Humor, Brevity, Virality - Dilbert Blog

Humor, Brevity, Virality

This morning I engineered a five-word tweet to go viral on Twitter. I’ll explain the technique.

In this context, viral means I expect a lot of people to retweet it, relative to the size of my Twitter followers. Here is the tweet as it is just starting to pick up retweets:


(If your firewall is blocking the image, it says, “Bad analogies are like corn.”)

I engineered the tweet to have these qualities:

  1. Brief
  2. Funny (clever and recognizable) per the humor formula
  3. Universally identifiable (we have all been there)
  4. Inoffensive to the extreme
  5. Involves human foibles

I could have added an image of corn because images almost always perform better on social media than plain text. But a photo would cause your attention to be spread across too much of your brain, and detract from the beauty of the brevity. I want your brain to generate the image of corn on its own. That’s my sense of how to tickle a brain from the inside, based on experience. A joke works best when you fill in the visuals yourself. (That is also a method of persuasion, Trump-style. The image of corn you provide to yourself will be more perfect, and better-timed, than one I could provide for you.)

The joke in my tweet works best without an image, but people are known to be Skinner-trained to retweet images more often than plain text. This is the sort of thing no one can predict without A-B testing. I favored the joke over the visual, but that might be more bias than engineering.

I hope you enjoy looking under the hood with my writing methods.

Update: The tweet performed well, as expected. It probably landed in my top 5% for social activity. I’m too lazy to check. Might be higher.