I’ve been on Twitter for just over two years now and, while I couldn’t recommend the service enough this time last year, recently I’ve begun to find it becoming a bit stale. In fact, I’ve become a bit of a ‘selfish’ user: whereas before I would vigorously read through my entire timeline on a regular basis, I find myself less enthusiastic about doing so, only posting my thoughts and responding to tweets I receive about them. I’m making fewer friends through the service, opportunities to develop myself are becoming scarcer and generally just find it a tad boring these days.This may be down to the fact that I’ve just become used to the service, but it’s also down to some observations I’ve made about other users: some people just don’t seem to know how to use Twitter properly.
By following these tips, you can help the site remain a friendly, useful and fun place.
1. Talk to other people, not just the ones you know. It’s all well and good following and chatting with your pals on Twitter, but why bother when you can contact them via phone, instant messenger or Facebook instead? It also gets boring when you see the same old names pop up in your mentions stream time and time again, commenting on every single tweet you make. Give your timeline some variety by adding a greater range of people to it: follow friends of friends, see who’s tweeting what about trending topics and look up people relevant to your interests on one of many Twitter directory services. Hell, even follow people in a field you don’t think interests you: variety is the spice of life after all and you may be pleasantly surprised.
2. Make a good profile biography and image. Your picture and short description of yourself are usually the first thing potential followers will see, so it’s wise to make both as interesting as possible in order to gain that valuable click on your ‘follow’ button. With only 160 characters, it’s not difficult to come up with a good one: state your hobbies, favourite films, bands, TV shows, locations, what makes you laugh, cry, your pets: put anything you think will give across your personality as succinctly as possible. As for your image, it’s preferable to upload a photo of yourself, but cartoon avatars and the ilk are fine too. Hell, upload anything other than the default Twitter image: failing to do so gives across the idea that you’re lazy. If someone comes across your profile and sees a blank bio and default image, there’s nothing to distinguish you from the countless other soulless profiles littering the service.
3. Don’t tweet without responding to your mentions. It’s good to contribute your thoughts and feelings to the ether, but it goes both ways: you need to listen and talk to others if you want the same to happen for you. You don’t have to respond to every mention you get, but if you consistently ignore someone over and over again, it’s only a matter of time before they give up and unfollow you. It’s understandable for celebrities and people with large follower counts purely because of the amount of tweets they must receive, but there has been the odd person with follower counts similar to mine that didn’t respond to anything I tweeted to them. It’s irritating, insulting and likely to result in you losing a follower. With no-one to listen to you, you may as well be shouting your thoughts to an empty room. What’s the point in following someone if it doesn’t benefit you in any way?Institute a ‘three strikes and you’re unfollowed’ rule to new people you’re following and give up completely if you receive a response asking ‘who are you?’ or saying ‘I don’t know you’: people that respond with this have missed the point of the service completely.
And don’t post one-word responses. Those are just annoying.
4. Don’t be afraid to follow people. The entire point of Twitter is to get to know more people and the first step in doing so is to follow others, so if someone has piqued your interest with their bio (and perhaps their pic), don’t feel intimidated by them: give them a follow and see how it goes. At best you’ve made a new friend and at worst you can always unfollow them later on.
5. Follow a good mix of tweeters. It’s fine to follow your favourite celebrities and inspirational figures, but don’t forget to follow regular folk as well: just because they’re not famous doesn’t mean their tweets won’t be any less eye-opening or profound. In fact, you may find them more inspirational than any well-known figure’s can ever be. Subscribe to a range of people, organisations, news sites, comedy sites (such as the chuckle-inducing Big Ben Clock and simply brilliant Sexy Executive feeds) and also JEDWARD, if you dare…
6. Don’t be afraid to comment on other peoples’ tweets. Twitter thrives on sparking up conversation between others, so if someone posts a tweet that you have a say on, type it up and send it their way. You have an infinitely greater chance of sparking up a conversation about something than if you didn’t. It also adds to your all-important tweet count.
7. Don’t use your feed solely to advertise your wares. It’s all well and good to follow the streams of your favourite news sites and organisations, but when it comes to following an individual, people want to feel like they’re following exactly that: a person. It’s fine to post achievements and articles of work you’re proud of, but it’s easy for your followers to get fed up when they’re the only thing you post. If you perpetually submit link after link after link, you become no better than those aggravating spambots. Insert a little heart, heart and soul into your tweets every so often to remind your followers that you’re human too.
8. Don’t unfollow someone just because you don’t agree with them. If someone posts something you don’t agree with, don’t immediately remove them from your feed: call them out and challenge them on it. Alongside discussion, Twitter also thrives on debate. I have a regular political sparring partner on my feed and the points and rebuttals he sends me opens my eyes to how others feel about the world around them and of points and issues I may not have noticed before, as I hope mine do for him. Only apply this step to a reasonable degree, though: if someone posts something hateful, abusive or inflammatory, they more than likely deserve a lower follower count as a result.
9. Don’t sign up to a million auto-tweet services. I don’t mind seeing the occasional tweet about which musical artists you listened to the most that week, but when I see constant updates about which games you’re playing, which films you’re renting/watching, which public location you’re currently in and so on, I seriously decide whether to keep following the offending tweeter or not. Only sign up to services you really care about and choose when to post tweets yourself to stop your feed from becoming a spamalanche.
10. Don’t enter every bloody Twitter competition you can. Speaking of spamalanches, there’s a relatively recent phenomenon that’s been rearing its ugly head more frequently these days: the ‘RT and follow’ competition. Twitter’s a fantastic medium in which to hold a competition and give away prizes, but whenever I see that phrase contained within a tweet, I immediately disregard it. It’s a cheap, lazy and under-handed way to artificially inflate follower numbers and on the rare occasion that I partake in such a competition, I make sure to unfollow the organisers as soon as it’s over on matter of principle. Such competitions also regularly result in a flood of spam that I’m not interested in reading. If I see a feed that contains excessive amounts of these kinds of tweets, it usually results in an instant unfollow.
Twitter is a social network, one designed to propagate and develop personal and professional relationships between people, but some just don’t seem realise that, instead tweeting blindly and not making the most of using the service properly. If users remembered these guidelines, it would be a much better place to inhabit.
Addendum 1 – 5th May 2011: After publishing this, I’ve noticed a few more annoying things people do on Twitter and so added a couple more points to this list.
11. Don’t follow someone and expect them to immediately follow you back. Twitter is not about following massive amounts of people and expecting to gain a huge number of followers in return: it’s about connecting with people on a personal level and forming meaningful bonds and connections with them. You’re not doing this if you follow someone purely to get your follower numbers up. This practice, known as ‘follow-boosting’, is not only highly-irritating, but it rarely works in your favour. Your vast following counter may be a deterrent to people following you back: if you’re following 30,000+ people, they might feel that you’ll never even see their tweets, let alone read them. Fair enough, unfollow someone if you never really spoke to them or lost interest them, but don’t do so purely on the fact that they didn’t follow you back because you followed them. Gain their trust and friendship and they’ll follow you back in due course. Remember, you’re under no obligation to follow anybody on Twitter, so don’t feel pressured into doing so. The loss of a follower that never spoke to them after a few days won’t mean much to them at all. If you follow then unfollow me after a short period of time, you can rest assured that I won’t be using your business/visiting your website or recommending your services to anyone.
And don’t be one of those people that constantly follows and unfollows the same person over and over again: if you do so, you are the height of annoying.
12. Don’t spam your feed with overused memes, Twitter games and old news. It’s good to hop onto Twitter and spot a tweet about an interesting news story or a funny joke you may not have heard before, but there’s nothing more exasperating than logging onto the service only to find everybody saying the exact same thing. The days where my feed was filled with posts consisting of ‘WINNING’, rubbish about the royal wedding and ‘Osama’s dead’ were ones I could seriously have done without. Think about it: if you hear about a news story that’s relevant to the entire world, someone will have likely already broken the story and everybody will already know: do you really need to play follow the leader and tweet the exact same thing.
As for forum games, they can be fun, but only in small amounts. Post a couple of contributions, but don’t go overboard: people will get sick of the flood of tweets you’re posting and ignore them. You’re supposed to tweeting only your funniest submissions, not going through entire scripts of movies or whatever looking to see if your changes make sense or not. Keep forum games fun, not spammy.
Addendum 2 – 12th June 2012: A few more things to keep in mind to stop being annoying on Twitter.
13. Don’t ReTweet every single thing you like. Twitter is all about sharing. I get that and it’s one of the reasons I love the service. But it pays to be judicial in what you share. If you ReTweet every so often, it’s more likely that someone will read what you feel others should know about. If it’s all you do, though, the chance that someone will even look at said tweets is diluted with every RT. It’s alright if you’re a Twitter feed dedicated to a specific niche, but if you’re making an individual account that you want people to read and connect with, you have to be exactly that: an individual.
Also don’t ReTweet loads and loads of tweets from the same user. It’s totally spammy and utterly annoying. George Michael recently shared his take on a tabloid scandal he was swept up in a few years, which meant that, due to the nature of Twitter, he sent dozens of tweets explaining his story. Now, the correct thing to do in this situation is to ReTweet the post that was most interesting that contained the most salient points of his argument. That way, if someone reads the RT and is interested, they can explore his feed by themselves.
Of course, this didn’t happen: one ‘helpful’ Twitter user decided to ReTweet each and every single post he made. As a result, my stream was filled with tweets from one person, something I really don’t like seeing from anybody, let alone a celebrity.
In order to reclaim my feed, I unfollowed the culprit. I’ve also seen people ReTweet post after post from their alternate accounts. Don’t post these tweets wholesale: if I wanted to know what another feed was saying, I would follow it.
Be considerate with what you ReTweet: what you might think might be interesting, another person won’t. Let them decide for themselves and don’t force your spam upon them. You wouldn’t want someone to do the same to you, would you?
Also don’t ReTweet every single bit of praise you get: it makes you come across as arrogant and big-headed. You wouldn’t go up to someone in the street and tell them that so-and-so said you were an amazing person. And don’t ReTweet your #FFs. The resulting username spam is likely to put me off following you.
14. Vary your tweets: don’t just focus on one thing and one thing only. It’s fine to be passionate about something: I find it admirable when people find a cause they can believe it. What I don’t like is when people talk about that one thing constantly. I’m a huge fan of Star Trek, Doctor Who and James Bond and I like talking about it on Twitter, but it’s not the only thing I talk about: I share other things I like, moments on my life and join in on discussions and debates on a whole range of subjects. I’ve followed a fair few accounts that focus on nothing, but one thing. One person seemed liked an interesting person to follow, until I realised that they only thing they posted was strong pro-feminist propaganda. I’m not saying I’m against this kind of thing – in fact, I’m an avid supporter of rights for every kind of person myself – but when it’s the only thing you tweet about, it gets tiresome quickly.
When you focus on one subject and only talk about a single thing, it might make you a master of your chosen field, but it also makes you seem like a rather boring individual as well. It also makes you come across as a bit of a loony as well: you wouldn’t want to approach someone who was ranting and raving about something in the street, would you?
By all means, share what you feel is worth sharing, but moderate how often you do it. You want to keep followers and get your message across, not alienate them with rabid fanaticism.
15. Actually know what you’re talking about when you claim to be an expert on something. This one isn’t as prevalent as the others, but it’s still a pain when it pops up. There are numerous accounts on Twitter that offer interesting facts, but be wary about which ones you follow: they may not actually have any idea what they’re talking about.
My case in point for this one is ‘Injustice Facts‘. Claiming that it’s an ‘open, circulating, database of facts that deal with the injustices which plague our world’, instead it focuses on mindless tweets about entertainment, advertising and a whole range of other irrelevant ‘issues’. Yes, it comes up with the occasional genuinely horrible fact, but the majority of the time, it comes up with a load of rubbish.
It once made a post about the large prison population of America, disregarding the fact that, you know, they might have deserved to be locked up. It started spouting how many kids in the U.S. were obese but that candy companies were still allowed to promote their products to them. That’s not an injustice: that’s bad parenting. Even today it posted that ‘32% of human beings suffer from some kind of TV addiction, yet networks continue to encourage producers to make addictive shows.’ You know, the entire goal that programme creators are working towards to become a success. Their success is completely irrelevant to these peoples’ addictions.
By far the most heinous claim it made however, was something along the lines that ‘Christians were the least likely to help others in need’ or some rubbish like that. I’m not religious, but this was utterly offensive: would they have gotten away if they’d replaced the word ‘Christian’ with ‘Muslim’, ‘Sikh’, etc.? A large number of users and myself asked for the source and references to such a claim, but never received any. They posted it, so it must be true, right? The people that run that would do well to learn and memorise the meaning of the word ‘injustice‘.
The moral of the story? Don’t claim to be an expert on something and then bluff your way through your tweets with unverifiable facts and figures: you’ll only come across as a blithering fool whose advice and opinion people won’t take seriously.
Addendum 3 – 14th June 2012:
16. Don’t send unsolicited tweets and then respond rudely to any responses you get. Unsolicited tweets can be a good thing: there have been numerous times when an unexpected tweet has been extremely beneficial. I once got sent a free book by 63336 – a company I ended up working for shortly after- when I tweeted my disappointment at them not finding an answer to a question I asked – and just the other day, the Xbox Support Team contacted me after I had tweeted that my console had suffered the dreaded RRoD. These are examples of stellar customer service, where the customer doesn’t have to seek out the company in order to get their problem solved: the company seeks out the customer. Hell, even just looking up a certain keyword and contributing to a conversation can net you some new followers and friends.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the vast majority of unexpected tweets tend to be spam. Whether it’s just completely random spam tweet advertising an obviously malicious link or a URL to a subject with some tenuous link to something you’ve posted before – I got sent one about some African diving holiday or something after sharing my review for a spearfishing simulator – this type of tweet only serves to annoy users and clutter up their timelines.
So I wasn’t too surprised to find my opinion on Prometheus, which I had seen earlier that night, had been replied to by someone solely requesting me to follow a couple of accounts with no context whatsoever. What did surprise me, though, was the way it was worded: it wasn’t your identikit, auto-generated spam greeting: this seemed like it was written by an actual person. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and clicked through to find out just who these people were, only to be met by accounts that had no biographies, no location, no tweets and eggs as their avatars (see #2).
Wondering why this person was asking and expecting me to follow two inactive accounts, I simply tweeted the word ‘why?’ A decent question nicely asked, don’t you agree?
Being spammy, I wasn’t expecting an answer and so I went to bed. I woke up in the morning to find this response:
‘u did not have to replay because I was just saying would u mind so it does not really matter’
There’s a few reasons why this is a terrible response, other than the terrible spelling and grammar: 1. They didn’t answer my question and tell me who these people are and why I should follow them. 2. The way they’ve worded the tweet makes it obvious that they don’t actually care about my curiosity and concerns. 3 They’re telling me not to respond to people and engage them in conversation. Isn’t that, you know, the entire point of Twitter?
When sending out tweets to users that aren’t expecting them, make sure that you’re friendly, informative and helpful. You’re bothering them, so take the time to minimise the hassle you’re causing. Talking to them like they’re scum, as in the case above, will only cause them to be alienated, find you an annoyance and mark you as someone to definitely avoid following and interacting with in the future. You wouldn’t give someone a flyer in the street and then dismiss them when ask you for further details, would you? Who knows, maybe if they’d been a bit nicer, they would have gained a follower. Since they didn’t, they’ve lost me forever.