Dom Sagolla: Every Word Counts

Dom Sagolla, cocreator of Twitter and author of "140 Characters" (Wiley, 2009), tells how tweeting can help you make new connections and express yourself in the moment.

August 1, 2010

What was your role in the creation of Twitter?

SAGOLLA: I had just started working with Odeo, a podcasting company. But the podcasting wave turned out to not be not quite as big as we expected right away, so we were forced to reinvent ourselves. All 14 employees had a brainstorming competition for the best next thing to do. We were trying to find a way to bridge online groups and have conversations across social networks. Jack Dorsey came up with an idea to use an SMS [short message service], like text messages. When Jack’s idea won, we all jumped behind him.

In your book, 140 Characters, you say we’re standing on the cusp of a literary movement.

SAGOLLA: From the beginning it was difficult to explain what Twitter was good for. I had to explain Twitter in the context of expression and writing. Writing is part of our human need. What we have here is a new genre of literature, and as with any genre it has benefits and drawbacks. Sometimes the meaning of a statement can be lost, or tweets are made impulsively.

But short-form is the oldest format of writing—it’s what we started with. It’s the hieroglyphs; it’s the telegraph and the postcard. What Twitter has that’s different is hypertext. Now that we have smartphones, hyperlinks serve as a time-saver, a tool for us to immediately find information anytime.

How can real estate professionals use Twitter to grow their business?

SAGOLLA: The real estate industry is perfectly suited to social networking because connections are so easily made. Find the right people to follow and stay tuned in. Create lists of people you want to check up on. Tell your story day-by-day and provide a sense of personality. When my wife and I were looking for our home, if I had known our real estate agent’s personality before that awkward first meeting, it would have made things a lot easier. It puts that humanity into the process.

What’s your advice for writing better on Twitter?

SAGOLLA: There are so many great writers who are using this tool for various purposes. Follow the right people and read their tweets.

You talk about the importance of developing your own authentic and original style. How does one go about doing that?

SAGOLLA: Choose your words carefully. If you practice short form writing, you’ll find yourself thinking in short bursts. Take lessons from poetry. Take lessons from comedy. Being memorable means practicing the delivery. You want to inject your speaking voice into your written voice. Try using spaces, ellipses, dashes, and dots to add your own character. That doesn’t mean always using the exclamation point, though.

How can this pared-down form of expression help people communicate more effectively in real life?

SAGOLLA: When you’ve been writing in 140 characters, it can help you be effective in the moment. You’ll know how to express yourself and what to say when you need to. You’ll recognize a core idea when you see it.

Do you have an all-time favorite tweet you’ve written?

SAGOLLA: My very first one: "Oh this is going to be addictive."

How can you make communications on Twitter more meaningful?

SAGOLLA: Create connections. When followers want more information, they’ll send you a message. My method is to reply once or twice on your public feed, then take it into private messages. This can lead to e-mail, phone calls, even meetings in person. Grow it into a real interaction.

But create boundaries, just as you would in your everyday life. Talking too much about kids, pets, food, or politics may lose some people.

You say that through Twitter, everyone is a journalist. Does that even apply to someone who’s writing about real estate?

SAGOLLA: The best journalists give you a sense of compassion for the subject. Consider a house you’re selling that has a great story behind it or has some kind of unique feature. That’s your lead.

For example, if a property has a great location, write on your social networks: "Have you ever wanted to be within walking distance to both a dense forest and a coffee shop?" Your readers will identify with the human qualities in your writing.

Learn More: Read Sagolla’s blog and get more information about his book at

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