While its text capacity may be tiny, Twitter is the giant when it comes to social media and networking. With millions of users (and tens of millions of accounts) Twitter has become a social playground, an advertiser’s dream, a political tool – and an etiquette nightmare. Despite the plethora of poor examples, using Twitter in a polite and positive fashion is really very simple. By keeping a few key tips in mind, you can avoid the vast majority of the Twitter faux pas, and keep merrily Tweeting along.
Provide Content or at least Context
Twitter is not the place for “Me too!” or “I agree” types of posts. Such posts not only provide little to no information to the casual observer or the person you’re responding to, but it is also often difficult to discern exactly which of the earlier posts was being responded to.
If you must add your agreement-only echo post in a Twitter, at least take the time to give it a frame of reference. “I agree, I dislike it when…” or “RE: talking during movies – I hate that too!”
Take a Breath
While I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that says you should keep your daily (or hourly) Twitter posts under a certain particular number, do use some restraint about rapidly posting Tweet after Tweet after Tweet.
If someone rapid-fire posts twenty news articles in a row, it seems highly unlikely to me, as a reader, that they’ve really completely read, considered, and found each of those twenty articles to be of sufficient import to pass along to the general public. Doing so “spams” your audience’s Twitter screen, and the truly important things you want to share get lost in a field of links. Take a moment to pick out a couple of the most important things you want to share, and either discard or save the others for a little later. Your readers will thank you, and your message will come across more coherently.
As well, resist the temptation to use auto-tweet bots. These programs (which pick up on random uses of certain words or phrases and respond back with an automated message) are offensive, annoying and ineffective. They’re unlikely to get you the response or attention you want, and are a quick signal to “block” by most Twitter users.
Twitter is the internet equivalent of standing at your front door and hollering out into the virtual neighborhood. It’s a great way to share information, but a lousy forum for ongoing conversations, especially with one other person. If you’re having a lengthy back and forth conversation with one other person, consider taking it to DM (Direct Message) rather than subjecting everyone else to your debate.
Examine your Content
Think about the information you’re sharing about yourself and others. Like many social networking mediums, Twitter gives the illusion of being a part of a community. But because it takes no real verification of identity to form an account, you could be being followed by almost anyone – exes, bosses, FBI agents, stalkers – unless you personally know (and have confirmed the identity of) everyone on your followers list, you just don’t know who’s reading every word you Tweet.
As well, that handy-dandy search window makes it easy for bosses, co-workers, spouses and children, members of religious groups, neighbors or nosey people of any sort to track down any references made to a certain topic. Cross reference that with your user name, and your “subtle” references to sexual indiscretions, “4:20 breaks” or sleeping on the job may well end up in front of exactly those eyes you would prefer to hide it from.
It also really facilitates things for stalkers or other ne’er do wells, so you may not want to mention things that let others track your activities too closely. Last June, a Twitter user made international news when his home was burgled – and he claimed that it was one of his online followers who perpetrated the crime.
Examine Your Content – Part II
It’s not just the personal or private nature of content that you should consider when deciding what to Tweet. Take a moment to fact check before passing along rumors or links that seem scandalous or inflammatory. Snopes.com is a great site for checking on the veracity of internet “facts” before passing them along.
As well, think about the original content you create and promote through Twitter. If you’re using Twitter exclusively for tooting your own virtual horn, trying to gather more followers, or herding people to another site purely for the sake of click-ranching, you’re likely going to drive your followers crazy – if not drive them away altogether.
ReTweet (RT) Thoughtfully
Not every Tweet you encounter needs to be passed along to all of your readers. Firstly, there’s a decent chance that many of your followers are parts of the same Twitter-circles, and they may have seen the original post already. Even if they haven’t, consider whether what you’re thinking about RTing is something that’s truly worth passing along, before sending it.
As well, if you are going to RT a message, take a look at the end-source of any links you pass along, to be sure that you’re not sending folks to something offensive, incorrect or to a dead-end site (because of a broken URL link) before passing it along.
As well, if you’ve shortened a message to allow you to RT it, be sure you haven’t significantly changed the meaning or tone of the original post. While most Twitter users realize that a RT is not always a direct quote, if something is significant enough to pass it along, it’s important enough to be sure you’re retaining the original meaning of the message.
Twittering is, essentially, a public conversation. You have no control over who sees it, or where it’s passed along or recorded after it’s posted. Even if you go back and delete an account or a post, there’s no incidental evidence to support the fact that it may not completely disappear, but instead may be visible for a length of time through various Twitter search functions.
I’m not going to tell you that you can’t discuss your bodily functions, sexual antics, personal business dealings, criminal acts or other topics on Twitter. Only you can make that call.
But, especially if you use Twitter in any fashion related to your professional life, or if you have jobs, relationships, family members, or social positions which could be affected by the things you’re posting, remember that it’s not just your close friends who may be reading your posts. It’s also your potential clients, current or prospective employers, and co-workers. Not to mention your mother-in-law, beautician, kids’ teacher, and the nosey lady down the street.
Have questions about how to handle a geeky situation? Need advice on social etiquette relating to games, movies, fan groups, conventions or other geek-ful settings? Write us at OneGeek@jesshartley.com and your question may get answered in one of our future “One Geek to Another” columns!