Last week when I was hopped up on sinus medicine I mostly stayed away from blogging and social media, in part because all I did outside of client work was try to keep up with my children and sleep, and in part because I was a little worried my normal filter wouldn’t be working at full capacity.
I think I probably proved that second reason true with the comments I left on this Shopify blog post about Twitter Cards pointing out that the examples in the post actually mostly don’t show Twitter Cards and instead are just photos attached to tweets.
While I still feel kind of bad for pointing out something seemingly so trivial, I’m ok with how I did it and upon non-medicated reflection it still does bother me a little bit that the examples are wrong, mainly because (a) accuracy and (b) there are strategic reasons when using a photo makes sense and strategic reasons for using Twitter Cards and they’re for different purposes, at least in my book.
So in an effort to make usefulness out of grumpiness, I thought I’d explain why I use both techniques, and why I consider them two different sides of a similar strategic coin.
Why Use Twitter Images?
According to this Mashable article (and I believe it, from my own Twitter usage), including an image in a tweet dramatically increases share rates. Not only do images tell the viewer more about the content of the tweet, but they are very eye-grabbing given that they’re partially expanded in the timeline in the desktop app and some other Twitter clients.
Twitter Cards, which usually include both an image and some kind of text, are created on the site side via meta tags in the markup, so you don’t have any control over whether a link you share from someone else’s site supports them. From my unscientific research looking through my Twitter feed, most sites (even many you’d expect to be on top of this type of thing) do not support Twitter Cards. A quick way to check is to view that site’s own Twitter feed, as you’ll probably find links to their own content in their tweets.
Images, however, are completely within your control, since you can just upload them directly to the tweet using Twitter’s built-in tools. As such, when sharing third-party links, unless you’re certain there is Twitter Card support, it’s a good idea to include an image manually.
I do this a lot with various resources I share, using quick screenshots I’ve grabbed from the linked site, e.g.:
— Zoe Rooney (@zoe_rooney) December 11, 2013
Why Use Twitter Cards?
As mentioned, Twitter Cards are content summaries, often with images, that you can set up for your own site by adding some simple markup. There are a few different types of Twitter Cards, including a “large image” card that looks similar in many ways to a tweet with a photo uploaded, and “gallery” cards, which show multiple images.
Here’s an example, although currently you don’t get the full effect of the large image via embedded tweets so you may want to click through to see the tweet on Twitter:
Compiled a mega-page w/ my best stuff on learning to be a web developer > http://t.co/etLp6JoUdw (and some great stuff from others)
— Zoe Rooney (@zoe_rooney) March 1, 2014
The benefits to using Twitter Cards over tweets with photos are:
- If you set up Twitter Cards for your site, every link to your site will automatically have them, even if the person tweeting the link doesn’t bother with images (which is most people tweeting your links)
- The Twitter Card is generated from the regular link URL, so you don’t need to have both a link URL and a photo URL hogging characters in order to show a photo and direct people to your site
- Twitter Cards provide even more information about the content, usually including both title and a short excerpt along with the image.
- There are multiple kinds of Twitter Cards for different purposes, including the aforementioned multi-image gallery cards and even video cards.
So, in my opinion it makes sense to implement Twitter Cards for your own site and then you’ll default to using them when you share your own content. As a wonderful bonus, everybody else who shares your content will have their tweet’s share-ability boosted via the extra content in the cards.
When you don’t have control over the link’s content, then it makes sense to use an uploaded image instead.
Of course I can’t leave at just the baseline explanation, so here are a few more related thoughts on Twitter images and Twitter Cards:
Images for Every Tweet?
Just to clarify, I don’t think you have to use an image or Twitter Card for every single tweet. One of the things I like about Twitter (compared to Facebook, for example), is that it’s very text-focused and requires more thought put into words than I see in much of the rest of the internet.
For some types of content sharing, images are really a useful way to both help readers understand what it is you’re linking to, and to encourage further sharing – that’s when these techniques come into play.
What happens if you use both?
I couldn’t find documentation outlining what happens if you post a Twitter Card-enabled URL along with an uploaded, but never fear, I tested it out. It turns out that the uploaded image has priority over the Twitter Card display. In retrospect, this seems obvious, so nicely done Twitter.
A Twitter Cards Tutorial
If you’ve made it this far and are like, “SOLD, now how do I do it?” then you will be pleased to know that I’ve got a tutorial on setting up Twitter Cards ready and waiting for you. Go forth an increase share-ability!