Seven Handy Tips for Winning at Live-Tweeting

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch...

If Twitter ever needs TV ads, its theme should be “Birdhouse in Your Soul”.

Thanks to the invention of the internet, the convenience of the smartphone, and the rise of Twitter as the premier social-media beachhead for You Are There instant commentary, now billions of internet users worldwide have the tools at their disposal to pay homage to Mystery Science Theater 3000 anytime they want. The process is simple: watch something on TV; type every single thought you have while watching; stand by for accolades.

Sadly, the number of Twitter users who’ve parlayed their live-tweeting habits into fame and fortune without benefit of preexisting conditions is in the single digits. You might ask, how can this be? You’re using the internet, you’re saying what you think everyone is really thinking, and tens of people told you how special you were when you were in elementary school. Why aren’t your witticisms slaying all the other viewers? Why aren’t entire cities retweeting or Favoriting your bon mots? Why aren’t agents sending you offers? Why even bother paying for internet access if no one will pay attention to everything you do?

Calm down. Don’t throw a tantrum for the paparazzi. Someone out there still loves you. But you can’t tweet everything that pops into your head. Wait, no: actually, you can tweet it all. Really bad idea, though.

Some of my earliest, oddest internet memories came from IRC chats in which several of us fellow MST3K fans watched the same film on the Sci-Fi Channel at the same time from our various remote locations and tossed one-liners at each other in the chat to ease the pain that the films inflicted upon us, using the defenses we learned from Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, and the gang. Sadly I lost my IRC chatlogs three dead PCs ago, but live-tweeting is pretty much the same thing on a broader scale with a user-friendly portal plus social acceptance. The learning curve to bridge the two pastimes hasn’t been too steep.

I’m not a professional entertainer and have no business telling you how to run your life. All I can tell you is the informal guidelines I keep scribbled on a mental whiteboard that help me enjoy the live-tweeting experience. So far no one’s burned me at the stake for it.

1. Don’t flood the internet. Tweeting three or four times per minute is a great way to invite the wrath of others upon you. If you can type 100 wpm, good on you, but no one wants to read at that speed, especially if you’re one of several thousand competing viewers. No one on Earth is 100% interesting that many times per minute. Pace yourself. Breathe. Leave small breaks between thoughts. Recharge for the next major moment. Give others a chance to get a word in edgewise and/or a chance to read anything you just wrote.

2. Eyes should not be glued to the smaller screen at all times. Every so often, look up at the show. Don’t just react to audio cues or you’re bound to miss some noteworthy happenings. If you’re spending all your time staring at your device for the sake of typing, odds are you need more typing practice. (As an old guy with clumsy digits and deep disdain for phones in general, this is one of my greatest weaknesses.) Also, if a friend or family member is watching alongside you, don’t ignore them. If they appreciate your presence enough to watch TV with you, trust me when I say it’s in your best interest to return that appreciation in kind. If you take them too much for granted, you may upset them enough that they’ll register their fury by whacking your device out of your hands and possibly damaging it. Good luck live-tweeting with a clear conscience and amassing a fan club after that.

3. A single interjection is not a tweet. “Wow!” and a hashtag? That’s your A-material? It’s okay to allot yourself more than four seconds’ typing per tweet. Show us your personality, your sense of humor, your knack for detecting plot loopholes, your best improv, something creative. Y’know what’s great for conveying any of that? Complete sentences. Just a thought.

4. Don’t just describe what’s onscreen. If you have friends who are missing the show, I suppose they’d find value in “Dude A just shot Dude B! #PoliceCops” or “They just made a Lindsay Lohan joke! #KomedyDoodz” so they can know what’s going on without watching for themselves, but the entertainment value of bland narration is near zero. I used to follow Entertainment Weekly‘s Twitter account until the evening of the Breaking Bad series finale. Whoever was on duty that night spent the entire episode telling followers exactly what was happening onscreen — no opinions, no sarcasm, no descriptive flourishes, just dry so-then-this-happens-next open captioning for the TV-impaired, like poorly written comic-book captions from the 1930s. UnFollowed. Mark my words: shrewd, funny, and/or insightful commentary is the wave of the present.

5. Pay attention to others. When you’re on a roll, it’s easy to trap yourself in tunnel-vision mode, live in your own vacuum apart from humanity, and miss out on what everyone else is saying. Acknowledge anyone who’s responded to you. Search for others’ comments under the official hashtag. Throw them some high-fives where appropriate. You might just encounter another funny human out there who’s worth noticing. Connecting with other humans, especially those who share your interests, can be an amazing fringe benefit of internet access. If you’re using the internet but actively snubbing anyone who isn’t you, you’ll find the internet feeling like an awfully big waste of space.

6. Watch lots of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Good advice for life in general, really. Over half the show’s run has been released on home video, and several episodes are available on Hulu. It’s the ultimate how-to for entertainment multitasking — i.e., viewing and reacting at once. Watch what they did. Notice their patterns. Study their rhythms. Learn a thing or two about timing. Skip season one. Replace their unique punchlines and now-dated pop culture references with your own, and preferably not the same five Wizard of Oz or Star Wars quotes that everyone uses in daily life, even in third-world nations that have no electricity. You can learn a lot from the classic comedy styles, but beware reusing obsolete material. Also, stealing is wrong.

7. Have fun! If it becomes a chore, something you feel you have to do, stop. Now. It’s just a TV show. You should really just relax.

5 responses

  1. Did you see where the MST3K crew was back this week? Sadly, I don’t get the channel they were on…

    Can I just add, tweets that say “I’m on the West Coast, stop tweeting about this!” don’t do any good? If you get upset by spoliers, I would think you just need to log off for awhile.


    • Most of my West Coast friends are cool about this, but I have one friend who DVRs everything, never watches anything live. I’ve given up on trying to please him, and all his other friends seem to have bugged him into giving up the fight after he started getting really snide about it. So, win/win!

      I did hear about Total Riff-Off! We get NatGeo as part of our reward for paying way too much for cable TV, but I got too busy with other things that night. It’s available On Demand for the next few weeks, so I’m hoping to check that out when time permits…


  2. Excellent suggestions and I wholeheartedly agree. Tweeting can easily become “Much ado about nothing.” I really like the part you said about when others are watching with you. It’s best to always share those moments with “real live people” who are actually “with” you.


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