The Art of the ‘Twinterview’: How to Conduct an Interview on Twitter

I thought I had Twitter all figured out.  Then I decided to use the micro-blogging site to conduct a real-time Q&A with an author while unsuspecting followers watched.  How clever, I told myself.  How madcap! How wrong I was.  But here, tweeters, is how to do it right:

1.  Think days, not minutes.

My first twinterview was with Twitchhiker Paul Smith, a writer who had hitchhiked his way from the UK to New Zealand solely on the generosity of  strangers on Twitter who offered him transportation and places to crash.

I checked the time zones and set an appointment for the interview, which I had expected to last about 20 minutes.  Four hours later, I was still in my chair, still typing, and about to pass out from hunger.  I had also incorrectly posted the name of an award he had won for his tweeting achievements.  Luckily, Mr. Smith had other things to do that day and signed off with an encouraging “well done!”, or something to that effect, in my message box.

It takes a lot of concentration to both write and respond to an interview question in 140 characters or less. The best strategy is to send all the questions in a private message to be answered all at once.  If the answers come back sounding canned, as emailed interviews often do, let interviewees know that you might have some follow-up questions and give them a week or so to respond at their leisure.

A Twitter interview seems like it would be over in the blink of an eye, but in reality it’s more like a game of Words With Friends: you play your letters and wait for the response, which could come back hours or even days later.   It’s not frustrating because it’s not urgent and you probably have multiple games going on.  It’s the kind of social situation that only exists online.

2.  Interview people who are comfortable using Twitter.

William Shakespeare once tweeted (in his own pre-technology way), “brevity is the soul of wit.”  Not everybody is as pithy as the Bard, but for those personalities that thrive on Twitter, a twinterview is a great way to churn out a punchy interview that readers can scroll through quickly.

This twinterview by Josh Dobbin with @DrunkHulk was brilliantly executed because the character, who is the alter-ego of writer Christian Dumais, was in his element (and also drunk).

@joshdobbin You fire off angry, pronoun-less tweets filled with rage and confusion. Have you considered a career in politics?

@DRUNKHULK DRUNK HULK CONSIDER POLITIC! BUT THEN REMEMBER DRUNK HULK GOT SELF RESPECT! AND MORE IMPORTANT! DRUNK HULK ALWAY FINISH WHAT

Not everyone will show such mastery of the character limit.

3.  Take a screen capture, or not.

Sometimes it’s fun to see the pictures as they appear on your Twitter account:

But this is time-consuming and can look a little messy.  You can also wrangle the text into a more traditional Q&A format, with the questions in bold font, like this:

mbstartups @twitchiker: Why Twitter rather than FB?

twitchhiker @mbstartups: Facebook is a closed circle, and doesn’t feel as dynamic as Twitter in terms of delivering (or reacting) to real-time events.

Or, save the bold font for the Twitter handles, like this:

mbstartups @twitchiker: Why Twitter rather than FB?

twitchhiker @mbstartups: Facebook is a closed circle, and doesn’t feel as dynamic as Twitter in terms of delivering (or reacting) to real-time events.

4.  Don’t be afraid to ask big questions.

Just because the answers are brief, doesn’t mean your questions have to be limited to fact-based or “yes” or “no” questions.  Mix it up with something challenging like, “summarize your resume in 140 characters or less,” or even more pretentious, like “what is the meaning of life?” The answers to questions like these are much more palatable with a character limit.

Image by Qiun via Shutterstock

 

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