Wednesday, February 11, 2015

TL:DR or What Is The Perfect Length?

Ran across this infographic at and thought it was worthy of a short discussion.

As you may know, TL:DR stands for "Too Long: Didn't Read". There is a sweetness to brevity, particularly when it comes to social media. As a technical writer, I learned early on that wordiness can be a killer when you're trying to get people to read - and use - a user manual. I won't get into all the reasons why. Suffice it to say that if most people can avoid reading something, they will.

Social media has changed that a little. If it's in small doses, and offers them something of value, people will read it. Or watch it. Or listen to it.


You get 140 characters (including spaces) for a post. The infographic recommends under 100 characters. Let's be more specific. You want your tweet to be retweeted and you've got to allow room for that, about 20 characters. So at the most, your post should have 120 characters in it.

But - I also recommend you attach 1-3 well-chosen hashtags, so that's definitely going to take you into the below 100 area. Why attach hashtags? Two reasons. One is to help people who may be searching via hashtag to find your tweet. For example, #nonprofit. The second is to help people understand quickly the point of the tweet and amplify its intention or serve as your own comment on the subject. For example, #justsayin indicates the tweet is humorous or sarcastic. Or, a post with a link to some new celebrity shenanigan might be followed by #notrightinthehead. Well-chosen hashtags can help your Twitter posts stand out from others in the fast-moving stream.

Domain Names

These are usually inherited and changing them is a pain in the butt. Yes, we'd all like to have short ones because long ones are often easier to screw up when typing, but that's generally not possible. And Google usually guesses what you're looking for, anyway. If your name is your brand and your name is longer than 8 characters, you're better off using the whole name than trying to reduce it.


The idea should be to get the reader interested enough to click on the post and go to your FB page or your website where they may post comments or engage in discussion with you. So use whatever length you need to achieve that, remembering that a short text block looks more inviting than a long one.

Email Subject Line

If you can say what the email is about in the subject line, the recipient can prioritize it more quickly. For example, "Tuesday Meeting Minutes - please review by COB today" With subject lines, shortness is important, but clarity and a call to action should be the drivers. In other words, tell the recipient what you want from them.

Headlines - Google+ or Otherwise

There's a social media fad going on right now for longer headlines. You know the ones I mean: This kitten almost drowned; what happened next will blow your mind! Unless you want your small NGO to be conflated with Gawker, don't do this. Keep it short and use it to hint at the content. Listicle headlines do this automatically. When you see a headline reading, "Ten Ways to Lose Ten Pounds", you automatically think losing weight is a good thing, what are these ten ways?

Title Tags

These are used in HTML and are used by search engines to categorize your webpage and can affect your page's ranking, or how quickly it's found by people searching the web. It's more technical than most of these tips, but if you'd like more information, look here.

Videos and Podcasts

I would agree that keeping video under 3 minutes is a good rule of thumb, but be able to judge your work. If it's really compelling, people will watch for a longer time. And remember that getting them to watch is just half of what you want: you also want them to pass it along. Again, if it's compelling, they'll preface it with "Fairly long, but worth watching", but try not to make them have to apologize for the length.

I don't like podcasts, so I don't listen to them. And don't have a recommendation other than saying it's fine to repurpose parts of a podcast, but if you do, provide the recording of the relevant part only. I once listened to several minutes of a recap podcast to hear a particular part that had been highlighted in a Facebook post. When they finally got to that part, it wasn't as advertised. Needless to say, I was pissed.


Seminars are funny animals. If it's too short, the viewer will feel they haven't gotten their money's worth, even if they haven't paid for it. But don't pad them to try to make them seem more robust. People catch on to that pretty quickly and they will be suspicious of any future offerings. But if you've got the content, don't cram it in there, either. I've attended online seminars that covered content so quickly, I couldn't keep up. Try to distill what you've got before you put it into seminar form. If you've got a lot of good content, break it up into different seminars. Good stuff will make people want to come back, want to talk about it, want to share it. And that's the social part of social media.

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