How to be Witty on Twitter

By Lifehacker UK on at

By Graham Barlow

The funny gene isn't part of everybody's genetic makeup, which accounts for why only 0.046%* of the population are professional comedians. That and the terrible catering on BBC panel shows, of course. Twitter is the perfect vehicle for comedians - check out Rob Delaney, Frankie Boyle or David Cameron.

Oh, apparently that last one isn’t a professional comedian, he’s the Prime Minister. Forgive us, it’s hard to tell. But really, the good news is that while you yourself can't be standup-worthy funny (that last joke proved how hard it is), then you can, at least, be witty.

Wit, is the ability to write things that are clever, and probably also a bit funny, too. So, even if the laugh-out-loud of a Jimmy Carr one-liner like this…

Array...is beyond your reach, I'd say that wit is within anyone's grasp. As a rule, being witty is how you should be using Twitter anyway. Nobody wants to follow an account that’s as dry as a bone.

Plato said it best when he said - “Like ‘horse feathers,’ there's no such substance as banana oil”, from which we can all surmise that humour is the banana oil that greases the wheels of conversation. Or something. Anyway, wit is the sort of thing that can get you retweets, turning your Twitter into an account worth following. And in the modern world where social currency is often the only currency worth having, that’s money in the bank.

Now, pay close attention, because here comes the science: To be witty on Twitter requires only that you adhere to my 3 basic rules..

3 rules to get more retweets

1) You are not a comedian (unless, in fact, you are a real comedian)

2) Don't be obvious

3) Don't be mean

So, in reverse order, for no particular reason, let's start with "Don't be mean". Recently a (British) friend tweeted that she was looking for a present for her (American) father, and wondered if anybody had any suggestions. Along with the usual helpful replies somebody rather cruelly tweeted "A map, so he can understand that the US isn't the only country in the world!".

I see what he did there - he tried to make a joke at somebody else's expense, but it just made him look mean and unnecessary. This isn't being witty, it's just being crass. Avoid this sort of behaviour and you'll go a long way to making your tweets more popular. Secondly, let's address the elephant in the room - being obvious.

This particular Twitter faux pas can always be avoided by checking, before you reply to a tweet, if that hilarious joke you’re about to crack hasn't been said by five other people already today. Just take a quick look at the user's mentions before you tweet. There's nothing worse than people responding with the same tedious (un)funny retort to a tweet, and it’s worse if lots of people make the same mistake. Thirdly, you are not a comedian. Rob Delany, one of the funniest men on Twitter, is, so when he tweets stuff like:

ArrayIt’s hilarious, because you don’t think he really means it. When you tweet the same thing however, you’ll just confuse and alienate people, because they’re expecting something a bit different from your account. And remember, your mum could be watching.

How to make memorable tweets

Remember, timing is... everything. So, don't force being witty on Twitter. Quite often things happen in the Twittersphere, or your every day life, that give you copious opportunities to make memorable tweets. Here are three good examples:

 

 

I carefully selected these three tweets, because a) they’d been retweeted (in this case by Caitlin Moran, thus proving my point!) and b) each one exemplifies a different example of ‘being witty’.

Reacting to current events

The first tweet from Rebecca Watson is a good example of reacting to current events, in this case the news that legendary US novelist Harper Lee is finally releasing a prequel/sequel (it depends how you look at it) to the best-selling US work of fiction ever, To Kill A Mockingbird. Rebeccas gets bonus wit-points because she actually is a writer, so it sounds like it could be a natural thing for her to think about.

Commenting on a photo

The second tweet is a good example of being witty about a photograph, in this case, referencing the classic scene in the legendary ‘80s movie Dirty Dancing. The Internet is full of people posting photos - every news story has an image, and not all of them are of kittens, so there’s plenty of material there. For bonus wit-points you can use an image from a current new story, thus combining examples 1 and 2.

Your everyday life

Finally, the last example tweet represents another great source of material for Twitter wit - your every day life. Even if this story didn’t actually happen, it reads like it could have done. Funny things happen to us all the time - we just miss a lift door closing, or a seagull poops on us on the way to work, or the kids say something funny over dinner, like “fart!”. Well, maybe that’s just what happens at my dinner table, but anyway, the point is our every day life is a goldmine of potential Twitter funnies that, most likely, will get you retweets, since we’ve all been there.

* Yes, I did pull that figure out of my ass.

Liked this? Why not read The Beginner's Guide to Building A Community on Twitter

Image Credit: Desperate Businessman from Shutterstock


This article originally appeared on Lifehacker UK -- the expert guide to getting things done more efficiently, whether at home or at work.