There’s an old quote by Mark Twain that says, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you this long one instead.”
Anyone who has ever tried their hand at writing knows this can be true. Spilling your guts is easy. Being concise takes time. Recently, Helen Klein Ross took to the microphone at SXSW Interactive – briefly, of course – to extol the virtues of “saying it short” and remind the audience that when it comes to effective writing, less really is more.
These days, Ross is best known for her blog, Ad Broad, and she tweets under the handle of Betty Draper, the wife and mother from the hit show Mad Men … somehow with AMC’s permission. (Very cool, AMC!) But before all of that, Ross made her name in advertising. It was there that she realized “the less you say, the more likely people are to remember.”
For example, an effective billboard is said to have six words or fewer. In a commercial, that number swells to sixty. For Ross, the same is true in social media. “You can’t say 10 things and have people remember what you say.”
Ross says having a limit can actually help creativity. After spending 20-plus years working within the constraints of the advertising industry, 140 characters felt spacious to her. But even Ross points out that “just because you have 140 characters, doesn’t mean you have to use them all.”
Social media, she says, isn’t about writing a paragraph of information. “It’s not about telling it all,” Ross says. “It’s about telling it right.”
Ross also cautioned against writing and, more importantly, publishing too quickly. She suggested taking a moment before hitting send.
“Before you tweet, breathe,” she said. For as she reminded the SXSW audience, “getting something off the internet is about as easy as getting urine out of a pool.” An unfortunate visual, but an evocative and effective one nonetheless. Much like the whole of Ross’s talk.
Of course, there’s more to say on the topic. But we’ll wrap it up before we lose your attention.
Author Tom Hynes is PR Newswire’s manager of blogger relations.