit more involved than you were expecting. Getting noticed and building an audience is a lot of work. That said, the more popular you become the less you have to hustle. 

When it comes down to it there are two interrelated factors to writing threads that get noticed:

  • ✅ Delivering on a compelling hook 
  • ✅ Building a crew to boost your thread 

A compelling hook means answering 3 questions for your reader:
 
  1. What are we talking about? 
  2. What will I get out of it? 
  3. Is this a strong take on something I care about?

Building a crew means putting together a list of ~150 people so that you can share each thread with 10-12 people a week. This also means being available for each of these people and supporting them whenever they need your help.

Once you've done these two things then it makes more sense to run through a conventional checklist of Twitter growth tweaks. Here are a few I've found useful:  

  • The length of the thread, 8-12 tweets seems to be the emerging standard. 
  • The reading level of your writing, keep it nice and low (grade 5 is ideal). 
  • Pay attention to the aesthetic of each tweet. Line length, spacing, use • bullet points (press 'option' + '8' on a mac) 
  • Pay attention to the time you post, Chirr App's analytics give you a heat map for this or you can use Twitter media studio (make sure you set the right timezone) 
  • Retweeting at 3 and 12 hour intervals after publishing, so that you get people in different timezones. 
  • Explicitly asking people to retweet your thread if they enjoyed reading it, in the last tweet of the thread. 
  • Staggering the release of each tweet in a thread, rather than publishing the whole thing in one go. 
  • Using super nice images or graphs in your thread when you can.
  • @Mentioning lots of people in your threads. 

I hope that helps.  

Feel free to hit me up on Twitter if you'd like feedback on an early draft of a thread you're writing. 

These posts are meant to be conversational. Let me know what you think. Replies to this email go straight to my inbox. 


Related links and further reading