Will Rogers, A Model for Tweeters and Other Micro-Bloggers

American History Magazine has an interesting article in the October 2011 issue, which is the currently available issue. Yeah, I know it’s August, but I don’t publish the thing, I just read it.

The article is called “Twitter’s Folksy Forerunner,” by Peter Carlson. It’s all about Will Rogers and his daily “micro-blogs” for the New York Times in the 1920’s and 1930’s. No. Really.

Apparently, since Rogers was so popular a social/political humorist, he ended up not merely as a kind of stand-up comic and actor, but also as a syndicated columnist. Then, when he was about to do some European travel in the mid 20’s, the publisher of the New York Times suggested that he send telegrams if he observed anything of interest in his travels.

That started about ten years of (eventually) daily telegrams to the Times. The quips he sent were soon being picked up by 600 newspapers. Most of his telegrams were merely a couple of sentences. A few would cover a paragraph or two. So, rather like Twitter. Or maybe kind of half-way between tweeting and blogging. After all, he was sending telegrams. They cost a lot of money.

The article in American History Magazine gives many more details and a selection of the “tweets” Rogers sent. If you want to read it, it’s still on the news stands and you can probably find it in a public or university library.

If you don’t have access to the article, you can find many, many Will Rogers quotes online. Any of them would be perfect tweets.

You may still be asking yourself “what does this post have to do with productivity or performance?” The answer: Will Roger’s writing is a great model for blogging. He had a way of getting right to the heart of issues and expressing them with both wit and succinctness. His comments were the kind of writing that would be constantly re-tweeted. He “went viral” very soon after starting his “micro-blogging.” And he stayed viral for nearly a decade.

In modern terms, he had 600 followers who re-tweeted him to millions of their followers.

He covered the hottest issues of the day. He had an identifiable “voice.” His comments were pointed and funny. He informed and entertained. He spoke to — and knew how to connect with — a targeted audience. He had a passion for what he was doing. He was personable. He had worked diligently to become well-known in his field. He consistently posted updates.

Any of that ring a bell in terms of the advice you’ve probably read many times on how to develop your website, blog or Twitter following?

There’s an old saying that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I think there’s a flip side to that: those who don’t study any history also miss out on a lot of knowledge of how to do things right or well.

Take a look at Will Rogers. You can learn a lot. Start with some of his quotes at Thinkexist.com and follow up with a quick look at his Wikipedia page. There’s plenty of free information about him online. Just Google him for more.

And try to get that American History Magazine article if you can. You can find out more about it at historynet.com.