Psychology answers a lot of questions – the kind that laboratory science often cannot. It explores and dissects why we, humans, behave the way we behave, what we do and the things we think and believe. The results are, more often than not, fascinating.

Twitter, too, needs no introduction, at least to readers of this blog. It is an immensely popular social media network, used by over 255 million of us. For all you know, we could all be a part of one huge psychology experiment – with the amount of varied thoughts, emotions, images, interactions and connections concentrated into 140 character snippets.

With Twitter being social, a mini virtual universe of us humans – and, therefore, just as susceptible to the laws and findings of psychology, we thought we’d tell you how to use the latter to your advantage. Not in a bad way. You’ll see.

We’ve taken five commonly accepted psychological findings and analyzed their application to your twitter account. These applications will help you get the most out of Twitter, in terms of success, number of followers and quality of interactions. Let’s start!

1. It takes 66 days to form a new habit


Let’s go about six decades back to the 1950s. Plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz was making a strange observation. His patients were taking about 21 days to get used to the changes the surgeries brought on – their new face, their phantom limbs etc.

This prompted him to study his own acceptance of change and found he too took 21 days to adapt to change and form new habits.  This observation found its way into a book he later published, called Psycho-Cybernetics.

21 days, thus became the commonly accepted count for new habit adoptions. But, the number isn’t correct. Maxwell was simply stating an observation that it took a “minimum” of 21 days to form new habits.

Phillipa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College, London and her team tried to find how long does it actually take to form a new habit, how long before it becomes automatic. And, on an average, the number stands at 66 days – a little more than two months.

The Twitter Perspective

You start using Twitter. It’s all cool. There are people to follow, tweets to read, tweeps to converse with. Oh yeah!

And then, something happens. It’s like a switch goes off and the platform doesn’t hold the same pull any longer, you start tweeting occasionally, if ever, and don’t meet your Twitter goals. Slightly rough, but this image exhibits a twitter users progress (wherein most people quit right towards the beginning):

Twitter Life Cycle

The most effective approach to getting the best out of Twitter is to try making it a habit. Use Twitter everyday for 66 days – even if it’s for something as small as checking who unfollowed you today or for sending out a Good Morning tweet.

If numbers are to be believed, only a quarter of those who’ve signed up for Twitter are still active. These people have managed to use the platform to generate sales, become famous, increase web traffic and do a whole lot more. The rest gave up too soon. Don’t give up – stick around for 66 days.

2. People prefer to read shorter lines

We read longer lines faster, but prefer shorter ones.

Like this.

Or this.


Which would explain the reason why newspapers and magazines have column based content, when they could very easily display it normally, the way this blog post has been written (unfortunately, nothing I can do about the default theme).

Shorter lines are more readable

Research conducted by Mary Dyson, that went on to conclusively prove that we have a preference for shorter lines, showed that the preferred count was 45 to 72 characters per line.

The Twitter Perspective

Twitter gives you 140 characters per tweet and is famous in part because of the restriction it places on the length of your update. However, even 140 characters maybe a few characters too many.

Dan Zarella, the widely trusted Social Media Scientist, found that tweets longer than 120 characters get hardly any retweets. The graph that accompanied his research:

Length of tweets vs retweets graph

So, if you wish to get retweets and increase the audience for your tweets beyond your current follower count, you should keep them short.

3. Our attentions are riveted by photos of people

We are hard-wired to pay attention to human faces, right from birth. This holds true everywhere. On the streets, in conferences, on websites, in videos, everywhere.

According to latest research, a part of our brain is especially focused on recognizing faces and interpreting emotions – we thus process faces unconsciously. Angry and fearful faces grab our attention fastest, but just about any face will get a  lot of attention.

The Twitter Perspective

Twitter feeds tend to be messy and tweets have a very short life span, i.e. a lot of people will miss your tweet in the huge stream of tweets that fills their feed. One of the common ways to grab eyeballs is to include an image in your tweet and what better image than a human face, for psychology proves it rivets us the most.

Here are a couple of tweets we had sent in that vein:

The first image received 834 retweets and 576 favorites. The second one got 742 and 630 favorites.

4. Maslow’s heirarchy of twitter needs

Don’t know how familiar you are with this pyramid. But, this is a widely accepted representation of what motivates people:

We all need our physiological needs fulfilled first, safety next. Once these two are fulfilled, we seek to get our love and esteem needs fulfilled. Once all these four are met, we are motivated by our need for self-actualization.

The pyramid above attempts to illustrate what we seek under each category. The last two categories are abstract ones – things that people can pursue only when their first three are met.

The Twitter Perspective

Think of every twitter user from Maslow’s heirarchy’s perspective. What you can help them with is fulfilling their Esteem and Self-actualization needs. If you can do that, they’ll follow you, remember you and would most probably not unfollow your account.

So how can you fulfill their needs? Send out tweets that’d motivate them (good quotes?), give them a sense of achievement (ask questions they can answer), make them think (though-provoking tweets?), challenge them (riddles?), make them feel respected (ask for their help) and so on.

5. The look on your face matters a lot

It is common knowledge that we base a lot of our judgement about people on the non-verbal cues they give us. Equally important, is how you look. It may seem unfair, but the more attractive you look, the more trustworthy you are perceived to be.

OKCupid, an online matchmaking site, recently conducted an experiment where they removed photos from some users’ profiles to judge how appearance affected mate selection. As might be expected, people chose different partners when they could see the photos versus when they couldn’t.

So, in an online environment, where someone can only base their opinion off somebody else’s photograph (or lack thereof), it makes sense that you should only put your best photo forward. And by your best photo, we don’t just mean your most attractive – it should be one that’s likeable. Smiling faces, looking frankly into the camera are most liked.

This is Amy Porterfield‘s Twitter profile pic. Do you think it makes a good first impression?

Amy Porterfield

The Twitter Perspective

What does a tweep see when he decides to follow someone? Most often, just the profile picture and accompanying bio. And with visuals attracting more than text, it is most likely that she will see the profile picture first, making it your first impression and probably your last one.


1. Have a profile photo.

2. Make it your own photo, not a random flower or beach pic (remember point 3?).

3. Give a good look – smile, shoulders straight, look into the camera (optional, you eyes can gaze elsewhere if it’d look more aesthetically pleasing).

We recently published a scientifically backed blog post about what drives follower growth and one of the biggest predictors of follower gain is inclusion of a profile photo. You don’t want to miss out on all those potential followers, do you?

Featured image source:

Read more: “Don’t Follow Us on Twitter”