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I could have written this in 140 characters

by Annisah Ibrahim

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It arrived in my inbox on a Tuesday morning, and it read: “Just a reminder that we require your Curiously article by EOD August 17th.”... An article.

If I remember rightly, isn’t that a collection of words, paragraphs, commas, full stops (and occasional exclamation marks if you’re feeling chipper!), that make up a meaningful narration? One that has a beginning, middle and end? Something like a movie, except maybe this has the capacity to be more eloquent, more urgent and therefore, more poignant – because you’ll visualise the text as shapes in your imagination, without letting a production crew do the work for you.

Pardon my lapse in memory. It’s finally coming back to me now.

I remember the last time I wrote an article. It was back in 2012, for a now defunct online magazine. It had long words, short words, some metaphors. It was about surviving as a 20-something. It even had a Reality Bites reference.

Things have changed immensely since then. I no longer belong to that age group (sad) nor write any articles, let alone full-blown paragraphs. Today, I am a qualified professional of brief sentences, surprisingly expressive 140-character statements, and tiny yellow heads that articulate myriad expressions.

Social media writing is an evolving beast. There is no set way to do things. The Chicago Manual of Style hasn’t yet devoted a chapter to internet copywriting. Hashtags are innumerable, everyone gets to play, and there are no rules about moderating the questionable grammar that appears in the comments on The Age’s Facebook page.

 The seemingly unbridled world of social media has led many to believe that anyone can lend a professional hand at creating a post for a brand. Why? Well, everybody scrolls through newsfeeds on a daily basis, skims through sentences that are both short and sweet, coo over videos of other people’s pets while digesting wholesome memes. That means anyone can pop a quote on a coloured background, and write a few sentences to go along with it – right?

Not quite.

Social media writing has structure 

Yes, it’s true. Most social media professionals or community managers have a writing background or must at least love a bit of prose. It is a lot of writing, but really, it’s much more than that. You’re thinking about the storyline and length of the video that goes along it. You’re thinking about the accompanying headline copy, the sub-texts and header image. You’re thinking about all the other elements an average person gets bombarded with in a Facebook feed. And it all boils down to this question: what is the most impactful way to get a person to stop and read your contribution to the internet and, even better, chuck a ‘like’ on it?

It has a tone 

This is a sentence. THiS iS a SeNtEnCe wriTtEn bY a 14 y.O iN thE ye@r 2o01. This be yet another sentence that I wrote in pirate-speak, arrr! Really, there are plenty of ways to write a sentence, and each way represents what you stand for as a person. Not surprisingly, this also applies to brands, and this is crucial because it goes a long way to humanise a company or organisation.

It has impact 

The internet is unforgiving. Any tiny mistake on a social media post will be scrutinised in real-time, before potentially exploding into a painful PR storm. For example, this unfortunate mishap by a cosmetic retail brand. That mistake will forever be embedded in my mind, and is the major precedent for my insatiable need to double-check that all my vowels are in the correct order.

It’s unbridled


Sometimes, there is no need for grammar (shock, horror!). You could even replace an entire paragraph with a series of emoji. If words fail you, why not grab a GIF of Matt LeBlanc during his heydey and call it a night? With social media, there are no stringent rules and regulations on governing meaning; it’s all about context and capturing a zeitgeist.

So there we have it: social media writing. It can be as poetic and wordy as writing an essay, or it can sum up a 2000-word article in just two sentences. Look at the diversity of format (take your pick from an array of Facebook Carousels, Twitter cards or Instagram stories) and its fleeting, almost ephemeral means of communication – ­I don’t need to tell you that social media has completely transformed the way we consume information; it’s palpable. And until the Chicago Manual of Style adds that aforementioned chapter to its repertoire, I’ll be sitting here with my many emoji and squeezing a beginning, middle and end into just 140 snappy characters.

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