Lessons From The Age Of the Telegram
Social Media is today to email what the telephone was to the telegraph was to letters – a faster way to communicate with more people in a shorter space of time. But back then SPAM was a brand of awful tasting salted meat!
Telegrams were expensive to send compared to letters and the sender paid for every word. Consequently messages were short, to the point and conveyed a single idea as precisely as possible.
They a ‘call to action’ for the recipient, like Peter Sellers the actor who, while working in his study upstairs sent a telegram to his wife in the kitchen just downstairs:
COULD YOU PLEASE BRING ME A CUP OF COFFEE?
Superfluous word such as a, an, the, you, do it, etc were trimmed so that the essence of the message was conveyed with the minimum of words. Now doesn’t that sound like Twitter? The disadvantage of Twitter is that it is free and so much rubbish is tweeted. Used well it can convey a simple message or call to action succinctly but this may be more difficult than it seems. Mark Twain, and American writer summed up the difficulty when he receive a telegram from a publisher:
NEED 2-PAGE SHORT STORY TWO DAYS
NO CAN DO 2 PAGES TWO DAYS.
CAN DO 30 PAGES 2 DAYS.
NEED 30 DAYS TO DO 2 PAGES.
Newspapers were one of the biggest uses of telegram services and to save money they would often combine words or invent new words (lk txt msgs 2day J). A famous example from British newspapers where the word ‘no‘ was put in front of other words as ‘un‘ turning the two words ‘no money‘ into the single word ‘unmoney‘. A message from an editor to a journalist:
Received the reply:
UNNEWS. GOOD NEWS.
To which the editor telegrammed the response:
The famous author Rudyard Kipling was reportedly paid 50p per word calculating the earning from his writing. A group of students sent him 50p and asked for a word. He telegrammed back:
The shortest telegram sent was by Oscar Wilde, while living in Paris, to his publisher in Britain, enquiring on progress with a book he had written. His telegram read:
to which the publisher replied:
You can have a lot of fun with Social Media, and deliver memorable messages, evoking the curiosity in your readers, and inspiring them to action.
Both Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle apparently sent very similar telegrams to a number of prominent men, all of whom hurriedly packed their bags and left town immediately.
Their mischievous message?
FLEE AT ONCE — ALL IS DISCOVERED
Twitter places a limit of 140 characters on messages you can send. When composing your tweets, imagine you were required to pay $1 per character. What messages would you tweet?
P.S. If you really want to experience the nostalgia of the telegram (or for those born pre-1980’s experience the telegram for the first time) you can send one via the internet! Yes, it is true!
Check it out and send a telegram to your clients. It will be unique and memorable because chances are they will not have received a telegram in years if ever at all.
You can send an authentic looking telegram at Telegram Stop.