Brevity is the Soul of Social Media

“Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
I will be brief ...”

Within the wide world of social media, one of the most common features is some form of social networking, microblogging, or short message service that allow users to share brief status updates.  Some social media sites are almost entirely built on only this feature (e.g., Twitter) whereas others (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn) include it among a list of many other features. 

Either way, these status updates have created a rather pithy platform many people argue is incompatible with meaningful communication, especially of a professional nature.  I must admit this was also my initial opinion of social media.

However, I now believe not only is it the soul of wit, brevity is the soul of social media – and, in fact, a very good soul.


Short Attention Span Theater

I doubt attention deficit will still be considered a disorder ten years from now.  We are living increasingly faster-paced lives in an increasingly faster-paced world.  The pervasiveness of the Internet and the rapid proliferation of powerful mobile technology is making our world a smaller and smaller place and our lives a more and more crowded space. 

We have become so accustomed to multi-tasking that the very concept of focusing our attention on only one thing at a time somehow seems inherently wrong to us.  All the world's a stage within this short attention span theater.  And all of us are not merely players, we have been cast in several simultaneous roles.

Time management has always been important, but nowadays it is even more essential.  This is especially true when it comes to social media, which, if we can effectively and efficiently use it, has great personal and professional potential.  Amber Naslund recently provided an excellent blog series on social media time management that I highly recommend.


The Power of Pith

I admit I am a long-winded talker or, as a favorite (canceled) television show would say, “conversationally anal-retentive.”  In the past (slightly less now), I was also known for e-mail messages even Leo Tolstoy would declare to be far too long.

Therefore, it may be surprising to learn I am addicted to Twitter.  How could I possibly constrain myself to only 140 characters?  No, I don't use ellipses to extend my thoughts across multiple tweets (although I admit I am often tempted to do so). 

I wholeheartedly agree with Jennifer Blanchard, who explained how Twitter makes you a better writer.  When forced to be concise, you have to focus on exactly what you want to say, using as few words as possible. 

The power of pith means reducing your message to its bare essence.  In order to engage in effective dialogue on the stage of our short attention span theater, this is a required skill we all must master – and not just when we are on Twitter.

For those who argue this simply regresses human communication back to our days of monosyllabic grunting, I invite you to read the excellent recent blog post Is Twitter a Complex Adaptive System? written by Venessa Miemis

Although you should read all of it, the point I need here will be found under Insight #4 toward the end of the post.  Miemis shares a study that reveals using Twitter can not only improve communication, but actually build intelligence. 

The collaborative communication enabled by social media platforms can actually contribute to a growing collective intelligence made up of all of us.  The power of pith is the wisdom of crowds.


Blogging with Brevity

Brevity is the soul of all social media and yes, this includes blogging as well.  Some view blogging as social media's last bastion of robust communication.  You can take your time and use all the words you want on your blog, right?  Sure, as long as you have no interest in anyone actually reading your blog.

Some bloggers get cranky with me when I emphasize the Three C’s – meaning your blog posts should be:

  1. Clear – Get to the point and stay on point
  2. Concise – No longer than necessary
  3. Consumable – Formatted to be easily read on a computer screen

Concise is usually the main cranky causing culprit because everyone interprets it to mean “write really short posts.” 

One blogger told me he has “never met a subordinate clause he didn't like,” thereby expressing his fondness for writing compound-complex sentences.  For the non-writers, this means really long (but grammatically correct) sentences oftentimes requiring you to read them three or four times before truly comprehending their full meaning.

Don't get me wrong.  This particular blogger is an incredibly gifted writer known for his absolutely brilliant blog posts.  My only true criticism of his writing style is it truly requires a significant time commitment.

Michelle Russell does a great job explaining how to write with a knife.  No, not literally.  Writing with a knife means writing for yourself, but editing for your readers.  Editing is the hardest part of writing, but also the most important. 

Blogging with brevity doesn't necessarily mean “write really short posts.”  Being concise simply means taking out anything that doesn't need to be included.  For example, you really didn't need to read the additional jokes and Shakespearean references included in the first draft of this post.


The Future of Brevity is Bright

Some predict the size limits of message service standards and status updates will be increased.  Others predict new social media platforms will be based on different paradigms.  Either way, innovation will eventually deliver an ability to be more verbose.

However, barring some major scientific breakthrough (or some major breakdown in the space-time continuum), there will still only be 24 hours in a day.  Therefore, no matter what happens, I am certain the future of brevity is bright.

Neither the world nor people in it are likely to slow down.  Our attention spans will remain short.  Our time management skills will remain vigilant.  We will communicate through the power of pith, brevity will remain the soul of both wit and social media, and hopefully, we will all “live long and prosper.”


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