Are Tweets and Status Updates Headlines? And Who Cares, Really?

In order:

“Sometimes, but not usually.”

And “you should.”

Here are the whys and what-fors . . .

Newspaper with WTF? Headline

Social Media and Initial Capitalization

Initial capitalization is the practice of capitalizing every word in a sentence or headline, omitting little words and articles as per usual. Like this:

Initial Capitalization Is the Practice of Capitalizing Every Word in a Sentence or Headline

About two weeks back, I started noticing an influx of social status updates, tweets, and other brief social content coming across my viewscreen with initial capitalization. It seemed arbitrary and made the content really hard to read, but I shrugged it off.

Then it happened more. And finally, today, Erik J. Heels sent a status update which I saw on Facebook. He set it to share with his friends, not the whole world, so I won’t copy it here, but it was just a visual observation, a little funny, a little quirky, 20 words or so. “We drive on the parkway but park in a driveway” — like that. (But not that. Erik’s far funnier than that.)

But the thing: it was all initially-capitalized. All of it. We Drive On The Parkway But Park In A Driveway. Yes, including the articles and small words that are generally not capitalized in a headline.

Soooo … I asked. “What up with that?”

And his response was basically this: Anything you share socially (via Twitter, Facebook, whatever) is a headline, so you should write it like a headline. Also, it’s easier to read. He offered this post as a reference point.

Headlines? Not Always

While I agree with much in that post of Erik’s, I quibble with his original premise. Tweets and FB status updates are hardly ever headlines (well, FB status updates, for sure — tweets maybe less so).

The original tweets I send are generally of two kinds:

  1. Tweets of links to blog posts or other content (mine or other people’s)
  2. Commentary of some kind
In the first category (which for me is about 25-30% of my Twitter content), I think he’s right. If your tweet is a headline, it should be styled that way. But consider the following tweets I’ve sent over the last week:
Twitter image: "Time to Increase Freelance Rates" Tweet from Annie Sisk

That? Is a headline. For sure. (It’s taken straight from the post on Sharon’s site that it links to.)


Twitter screenshot of Annie Sisk tweet on Jay Baer post


Not a headline, even though it’s sharing a link. Because my thoughts about it aren’t the headline Jay picked for this post.

And just for fun, a hybrid:

OK, not so much “fun” … but still. It’s part commentary, part headline. The headline part? Written as a headline. The commentary part? Not.

This is even more true on Facebook, where my status updates are decidedly NOT headlines, nor are most of the updates I see there. They’re much more like the first sentence in a conversation.

And as for readability? Not in my book. And most of the folks who responded to my query of Erik agreed the initial capitalization method was harder on the eyes.

Bottom Line: Know Your Content & Proceed Accordingly

If you’re sharing a headline, by all means, treat it like one.

But if you’re starting a conversation, which is the old saw about social media (and the fact that it’s been around long enough to be an old saw is kind of mind-boggling), then you need to think about the other person in that equation. And initial caps are hard on the eyes.

So stop it already. Or if you don’t, expect at least a bunch of us not to pay attention.


Photo credit: MBPhoto, Inc.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Erik J. Heels February 16, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Got a 404 trying to sign in with Twitter.

Erik J. Heels February 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Nice counterpoint. Glad to see that you’ve chosen to keep paying attention. 😉

Annie Sisk February 19, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Thanks for letting me know, Erik – I’m not sure what’s up with that, but will look into it! 

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