How to display media in your Twitter timeline

How to display media in your Twitter timeline

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Some tweets display pictures or videos,
and others don’t.. The mystery revealed!

Twitter has become the true social media’s “vaporware”: More and more people use Twitter for “instant updates”. Few people scroll back through their Twitter timeline, to check on updates of the past days, as they would on Facebook or LinkedIn, for instance.

Statistics show that from Twitter’s 284 million active users, 78% accesses the service from a mobile device. The attention span of a mobile user is much lower and more volatile than a desktop user (ever observed yourself as you browse tweets while you sit on a bus or wait in a queue?)

As such, skillful tweeting has become an art in grabbing your audience’s attention in a fraction of a second. And one of the ways is to use media-rich tweets, which display “differently” than your “competitor’s” tweets. After all, online media is often about “how to be different to stand out in a crowd“.

Media-rich tweets…. Come again?

“Media-rich tweets” are tweets that show a picture, a video or a summary for the tweeted links. This media can either show up in the timeline – the list of the tweets from the people you follow – or in a “tweet summary”.

The “tweet summary” is what you see when you click or tap on a tweet, or click on “Expand” or “Summary” depending on which app you use.

Statistics by Buffer show that tweets with images:

  • received 89% more favourites
  • received 18% more clicks than those without
  • received 150% more retweets

So, how can you make your tweets media-rich?

How to display media in a Twitter timeline – The manual way

tweet with and without picture

The same tweet with or without a picture

Since some time, you can add a picture to a tweet, by simply uploading it while composing a tweet. On the right you see an “ordinary tweet”, and on the right is the same tweet with an uploaded picture. When you upload a picture, it be displayed in the timeline and in the tweet summary.

The disadvantage of this manual method is that the uploaded picture will be added as a link in your tweet. This will take up valuable tweeting space (the length of the link) and it might be confusing if you also tweet a link to your content. As such, your tweet will have two links: one to your content and one to the picture.

While the convention is to add the link to the picture as the second link, it might still be confusing for a user: which link does he need to click to see the content: the first or the second…?

Another disadvantage is that this method only works for pictures and (I think) Vine videos, and not for other content.

How to display media in a Twitter timeline – The automatic way

tweets with and without cards

The same tweet, but one with and one without using “Twitter Cards”

You can now also use “Twitter Cards” to make your tweets media-rich.

“Twitter Cards” is a way to show a summary of your link, a picture, a thumbnail, a video, or a link to an app,.. when people view your tweet. There are different Twitter Cards, dependent on their use. Each of them shows differently.

The example above shows the same tweet. The left uses a card, the right does not. Which one would you be likely to click thru? Media-rich tweets rock…!

While it is not fully documented, it seems only the “Summary card with large image” and “Photo card” show in the timeline. However, all of them show in the tweet’s summary.

The term “Twitter Cards” is a bit ambiguous (who invents those?!) and Twitter’s explanation is rather technical too. In principle, it is pretty simple process and can be fully automated.

You can activate Twitter Cards for your site in two steps:

  1. Generate some metadata (the Twitter Card metadata) on your website and individual pages
  2. Activate Twitter Cards via an approval page on Twitter

If you want a tweet with a link to your website to show as a media-rich tweet, you might need to add some code (or “meta-data”) to your website. Check this Twitter post for more details how to add the meta-data on hosted and selfhosted WordPress, Tumblr and Blogger. For Drupal CMS users, you can add the Metatag module.

If you use any other CMS, you can still use Twitter cards by adding the meta-data yourself. One line needs to go into your header, and a couple of lines need to go on each of the posts you want a Twitter Card to be generated.

On selfhosted WordPress (WordPress.org – as I use for BlogTips), you can use a plugin. Use Jetpack (which does much more than just Twitter Cards), JM Twitter Cards, WordPress SEO by Yoast (with a plethora of other functions) or Twitter Cards Meta.

I use the latter as it generates Twitter Cards automatically for all old posts too. Unfortunately it only supports “Photo” and “Summary” cards at the moment.

After you installed the Twitter card meta-data for your site (manually or via a plug-in), you also need to validate your site.

Only validated, Twitter cards will show up in either the timeline or in the tweet’s summary when a link to your site is tweeted.

Twitter Cards are shown for anyone tweeting a link to your validated site. So whether a tweet shows as “media-rich”, is no longer a choice by the one who tweets (as it is in the “manual way”). It is linked to your website.

On the use of Twitter Cards: some tips for webmasters

  • If you want to have your content managers/editors use Twitter Cards, I highly recommend you to automate the generation of Twitter Cards for every page or post to avoid extra work.
  • After activating the metadata on your website, you will need to clear your cache before you validate your site (obviously).
  • For your site validation, it seems you need to use your homepage URL, and not a post URL.
  • You have to ensure the useragent “Twitterbot” is not blocked in your robots.txt nor in your .htaccess file

Have fun!



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