The Mores of Twitter: Do’s and Don’ts
Some folks enjoy spending their day on Facebook, seeking out the latest photographic evidence of childbearing friends or a maturing high school sweetheart, and yet others spend their time on LinkedIn looking for that ever elusive next job. I, myself, am a Twitter user to such an extent that most clients designed to service the medium annoy me precipitously with their limitations. If you don’t know what that last sentence means I think you have a lot to learn from this article. Twitter is a broadcast medium, designed to provide a 140 character-limited soapbox with a, nearly, barrier-free way to reach around the world if your message is well tailored, relevant and clever enough. It provides you a way to find conversations on almost any subject and join them, or simply eavesdrop, without it being rude. It allows you to inform yourself in real-time on nearly every major news event and it will do so with greater efficacy than multi-million dollar news productions can. It can be whatever you make of it. But like so many new media outlets it has a bit of a learning curve. For instance, what in the world does “RT” or “MT” mean? How did that person send me a message so quickly so enthusiastically praising their own blog!? Why are all these pretty, scantily-clad women all of a sudden sending me messages randomly? Am I really that cool? (Spoiler alert: No.) This is my attempt to pass on what knowledge I have scrounged up on the subject after about 4 years of borderline obsessive Twitter activity and 52,712 tweets. Now 52, 713.
Things you can do, but shouldn’t be proud of…
- #TeamFollowback: FOLLOWBACK OMGGG!!! There is a method for obtaining large numbers of followers called the “followback” method. The followback method is simple: follow the hashtag #TeamFollowback and follow everyone there, who will in turn “follow back” and therefore contribute to your follower count and make you look like you’re awesome. Sounds great, right? Wrong. Followback is easy and cheap, but the relevancy of your follower base is completely useless. Most of the people using this method tweet overwhelmingly about following back, and will annoyingly tweet people to remind them they haven’t followed back, and many of which will do this without hardly ever actually tweeting content. This method is also wholly apparent to anyone that takes the time to wonder where your followers came from, as you start to realize after seeing “followback” in every, single followers Bio.
- TrueTwit validation service: This is a service allowing you to block all new followers until they have responded to an auto-direct message (see Auto-DM) proving that they are human. Great idea, right!? Not so much. This feature does nothing more than simply protecting your tweets, a service provided by Twitter itself in a far more effective way, but does so in a way that is mildly humiliating your new followers (“I am so totally human dude, hope you allow me the follow you!”) before they have even followed your first tweet. If you want a barrier to protect you from spam, then protect your Twitter account through twitter or simply monitor your interactions tab, don’t spam your new followers Direct Message box with a request to prove they are a human being.
- @FFHelper: Follow Friday is kind of a Twitter tradition. The IDEA of this tradition is to promote those people whom you follow that you truly value and believe others should know of. The REALITY of this is a devolution into a series of tweets on Friday’s (and, annoyingly, other days as well. “#FOLLOWSATURDAY” God, just stop) filled with meaningless lists of usernames that encourage no one to take any action whatsoever, aside from possibly blocking or unfollowing you for borderline spamming the timeline (TL) of your followers. Follow Friday Helper (@ffhelper) is a service that will ruin #FollowFriday (aka #FF) for you and everyone around you by spamming the timeline of your users with meaningless lists of people you follow without you even having to care enough to do it yourself. This, ironically, is a great way to advertise how little you actually care about the people you follow. Don’t do it.
- Beg for RT’s: If people like your content they will Retweet it, do not barrage people with messages and ask to be retweeted. If you aren’t being retweeted, work on the quality of your tweets and a more relevant follower base to the subjects you are tweeting on. Only exception to this rule is asking for help in supporting a good cause, such as raising money for cancer research. In that case ask people to RT all you want, it is for a good cause after all.
Things you DON’T do on Twitter:
- Modify the substance of a Tweet without noting the change: (See: Attribute Tweets Appropriately under Do’s) This is perhaps my largest pet peeve on Twitter. Using RT before a message with my username is the same as attributing a quote to me, if you attribute your own words to someone else you damage the brand of your follow Twitter users. This is the same, fundamentally and morally, as creating an account pretending to be someone else for whatever reason without noting it as a parody or a fake. Your credibility is all you have on Twitter, it is your word, and if you tear apart someone else’s words without notifying those you are broadcasting too you are a liar, plain and simple. Important note: this only applies, in my rulebook, when you have altered or changed a word or the substance of the message, but not when you have truncated a word or even part of the tweet as that maintains the substance of the tweet. You know very well when you have done one or the other. Attribute content properly.
- RT Your Friends, Don’t Steal Tweets: We’ve all seen it, or suspected it. You Tweet a breaking news story, or some fascinating and obscure link, and all of a sudden a long time follower of yours posts the EXACT same link and perhaps even the same text. We live in a world of unclear content ownership and sharing rules, but this one is very clear ethically: Give your friends the RT and give them credit. Twitter is about lifting up those who provide us the best information or content, and an important part of that is giving them the promotion of associating that content with them. Taking their content without credit, as said above, makes you a bad person. So don’t do it.
- Auto-DM: The automatic Direct Message is the message you receive imploring you, in a sincerely worded but impossibly responsive timeframe, to “follow me on my blog” or “be my friend on Facebook” or “check out the enormous melons on my farm website!” When someone follows you they are interested in following your tweets, nothing more, and shamelessly promoting your personal brand in an unsolicited way is spam on Twitter just like anywhere else. Don’t do it.
- Spl ot wrds gd dmt: Can you read that? Well, it’s still a bastardization of the English language. Writing well on Twitter is no different than it is on paper or Microsoft Word, and requires you to, at the very least, try to spell out your content in full, plain English. Use correct spelling and punctuation where ever possible, if you can’t perhaps make it a two tweet message or learn the meaning of the word “brevity.” If you simply can’t spell I suggest a spell checker or an English class. The quality of your content speaks to your own sense of self worth, don’t let people know how little you think of yourself by attributing mutilated English to your own intellectual abilities.
- Spam, or acting like Spam: Spammers generally have formulaic, enticing account bio’s, will follow you en masse, and Tweet you with messages like “ha ha look at what this person is saying about you! linktovirusanddeadcomputer.com” Some are so poorly programmed that they simply mention your name and send you a link. If you click on these links you are swimming in the unfortunate end of the gene pool, sorry to inform you. If you emulate these methods, especially by sending mentions or DM’s to people without the courtesy of even a brief message and simply provide a lone unsolicited link, you are highly likely and deservedly going to be blocked and reported as Spam. Don’t do this.
- Judge Another Users Choice of Language: America is a free country, and Twitter was made in America. People are free to make their own decisions, whether they are good or bad decisions, and your moral obligations to the F word have absolutely no bearing nor limiting effects on that liberty. Sorry to inform you. If you are appalled by the alternative descriptive noun for feces, or the more offensive form of the word copulation, then I suggest you not follow people who curse like a drunken Irish sailor. Ok, I don’t sail, but you get the point.
- Pay for Followers: This is the Twitter equivalent of prostitution. It wrecks the medium, gives you completely irrelevant ghost account followers, and often times comes with serious downsides like auto-tweets to your timeline or even viruses and account hacking. Don’t do it.
- LOUD NOISES!!@$#@#!@$: Don’t tweet in all caps. It makes you look like a screaming, raving lunatic and raises peoples blood pressure leading, possibly, to the death of an elderly person. Inside voices, Brick Tamlind.
- Don’t Do Social, Be Social: The height of irony is to join a social media platform and continue your anti-social behavior by never saying hello or asking how a fellow tweep is doing. Sure, you do not know most of these people (if you are doing it right, anyway), but that should not keep you from forming a relationship beyond the selfish interests of promoting your content or clever wit. Reach out to those tweeting around you, be vulnerable on occasion and ask advice, show your followers you are there for more than yourself. It is a community like any other, contribute accordingly.
- Have a profile image and a Bio: This is one thing that is often overlooked by most of the newer members of the Twitter community, and is effectively the same as coming to a party with a bag on your head. Your profile image and bio represent your brand on Twitter, and is often the first thing besides a tweet that anyone will see of you; don’t make the mistake of informing people you are too lazy to give a golly about who you are and what you represent. Having a bio that clarifies what you like to share and read about often helps ingratiate yourself to your desired audience and will, without question, lead to more followers. Be up front, be honest, and be yourself. People dig that kind of thing.
- FollowFriday the right way: If you are going to follow the #FollowFriday tradition do NOT simply send out lists of users in hopes people will find that enticing enough to take that all important action of actually following those people. Spoiler alert: No one cares about that list of users you just Tweeted unless you do and show it. If you want to promote people do so with a kind message relevant to the content they tweet and include no more than one or two people in that promotion. This is a complete pain, I know, so if you don’t care enough to do it that is fine. But if you want people to know you value them, show you value them, even if Follow Friday barely ever produces actual results for those you wish to promote.
- Attribute Tweets Properly: Know these: RT = ReTweet: I have copied this tweet from this person and changed it in no substantive way. MT = Modified Tweet: I have copied this Tweet but may have changed the substance or wording in some small or large way. H/T = Hat Tip, this means you found the content, usually a link, due to the user you’re mentioning and want to give them attribution, but they have little to do with your actual message. Attributing content is incredibly important and the rules are simple: don’t attribute content to people that they didn’t create, and do attribute content to people who deserve the credit. Twitter is about building audiences based on the quality of your content, if you take that content and don’t attribute it appropriately than you, in no small way, destroy the very foundation of the medium. So, in short, give credit where credit is due and ONLY when it is due.
- Use #Hashtags: Anyone that knows me well enough to know my personal Twitter account knows that I am an aficionado of the #hashtag. Hashtags do many things, they create shared and followable conversations or communities, can be fun games, or can be used to follow live events with other users. For instance there are a slew of hashtags used to denote political affiliation or to reach groups of a political persuasion, such as #p2 (progressive) and #tcot (top conservatives on twitter), and can help you reach out to groups both large and small and grow your audience in relevant ways. Seek out hashtags relevant to your personal and professional interests and follow them or, alternatively, when you are watching a live event look for a designated hashtag and follow along with the rest of the peanut gallery. Hashtag games are great ways to get your name out there and are usually snark laden hashtags responding to an event or personal failing of a person or group of prominence, get into it and have some fun and you will build your audience.
- Show New Users Love: New users are now where you used to be: that is, they have no followers nor idea what they are doing here. Show them some love, give them advice where needed, and promote them if you like their content. This falls under the Golden Rule of tweet others as you would be tweeted.
- Twitter Clients: Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Seesmic are long time Twitter clients that many power users utilize for management of large follower numbers. You are able to lay out a number of streams, for instance mentions, search streams or DMs, and monitor them without having to click back and forth between pages…ahem Twitter.com. Tip: If you can, get your hands on an older Adobe Air based version of Tweetdeck as this is the finest management tool in use today, the newer version of Tweetdeck is reviewed here and is far less functional.
- Utilize Lists: Lists are a brilliant way to organize large rivers of incoming data, i.e. the messages of the 3,000 people you follow, into digestible, well-organized streams formed in whatever way you’d like to organize them. Personally, I maintain a “favorites” list of followers I want to be sure I hear from as a lot can be missed with 4,000 plus people feeding your main stream. But I also have a list for local users in Atlanta, Tech tweeters, political tweeps, etc. This will help you continue to enjoy Twitter past that 1,000th person you choose to follow.
- Twitter Retweet versus the Old Style RT: Twitter doesn’t like the old style Retweet format, not quite sure why, but they have been trying to design it into non-existence for some time. Their iPad app won’t even show you if your content is Retweeted in the “official” way at all. Thanks Twitter. But to break it down: you have the old style RT which is occasionally referred to as “quote tweet,” or Retweet with Comment, which is traditionally someone else’s tweet with their username and RT preceeding it, and you have the “official” Twitter API Retweet which simply passes the tweet you like along to your followers. Wherever possible you should use the old style RT (learn the difference here) and here is why: When someone uses the “official” Twitter RT they do not receive credit for passing that information along if that tweet is then Retweeted by someone else, the only credit is given to the creator of the content. Old style RT attaches your username to the Tweet, while maintaining credit for the author, which then allows people who pass along the content further to promote your username along with it. Few people will admit this is a goal, but self promotion is half the point of the medium so let’s not kid ourselves.
- Take advantage of live events: Political speeches and debates, breaking news stories, election nights, TV show premiers, or your upcoming convention all share a high level of energy around shared interests you have with others. Shared interests means ample opportunity for new followers, and the high energy surrounding these event often induces people to get a wee bit follow happy. So jump in, find the hashtag, and take part in the excitement. You’ll have more fun than you might imagine, trust me.
- If at all possible, become remarkably famous: When your album sells a million copies your Twitter account is going to be huge. There are many reasons for following this advice, unless you are an ornery hermit, but this is the easy way to get your followers up. This doesn’t mean you are worth listening to, ahem Kim Kardashian, but it will contribute positively to your follower count, self-esteem, message reach, and is far more of an aphrodisiac than a high follower count.
- Anonymity: You may want to maintain some level of anonymity on Twitter for numerous reasons. For instance, I’ve already dealt with a Canadian stalker intent on distributing my home address to people he had angered intentionally, but you may also be looking for a job, afraid of blowback when your employer finds out you are a flaming liberal, or perhaps want to curse profoundly on occasion without affecting your personal brand. For some people this will not be a concern, professionals specifically, but for those of you here to have more fun be careful: Twitter is well search optimized on Google and there are crazy people everywhere.
- Be a good person, not a Troll: Don’t bully people, don’t trash people for no reason, and don’t contribute sheer negativity to the Twittersphere. These people are called Trolls and are rightly blocked. Behave in this community like it is your neighborhood: don’t trash it and don’t burn down the neighbors house.
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