It was Christmas Eve. 6-year-old Kyle knew there would be no gifts the next day. Still, he hung his stocking & dreamed.

In just 140 characters, The Salvation Army told an impactful story. The link in the tweet goes to their blog post, which unravels the full story in just 5 paragraphs with a heartwarming payoff. They capped it with a poignant ask: “Will you make a difference this Christmas?”

It’s mind boggling to me that a 255-word blog post and a 140-character tweet could have such an impact. That’s the power of storytelling. Marketing, fundraising – truly all social media is about telling a great story. Share something entertaining, touching, informative, useful or helpful, and tell the story. That’s the real power behind an engaging social media strategy.

In the last half of 2012, buzzwords like “content marketing” are flying around. Articles tell us to think like publishers instead of marketers. No longer can we simply share our product, its price and where to buy it. We solve problems. Provide solutions. And when we are great, it makes for good stories.

But how? 140 characters isn’t even enough for a preface. Heck, it’s not enough for an opening paragraph!

Back in my Creative Writing course in college, I remember my professor saying that every story could be broken down into 9 words or less. (Little did he know, he was predicting the future.) What is the crux of the story? Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Love wins out.

In the case of The Salvation Army story above, they take a different tack: what is the heart of the story? In just 120 characters, I can see Kyle and his stocking. I can relate to his dreams and I feel for his parents who desperately want to fill it! It’s a compelling story.

For most marketers, we don’t have quite the heart-string stories that The Salvation Army does, but we do have great stories. Even when sharing someone else’s articles online, I try to find the meat of the story in about a sentence for my post. Rather than simply posting the title of the article or “New blog post up on the emfluence emsights blog,” I dig into the first paragraph or two – like a true journalist – and find a great nugget to share:

The original title was clever: “Mobile commerce’s dirty little secret: it’s slow as Minnesota molasses (in the winter).” But rather than simply say that mobile commerce is slow, I snagged the statistic from the first paragraph and paired it with a why-do-I-care stat that 16% of Black Friday shoppers used mobile for shopping.

What stories can you find in your Twitter feed? Are your tweets (and Facebook posts) stories? If not, try it out with someone else’s stuff first. Next time you read an article you want to share, instead of just Retweeting or using the article’s suggested Tweet, (re)write the 120 character story that you think is the most compelling. Share a few here if you have a good one!


  1. A great post that was shared around our office. Thank you.

    By the way, what’s your take on using shorthand in corporate tweets? It definitely extends your message, but seems to hurt its impact sometimes. Or, maybe it helps show you’re part of the Twitterati if you’re targeting more tech-savvy audiences?

  2. Thanks for sharing around your office, David!

    I try to avoid using the shorthand to the point of overkill. If I need a translator to figure out the tweet, you’re right: that can lose its impact. But, I don’t mind shortening one or two words if it means I can squeeze in what I need, like shortening “registration” to “reg” or using the common FTW (for the win!) acronym. Honestly, the art of tweet-writing usually leads me to rethink the wording, rather than shorten everything with shorthand. Thanks for reading and asking a great question!

  3. Thanks, Duane and thanks for tweeting and sharing the article! Big kudos to the Salvation Army for providing such a great example.

  4. Thought-provoking post; thank you. My worry would be that too many people would feel they don’t actually need to read the post because the stat is in the tweet. This isn’t totally unfounded, as many folks (especially at big tech pubs) see more retweets than views!

    Thoughts on this? Is it a risk woth taking in order to grarner retweets and awareness?

  5. It’s definitely a risk, but most articles have more than one good nugget of info in them. And there is definitely a branding benefit to having more people see your tweet (even if not as many read the article). That said, if your goal is conversions from a form on the site, you’ll want to do whatever is proven to get clicks through to the page, not just what gets the most impressions for the tweet. Thanks for reading!

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