Friday, June 20, 2008

10 Twitter Etiquette Rules

Long since anointed by the media (over the past year) as the NBT (next big thing), Twitter has a bunch of local customs that people new to it need to learn.

I've started compiling some etiquette and best practices for using Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters. Most ideas come from other sources, to which I will give due credit. Most of these tips are most appropriate for people new to Twitter. (Apologies is any or most of the tips seem familiar to people who have used Twitter for a long time (i.e., several months).
  1. Remember, Twitter is a conversation. When responding to other tweets, try to give context by mentioning the subject or question you're responding to; that makes it easier for your followers, saving them from having to go back to the beginning of the thread to figure things out.
  2. Ask questions; don't just pontificate.
  3. What part of 140 chars do you not understand? (Thanks to jyarmis).
  4. Discretion: Some things are better left unsaid. So avoid stream-of-consciousness-blogging via Twitter. Check out this article about what happened when a tweet backfired.
  5. Transparency is vital -- just as with any other social media.
  6. Consider quality vs. quantity. (I am going to look at what makes for a useful tweet in the next few weeks.)
  7. Many users provide links to interesting articles, information, etc. Guy Kawasaki does this many times a day.
  8. Use proper grammar. Check out Mignon Fogerty, the host of the Grammar Girl blog/podcast who tackles proper grammar usage on the popular micro-blogging site. Her tips are available at"Grammar Girl's Strunk & Twite: An Unofficial Twitter Style Guide," and include:
    1. "Don't start posts with 'I am.' You're answering the question, 'What are you doing?' It's OK to answer with fragments in a conversation."
    2. "Use proper capitalization. Typing in lowercase doesn't save characters; it's just lazy." I totally support this tip.
    3. "Don't use abbreviations such as 4U and L8...Shorthand symbols such as >, =, &, and @ are allowed."
      1. For an interesting look at the impact of Twitter, IM , SMS and texting may have on language, check out the Boston Globe's "Is language dead or evolving? Some see the use of shorthand and abbreviated text as the beginning of the end. But studies say students know the difference between formal writing and instant messaging."
    4. "Use numerals, not words, for all numbers."
    5. "If you can't say it in 140 characters, reevaluate whether you should be posting it at Twitter."
    6. "Provide links and context whenever possible. Remember that many of your followers can't see what you are responding to."
  9. If people follow you, it's polite to "follow" them back. However, because of that, be careful about adding too many people at one time -- that's the Twitter version of spamming. People will think you're trying to sell/hype something rather than start a conversation.
  10. It's really about conversation. When I tweeted about writing a blog on etiquette, I got a lot of response. But be careful contacting someone you don't know -- like in real life, you could be seen as butting into someone else's conversation. If they don't know you, they may not respond. (A better way to initiate a conversation would be to comment on that person's blog. That assumes, of course, that the person has a blog.)
    1. In fact, according to jljohansen in a tweet written after my first draft of this article, he said, "First rule of Twitter is 'Don't be creepy' after that, Right and Wrong are dependent on social contract of your friends/follows.
    2. To which Nedra said, "Sadly, the creepy people don't realize they're being creepy."
    3. See, how the conversation idea works?
Check out some other articles: Twitter + Etiquette = Twitterquette?, Twitter Fan Wiki, and "The 10 rules of Twitter (and how I break every one)" by Robert Scoble.

Of course, there may be a rule that I've just broken, according to a comment on Scoble's blog, Scobleizer: Don’t blog about how you use Twitter.

Here are a couple of other good how-to Twitter articles: "Twitter for Beginners"; Ten ways market your blog on Twitter without being a spammer; and "The Art and Science of Retweeting for Twitteraholics."


Malayna said...

Great post Norman. I am new to Twitter and have wondered about the etiquette so I appreciate this. I do have a question: some of my clients are on Twitter but I am not sure if it is appropriate to follow them since I don't know if some people keep their conversation to a small, well known group. Any advice would be appreciated. (Don't want to be "creepy"). Thanks!

Norman Birnbach said...

Thanks, Malayna, and great question. On the one hand, anyone who uses Twitter and doesn't opt "Protect my updates," has to expect that anyone can "listen in" to their conversation. On the other hand, we all have work friends and outside friends, and we may not want the two groups to overlap. Probably makes sense to ask your client before "following" them, especially since they'll know when you selected to follow them.

Anyone else have comments?

Jonathan L. Yarmis said...

If you *don't* follow your clients, competitors, partners, friends, interesting people, etc, etc, you're missing the power of Twitter. In fact, don't just follow them, "track" them, so you get immediate notification every time they post something.

Norman, let me add that at some point the notion of following everyone who follows you breaks down. As I get more followers, were I to follow them I wouldn't be able to fully participate in the discussion. I'm almost at a zero-sum game: to add someone, I have to drop someone off the bottom of the queue. There is such a thing as too many follows.

Norman Birnbach said...

Two very interesting points. I think you're right about the need to follow clients, competitors, etc. Just remember that they may not use Twitter for business, but to communicate with friends. In that case, obey the "Don't be creepy" rule, and don't refer to things that don't relate to your business.

Also, I've been wondering how many people one can follow before being overwhelmed. I plan to look at that question for a future blog. Thanks!