Twitter etiquette: the rules
07. Apr, 2010
Twitter is one of those great inventions we all wish we’d thought of. What could be more effective yet beautifully simple than text-based posts limited to 140 characters? When I first signed up to Twitter in July 2009, I was probably amongst a majority of people who thought ‘What’s the big idea?’
But within days of sussing the ins and outs of how everything worked, it became hugely apparent that Twitter was a very powerful force in its own right. It gives us the ability to chat and ‘tweet’ to thousands of other people, whether that’s to talk about the weather or use it for more meaningful exchanges.
In terms of business, Twitter is invaluable. A cost-effective marketing tool, it helps to drive traffic to your own website; establish key relationships with potential customers and network with other freelancers and firms. It brings a huge amount of information to your fingertips and there are no limits to its capabilities.
The thing I love about Twitter the most is that it came along at just the right time. A brewing global economic crisis coupled with the rise of the ‘Y’ or ‘Net’ Generation, meant Twitter became the perfect playground for the new business world.
Of course, the Y-Generation grew up with the Internet and therefore demand a much more transparent and collaborative business playing field - one that puts sharing and mutual support at the heart of its ethos.
Twitter feeds this generation’s need. It allows businesses to share ideas, network and collaborate. People can ask each other questions. They can learn from each other. It’s an honest and new business landscape where the growing attitude is that there is ‘plenty of work to go around’. This particularly applies within the creative industries where two heads can be better than one and where creativity can flourish and grow.
And that’s my other point. Twitter leads to big ideas. It can create the start of something big. Take Creative Boom – a small idea that was inspired by Twitter and now nine months later has spread across 26 websites.
Then there’s the benefit to home workers – the creative freelancers who work from home. Twitter has destroyed that feeling of isolation one gets with homeworking. Twitter also helps these sole proprietors to bounce ideas off one another. It supports the growth of business all round.
Astonishingly, it does all of the above in just 140 characters per tweet. I’m not sure even Twitter’s creators could ever anticipate its success.
What’s even more fascinating, but only inevitable, is that humans have developed an entire culture and set of values for Twitter. There's a whole new society in the Twittersphere and with that comes all the usual human behaviour. Some would argue there's a class system, bringing with it a certain snobbery amongst some users.
So if you’re new to Twitter, or you’d like to brush up on your tweeting skills, we suggest the following Twitter etiquette rules. These unwritten guidelines will help you to avoid making any faux-pas and ensure your ‘Twittequette’ is spot on.
Don’t just lurk
So you’ve signed up for an account, you haven’t yet tweeted anything but you’re hoping people will follow? If you don’t have anything interesting to say, how can you expect people to notice you? Start getting active on Twitter and engage with people.
Short and Sweet
Twitter allows you to post tweets that are no more than 140 characters long. It aims to keep things simple. Try to keep your tweets that way. Keep things clear and concise. Equally, don’t overuse the @ reply function. Get your message across without waffling.
Watch what you Tweet
Everyone can see what you tweet, including your boss, work colleagues, family and friends. And once it’s put out there – it’s there forever. So be careful about what you post or you could lose friends, fall out with your family or even lose your job.
Don’t go overboard
If you’re tweeting all the time, people will just get turned off and stop following you. You wouldn’t constantly talk at a party or social occasion, not giving anyone else a chance to have their say, so why do it on Twitter? Try to listen to what others are saying as well and go for quality rather than quantity.
Follow Me, Follow You
Don’t go mad and follow everyone you possibly can. Try to keep a balance between the number of those you follow and the number of followers you have. If you follow 1,000 people but only have 50 followers, people might think you’re a ‘spam bot’ and will therefore avoid you like the plague.
Accept the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Twitter is a public social network, so it’s inevitable that people will say whatever they like, whenever they like. Accept that not everyone will like you or your tweets and you will receive some negativity from time to time. You can not control Twitter in this respect, just like you can not control people.
Spring cleaning can be good
Every now and again – go through the people you follow and review whether they are useful or interesting to you. It does no harm to stop following people. People will not take it personally.
Don’t be selfish
Tweeting constantly about yourself and your business is just going to alienate your followers. If anything, it looks like spam and can come across as selfish. Tweet about others and use the RT or Retweet function liberally. Help others to grow their businesses and raise their profiles. Twitter supports the new business world of sharing and collaboration, so keep that in mind when tweeting.
Use opportunities like #FollowFriday to be generous to your followers and those you are keen to connect with. It’s an effective way of suggesting interesting Twitterers to others while gaining you brownie points in the Twittersphere.
Don’t Drink and Tweet
Twitter is so easily accessible, it’s no wonder many of us have tweeted when under the influence of alcohol. Not a great idea. Particularly as you’re tweeting to the world and your tweets could get embarrassing.
Keep certain things private
DMs or Direct Messages are perfect to retain a little discretion on Twitter. They’re great for those more personal tweets, ones that you’d rather the entire world didn’t see.
What’s rude in real life is rude on Twitter
Passive-aggressiveness has no place in the real world and the same applies on Twitter. Rude, sarcastic or underhanded tweets should be avoided at all costs. If you’ve got a problem with someone, don’t whinge about it on Twitter. If someone has a problem with you, block them and move on with your life.
Ignore the snobbery
This fascinating sub-culture has its own society and class system, meaning there are some real snobs lurking out there. Accept that some people will stop following you if they think your tweets aren’t ‘good enough’. Ignore the snobbery – it’s nothing to take personally.
Being vague is wise
If you’re going to a party, it’s best not to tweet about its time, location and dress code. Equally, be careful about revealing your location too often on Twitter. Twitter is public and that means everyone can see. We’re not saying the implications could be sinister. We’re just saying ‘be careful what you tweet’.
Celebrities are not your friends
Never address celebrities you are following as though they’re your personal friend. You might think Simon Pegg or Nick Frost are your best buddies because you started following their careers in the early days of Spaced many moons ago. That doesn’t mean they’ll know or care about you. Don’t be deluded. And the same applies with Bill Bailey or Stephen Fry.
Symbols, Smiles and Kisses
Not everyone will appreciate a kiss or smiley face at the end of each tweet, while others would expect no less. Think of the context and the person you are tweeting to. Make yourself a Twitter chameleon and adopt your tweets accordingly.
Corporate Stuff and Nonsense
Leave your suit and tie at home. Twitter emulates the new business world. One that is completely transforming before our eyes thanks to the Net Generation – a generation of people who have grown up with the Internet and demand transparency, fun and openness with everything they do. If you try to be all corporate and ‘professional’ in the traditional sense, you’ll just come across as stuffy, dull and old-fashioned. Show your personality, have fun and engage. Keep things professional only in the sense of respecting others and following these etiquette rules.