Social Bites – Like Sound Bites But Different

Written on February 20, 2009 – 5:10 pm | by Tim Nash |

We are all used to “Sound Bites” – a short few seconds of words which are normally taken out of context to create sensational headlines. Few people realise that speech writers have for years worked on developing speeches to include a couple perfect “sound bites” for use by others.

Of course while some social media is audio based we are much more likely to rely on humble text to create a “social bite”.

What Is A Social Bite?

A social bite is a short piece of text to describe an article, post or idea which is easy to understand and easy to distribute through viral networks. A social bite must still carry the post’s message and goal but in a way that quickly impacts with users in essence:

A “social bite” is a short, concise and engaging message to gain traffic on social networks

The Perfect Social Bite

Anatomy of a social bite

So what makes the perfect social bite, well it has two parts the hook and the line.

The hook are the words within the message – the thing to grab attention. This is doubly important as the hook will have no context once it has left the site. For example a hook is unlikely to reference the site so must be compelling, so that someone would visit the page without knowing where they were going.
The line is simply the url, sometimes this will be the page url but more likely to conserve space a url shortening service would be used. This compounds the need for a good hook as the only other potential reference to the site will be hidden.

The Twit Effect

Most social bites these days will have to pass through twitter at some point therefore a bite needs to be suitable otherwise people might change it. A normal tweet has a limited number of characters but while it may be tempting to use all 140 possible chars, this would severely limit the maximum potential of the social bite as it fails to take in retweets therefore the maximum number of characters is much more limited.

Twitter does not allow usernames longer then 20 characters and only shows usernames of 15 characters this means in practice to cope with every possible twitter name we would need to save at least 25 characters for retweets (20 for the name plus RT and two spaces one between rt and one after name and an ampersand before the name) even assuming 15 character names thats still 20 characters out of our 140.
With characters at a premium is it reasonable to expect usernames of 15 characters?

Taking a list of 1000 twitter usernames revealed the mean average length is 9 characters:

  • 0-6 – 13%
  • 6-9 – 58%
  • 9-12 – 27%
  • 12+ – 2%

taking these results its possible to assume the space needed for a retweet is 17 characters

Line Length

Assuming use of shortening service allows us to roughly determine how much room the line is going to take up. Its worth remembering users often swap out the url in favour of their own shortening service so as to gather statisitcs for themselves therefore even if your URL is shorter then the average it could be worth including a buffer.
Looking at various shortening services the average length is 18 characters including the http:// therefore the line length should be at least 18 characters plus a space making a line length total reserve of 19 characters.

Final Social Bite Anatomy

17 Chars Reserved Space for Retweet
104 Chars Hook / Message
19 Chars ShortURL (TinyURL,, etc)

A hook within a social bite can potentially be longer than a page title, which in turn is not necessarily the same as a page headline.
It may also be important to allow for additional commentary to support the predetermined social bite, or to allow for SEO friendly URL shortening which can also boost response.
A single article can have multiple social bites that will attract different audiences.

Propagating a social bite

There are three routes to start a social bite on its move

  1. Inject the hook without the line into your post article in much the same way as a sound bite works
  2. Add the sound bite into the social networks yourself
  3. Get someone else to do it for you

Of course you can always do all 3.

Tims live feed on Facebook
Many people reading this article may be thinking its very much twitter based but social bites have a tendency to cross social networks indeed that is the very point, and with social aggregators like Friendfeed and to a less extent Facebook something which starts on Twitter could well end up anywhere even getting to the ears of non twitter users such as myself

Do you use social bites? What other things should people think about?

Editor’s Notes (Andy)

Tim popped out to a bloggers meetup of Northern Gits Geeks, thus just adding a few additional references.

Dan Zarella recently took a scientific look at reteets over on Mashable
Louise wrote a similar article over on Twitip, but that was mainly aimed at retweeting tweets that originate on Twitter, where you know the length of your own Twitter usename.
Guy Kawasaki went into the psychological side of retweeting over on the open forum.

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  1. 11 Responses to “Social Bites – Like Sound Bites But Different”

  2. By Candace Miller on Feb 25, 2009 | Reply

    Great! I have done all these things before but it makes a clear picture in my mind.

  3. By Philadelphia SEO Dude on Feb 26, 2009 | Reply

    Love the logic in leaving character holes for the retweets. Nice. A def ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ moment there…

  4. By Todd Mintz on Feb 28, 2009 | Reply

    I guess I should stop talking so much :.)

  5. By Stephanie Valentine on Mar 5, 2009 | Reply

    A very perceptive analysis of social media. I love it when people apply math to stuff like this. Good suggestion on leaving a gap for retweeting. Enjoy the thought process very much. An excellent guide for people who want to participate actively in social media. – Stephanie

  6. By Pierre Lévy on Mar 14, 2009 | Reply

    You forgot the hashtag (the semantic channel)
    plevy on twitter #IEML

  7. By Michael on Apr 21, 2009 | Reply

    Thanks for the explanation. All I see to do now is take many, many bites all day long! haha.

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