Everything You Wanted to Know About Microblogs, But Didn’t Know to Ask
Putting Microblogging Under the Microscope
Explaining microblogging is difficult because so many people do it in different ways. A microblog post can be well under 140 characters, or it can be perilously close to a standard blog post. It can be text, image, video or many other things. It can be fun or deadly serious. You can use Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, even WordPress to microblog. It’s easy. Anybody can do it. Not everybody does it well.
But what is it?
To define microblogging, let’s first look to the web’s oracle of all crowd-sourced knowledge, Wikipedia:
Microblogging is a broadcast medium that exists in the form of blogging. A microblog differs from a traditional blog in that its content is typically smaller in both actual and aggregated file size. Microblogs “allow users to exchange small elements of content such as short sentences, individual images, or video links”, which may be the major reason for their popularity. These small messages are sometimes called microposts. (footnote numbers removed)
Hmm. OK. Well, maybe history can also show some light on this.
Way back in the ancient days of the social web, 2005 — before WordPress was popular and when good bloggers needed to know HTML — there were some blogging sites called tumblelogs. What made them popular were their short, quick posts that approached a stream-of-consciousness feel. (No, James Joyce was not a tumblelogger.) The emphasis was getting the text and the code down quickly, updating the blog, and getting on with the day.
A year later Twitter was created. Suddenly, many saw this new, weird medium where every message was 140 characters or less, as the perfect medium for tumblelogging. Except somewhere the name changed to microblogging. (Perhaps “tumblelogging” sounded too lumberjack-ish.)
So, today, many people do their microblogging on Twitter. But some tumbleloggers never really stopped using their own blogs, either. And, after a few years, it became easier to share links, photos, images, videos, audio, GIFs, and whatnot — if not on Twitter on other sites.
And on blogs, too.
OK. Makes sense. But are we any clearer about what microblogging is?
Perhaps we can define the term by looking at what people can use microblogging for:
- Personal updates or “What I’m doing right now.”
- Thematic posting – on any topic under the sun
- Image / Photo sharing
- Links to interesting blog posts or news items
- Links to (or embedded) video
- Live streaming video, too
- Links to audio files or podcasts
- Animated GIF sharing
- Sharing selfies
- Humor and satire
- Real-time news updates (ranging from news conferences to civic uprisings)
- Real-time commentary in sports or other TV shows and news
- Internal corporate and workgroup discussions and file sharing
- Reposting and curation of other’s content
- Opinion statements
- Political / Campaign statements
- Public awareness
Nonprofits have adopted microblogging as part of their public outreach, to build communities and create civic discussion, and to fund-raise. Commercial marketers do outreach, advertising, build communities, and try to fill the sales (or the hiring) funnel.
TV news, PBS, commercial TV and sports events all offer hashtags and encourage viewers to comment about the broadcast — using one broadcast medium to promote another (in both directions).
There are lots of platforms for sharing these posts; just a few:
- Flickr, Instagram and other image sites and apps
- Any other social media platform (Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, even LinkedIn)
In China, where many western social media sites are blocked or censored, Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo are very popular. (“Weibo” is the Chinese equivalent of “microblog.” There are other Weibos, too.) Tencent also runs WeChat, the messaging app.
Twitter is famous for its 140-character limitation which forces writers to be brief, but changes are coming. Soon, @-mentions and links will not count towards the 140-characters. If you respond to an earlier tweet, you can quote the previous message without it counting. There was some chatter last year about sharing blog-length posts, but the Twitter Masters decided not to go in that direction for now.
But, today, if you want to stand out in Twitter, it helps to add photography, graphics, color, video, or moving GIFs into some of your posts. Somebody who hasn’t looked at Twitter for a year or two will be amazed at the change. Learning how to use graphics on Twitter is probably the work of a few more posts (at least).
Twitter users also sponsor rapid-fire Twitter Chats, where a group of people meet and converse, using a hashtag to create a dialogue stream.
For businesses with proprietary information, special Twitter-like software for internal microblogging is available with security features added.
In the middle ground between Twitter and traditional blogs is Tumblr, also know for its microblogging. It became famous for its easy inclusion of many different media. Tumblr was also an early adopter of posting via mobile devices. Today most platforms allow this, but Tumblr was an earlier proponent of quick, uploadable multimedia. Tumblr also allows users to follow fellow bloggers and interact easily.
Tumblr can be set up to automatically update your Twitter and Facebook accounts when you hit Publish.
Unlike most other blogging platforms, Tumblrs are encouraged to “reblog” posts. This encourages viral growth, but writers can lose control over where their works are posted and how they are used.
Today there are other easy-to-use options for microblogging including Medium, Svbtle, Sett, Posthaven, Postagon, and Silvrback. Medium, in particular, has a busy, growing community of users. (See the links below for the Frugal Guidance 2 articles about these services.)
Today, microblogging can be done, similarly, on most social media: Facebook, Google+, Pinterest (a great graphic medium), or any other platform that allows “status updates,” even LinkedIn.
Many bloggers also use Twitter to promote their traditional blogs and interact (and learn) online. Since I started blogging, I’ve found Twitter to be one of the best places to keep track of what other bloggers are doing and the latest blogging news.
Microblogging with WordPress
With all their pluses, there are limitations to microblogging on Tumblr, Twitter and other social media. If you, as a blogger, want to build a mailing list, email people who comment on your post, offer customer service, attract customers, get found on Google and Bing, or just keep old content easily available, microblogging might not meet all your needs.
If you find Tumblr too inflexible (or too permissive on copyright issues and porn), you can use WordPress for microblogging in the Tumblr style. You can add comments easily. You can own your own site and have full control over its look.
You will lose the built-in community, though.
WordPress has long had a variety of post formats just for microbloggers:
- aside (a note-style post without a headline)
Blogging on WordPress can mimic the old tumblelogs of yore, but with plugins you can also keep a live stream of tweets in your sidebar, add a feed from other sources, repost on a variety of social media, or use RSS to keep track of new blog posts elsewhere. Commenting can be as simple or as sophisticated as you like. There are a wide variety of Tumblr-like themes available for WordPress, many geared to meet different needs. (We have links to several articles below to show the variety of these themes and their features.)
If you are just starting microblogging, though, it’s overkill to create a new WordPress site and set it up just to see if you like it.
If you have specific communication, email list creating, marketing, community building, hiring or fund-raising needs, hosting your own site in WordPress might make sense. If you are adding microblogging to an existing business or commercial site, consider adding a microblog/blog page.
The ability to import Tumblr logs into WordPress is built into the WordPress Administrative area (Select Tools > Import > Tumblr). Going in the other direction (importing from WordPress to Tumblr) is possible, but considerably more work.
Writing for Microblogs
Microblogging is super simple to start. There’s no need to buy a domain name, find a web host, or install a CMS (Content Management System), as in other types of blogging.
Microblogging puts a premium on brevity, especially on Twitter. Images and other media are well suited for this.
Quick reaction to news and current events is common.
Action verbs are always good. Abbreviations are part of the culture.
Twitter has its own abbreviations, @-mentions and #hashtags. Learn them. Twitter also offers an entire ecosystem of useful add-on services for professional social media managers.
With recent changes to Twitter, using URL shorteners is less critical than earlier, although the ability to monitor clicks to specific links is still valuable.
Briefly, here are some strategies for different types of microblogging:
Bloggers use microblogging to attract readers to their longer-form blogs. On Twitter, in particular, you can use headlines and keywords (with hash tags) to announce new posts and older posts that are still relevant. You can add visuals for more impact. Bloggers can also use social media to listen for and enlist questions about your field, which can become topics for new blog posts.
Subject Matter Experts
If you are microblogging to establish yourself as a subject matter expert, you will probably want to follow others in the field and share current articles and ideas back and forth to engage readers. If a related Twitter Chat exists, you should try to engage in that chat.
This can be a good strategy for job hunters, too.
If, however, you are trying to build a community, say to support a cause or a nonprofit, you don’t need to be a subject-matter expert so much as a recruiter and community leader. You have more freedom to engage socially and show photos of events surrounding the cause, possibly showing the good work done by the community to help others. You need not be serious at all times. You may want to consider forming Facebook, Google+ and / or LinkedIn groups to create online communities and engage (and listen to) them.
Time and Effort
To quickly build an audience as a microblogger, you likely need to be posting several times a day, even more if you are commenting on breaking events and other news. You can even have a dialogue with your readers in near-real-time.
As a result, microblogging can sometimes take a more rigorous time commitment than regular blogging. You can plan some posts in advance and schedule them, but if you post about news or current events, or you are offering consumer help or monitoring your brand, there is pressure to be online almost constantly. Social media communications professionals may feel pressured to be available around the clock.
Depending on the type and style of microblogging you try, a part-time blogger might not be able to make that kind of time commitment. For others, though, the ability to post quickly, especially from a phone, can be gold.
After all this, I’m still not sure we’ve nailed down exactly what this microblogging thing is. But we know that it is quick, versatile, varied, highly personal, often fun, and great for sharing and interacting with others. Maybe that’s all we need to know.
The “Scientist Lab Researcher Chemist Microscope Retro Stock Photo” is used by permission of Vectorolie and FreeDigitalPhotos.net. The image and border area was altered with Photoshop and Topaz Labs plugins.
Screenshots from Twitter and Tumblr are by the author.