Yep, it’s one of those posts — where a singular crank goes off about his pet peeves about how others abuse one of his favorite social media platforms. I realize this is probably bound to be just another entry into the Great Unheeded Canon of Twitter Etiquette, and that the typical reaction to the following list probably will be “Geez, uptight much?” or “Y’know, pal, the nice thing about Twitter is that there are no rules” but really … these 10 practices aren’t really rules. They’re an anecdotal accumulation of some of the most surefire ways to get ignored, unfollowed or blocked on Twitter. Hey, feel free to ignore them if you like, but if you’re interested in making your Twitter feed more interesting (and therefore more relevant and credible), you might want to hold up a minute before clicking the back button on your browser.
These are in no particular order, and for heaven’s sake, it’s not a complete list by any means. I only had a half-hour to post this blog entry, after all.
Regardless, you can:
1. Post a Tweet suggesting people check out something at your site without giving sufficient context as to why people should take the time to check it out. Bad Tweeters often implore followers to ”check out my new blog post!” … without any description about what the blog post is about. This sends a clear signal that you don’t have much interest in using Twitter to engage and add value to your online social network — you’re just using it as a drive-by promotional tool to drum up traffic and pageviews in hopes of lining your pockets. It’s doubly ignorable if you can’t even muster a link to the page to which you’re trying to drive traffic.
2. Proclaim yourself a social media guru or maven. Hey, I love Malcolm Gladwell. He’s a wonderful writer and one of the most provocative and innovative thinkers of our day. But he is responsible for the introduction of the word “maven” into the modern vernacular, a black mark on an otherwise spectacular resume. Though I’m sure if he knew how every other attention-hunting busybody / cheerleader / marketer with a smartphone or a laptop would grab ahold of his term in their ongoing heroic efforts to enhance their personal brand, he might’ve come up with something a little less flattering. Thing is, no one really knows what these self-styled social media mavens and gurus really do … well, except market themselves as social media mavens and gurus, that is. Having the audacity to call yourself a “maven” or “guru” when dealing with such a dynamic, diffuse, ever-evolving environment such as social media is, in itself, worthy of being ignored. These pariahs tend to poach others’ tweets, ideas, and phrases and pass them off as their own, too, so I block them immediately if I ever run across them. Too harsh? Maybe. But experience tells me very little good comes out of letting a guru or a maven into your Twitter world.
3. Post to public hashes where you, or you and a few of your buddies are going for lunch / dinner / drinks / snacks / entertainment. The biggest knock on Twitter I hear from those who don’t use it is that they don’t have the time to read what someone’s having to eat. This example is almost always the first one out of the chute to illustrate the meaninglessness of tweeting. My first instinct is to defend Twitter — that the “what I’m having for lunch” jab is just a variant of the cynical gripes about everyone blogging about the weather or updating their Facebook statuses about how great it is that today is Friday. But constant tweeting and hashing about what you and a couple of other Twitter friends are doing — even if it’s in an effort to show how nifty it is that Twitter can help connect people in “real life” — does tend to reinforce the stereotype that the platform is full of self-involved people with extremely dull lives. More importantly, it also makes for a feed that is easy to ignore for the 95 percent of tweeters reading the public hash who aren’t in of your close group of friends.
4. Link up your Twitter account with Foursquare, so you can constantly inform the public where on Earth you are at any given moment. This might sound like a good idea in theory. But sending automated Foursquare updates through Twitter gives off the impression that you’re either (A) too lazy to manage your account manually; (B) too busy to be bothered with; or (C) too impersonal to engage, but of the opinion that you’re important enough that others would care about where you are and what you’re doing all the time. Besides, getting that 20 percent off coupon by being the mayor of the local coffee house isn’t much of a tradeoff if your home gets burglarized while you’re out.
5. Affix hashtags to your tweets when they’re not relevant to that hashtag. Tweeters who struggle to produce interesting content tend to struggle to gain followers, so they often add unrelated hashtags to their tweets. This, they surmise, increases their visibility and, in turn, helps them gain followers. Problem is, this really doesn’t work — at least not long-term. Pretty quickly, your tweets are just seen by hashtag followers as feed-clogging, easily-ignorable chunks of off-topic spam. You get extra lightning-quick unfollowed if you try to use a popular hashtag as a way to sell something, or get people to vote in online polls. Most people who over-hash their tweets often hide behind the notion that hashtag etiquette is “still emerging.” That’s bunk. Treat hashtags like public online message boards, and act accordingly.
6. Implore others to follow a friend’s new (yet empty) Twitter feed. I can hear you now: “You’re actually saying that we shouldn’t suggest to others who to follow?” Of course that’s not what I’m saying. This is what I’m saying: It’s all a matter of timing. If you direct me to someone’s freshly-minted, barren Twitter feed before they’ve had a chance to post anything of substance, you’re wasting my time and I’m going to resent you for that and question your judgment in the future. If you wait until they consistently tweet something of quality and then direct me there, I’m going to like you for that and trust your judgment in the future. See how that works?
7. Drink and tweet. Reading Twitter after midnight is like trying to crawl through a mile of barbed-wire fence. All the hallmarks of tweeting under the influence are on full display — duplicates, incompletes, run-ons, one-word tweets, the increased potential for profanity or sexual innuendo, and so on. If the No. 1 rule of Twitter is “You never look as cool or funny as you think your tweets make you look,” then imagine what that’s like when you add booze to the equation. It’s just a bad idea.
8. Have a lengthy private conversation with one of your followers, in full view of your other followers. This is where Twitter’s “one-to-many” communication model differs from the “one-to-one” discussion model of Facebook, and therefore unfortunately invites all sorts of abuse when it comes to lengthy conversations. If you have 500 followers and your feed is full of esoteric, pointed, or inside-joke responses to one person in steady succession, think about how the other 499 followers must be feeling as they experience your tweets. They might put up with it for a while, especially if they know and like the both of you, and maybe if you’re gorgeous or famous. But it’s mostly inconsiderate. If you have trouble with this one, maybe invent a rule of thumb that if a running conversation with someone goes more than three or four responses, suggest the conversation go to Direct Message. Then feel free to chat away in the private, one-to-one mode. Your other followers will be thankful.
9. Maintain numerous accounts with the purpose of promoting your product / business / club and regularly cross-Retweet with them. This is just a form of Astroturfing. As such, it’s shady, desperate and, 99 percent of the time, an irritating combination of the two. This practice is similar to No. 6 in that it wastes other Tweeters’ time, yes, but it also erodes one’s credibility very quickly.
10. Overshare, constantly. Like No. 3, you can help reinforce the suspicion that your Twitter feed is worth ignoring by supplying a constant stream of micro-updates about the ennui that is your life. Double-bonus Unfollow Points if you drift well into TMI terrain. I know, I know — Twitter is inherently narcissistic, so some of these tweets are to be expected. But unless you’re mixing some news, insight and value in there with your updates about your used bandage collection or what kind of smell your laundry basket seems to take on at the end of the week, don’t expect to be relevant or gaining legions of new followers.
A lot of these deal with trust, which is the one true currency in online social platforms. If followers can trust you to consistently post quality, stay on topic, practice moderation, and not share every last drop of personal minutiae in your tired attempt at irony, then they will most likely accept you as a legitimate Tweeter. That means they’ll perpetuate your tweets and your links and help you expand your brand — corporate, institutional or personal, it doesn’t matter. If they can’t, expect to see your followers stagnate or drop. Or be filled with spambots, natch.