Forget distinguishing the salad fork from the dinner fork. Today's lessons in etiquette are all about looking good on social media. And Twitter, as the microblogging platform of choice for more than 200 million users, is one of the most influential platforms.
Twitter is all about sharing your thoughts and interests, and if you're lucky you will be rewarded with a host of followers who actually want to listen. But if you're violating the unspoken rules that govern content, user interactions and posting frequency, you may be driving followers away.
What else should the well-behaved Twitter user know? Tell us in the comments.
Even if your Twitter account is private, the web has a sneaky way of spreading unsavory information to the public. Treat your Twitter posts as though your parents, grandparents and bosses were reading. Meaning, keep the profanity to a minimum, be thoughtful and respectful of other users, and rein in your netspeak and abbreviations ("LOL" is fine — "omg jus chkd out th3 n3w Hmeland ep its kool" is infuriating).
Consider the Golden Rule and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Share things that would be of interest if you came across them in your own feed. Thought-provoking articles, websites, photographs and personal insights are excellent resources. If you're sharing an article, video or blog post, be sure to include a shortlink to the original. Don't spread unverified or false information — that's how Twitter feuds begin.
Here are a few more tips to keep in mind:
Oversharing: There is nothing worse than a feed composed of mundane tweets like "Driving home from work now" or "Just had a grapefruit for breakfast, yum!" Steer clear of tweeting about the minutiae of your day-to-day life. Keep the details of your bodily functions and bedroom escapades to yourself as well. Remember, your mom might be reading.
Spoilers: Do you really want to be the one who ruins the Breaking Bad finale for your friends? Even though Twitter is inevitably littered with spoilers, don't be the jerk who posts them.
Self-promotion: Twitter is a social networking tool — a certain amount of shameless self-promotion is to be expected. However, you'll get unfollowed faster than you can say "Check out my blog" if your feed is nothing but links to your own work. Engaging with other users and sharing material that doesn't belong to you is as integral to the experience as the self-adulation. For every link of your own that you share, balance it out with two or three posts that engage with other users or share someone else's content.
Sales pitches: Twitter is a personal sphere, not a boardroom for business meetings and sales pitches. If you want to get in touch with someone about a business opportunity, contact him or her by email. If the email address isn't public and she doesn't follow you on Twitter, she's probably not interested in whatever you're selling.
Sharing opinions: Your followers want to know who you are and what interests you, so feel free to share your opinions, but be respectful. Don't stir up unnecessary drama. If you're addressing a controversial topic, consider these questions before posting:
Do I have a constructive, well-informed opinion that would add value to this conversation?
Are there others who are more qualified to comment on this?
Will my opinion make a difference?
Have I been actively working to promote or protest this issue in real life?
Am I willing to accept the consequences of potentially upsetting friends, followers or employers?
Hashtagging: Hashtags can add voice and humor to a post or tether your tweet to a larger conversation, but don't go overboard. A tweet composed solely of hashtags is an eyesore, and it makes you look like a spammer. Stick to three hashtags or less. (For more hashtag tips, check out "The Beginner's Guide to the Hashtag".)
Twitter wars: Sure, the Jimmy Kimmel/Kanye West Twitter feud was funny, but you're not a celebrity — you can't get away with half of what Kanye does. The person who starts a pointless Twitter war never looks good.
PWI (Posting While Intoxicated): Trust us, nobody cares how many shots you've imbibed, and you don't write like Ernest Hemingway when you're drunk.
This can be a bit subjective. Some people can tweet often and do it well; others just don't have much to say. Save your posts for truly interesting content, and be humble enough to recognize that not every thought is worth preserving for posterity.
On the other hand, not tweeting at all, or tweeting less than once per week, will make some users think twice about following you. Stay somewhere in the area between "lurker" and "spammer." A good rule of thumb is to aim for four to five posts per day if you're a novice — and if you don't feel comfortable tweeting that often, less is definitely better.
If you're going to be live-tweeting or posting more than average for a period of time, alert your followers beforehand.
Following and Followers
You are under no obligation to follow every person who follows you. In fact, following people blindly makes you look like a robot. Who you choose to follow on Twitter makes a powerful statement about your interests and your influence, so make every follow count. Are you a breaking news junkie? Obsessed with celebrities? A major foodie? For your own sake, don't dilute your feed with tweets that don't interest you.
However, if one of your followers is a real-life friend or colleague, it's a major snub if you don't follow him back. If you really aren't interested in what he has to say but politeness dictates you must follow him, create a private Twitter list and leave him out of it.
On the flip side, don't get angry if someone you follow doesn't follow you back. C'est la vie.
The worst offense is the "Twitter one-night stand" — following someone and then unfollowing her the minute she follows you back. It's an underhanded way to gain followers and it's just plain rude. And under no circumstances should you announce when you've decided to unfollow someone — or publicly shame someone for unfollowing you.
On Twitter, you get to interact with people you may never meet in real life. Don't be shy about tweeting at people you find interesting, including celebrities, friends of friends, users who share your interests, and potential colleagues or collaborators. But don't expect an answer every single time. Some users might not check their @Connect tab frequently, or they receive too many tweets to respond to every single one (this is especially true of celebs). If someone isn't responding, don't spam him.
Interact with users who reach out to you. While you're not obligated to respond to everybody, you will seem aloof if you never respond — especially if someone asks you a direct question. And be respectful. If a user reaches out to you via DM, chances are she's discussing something she wants to keep private, so don't respond publicly.
A new Twitter feature lets you decide how accessible you want to be via Direct Message. You can now choose to allow any Twitter user to DM you, instead of just users you are already following. But the rules of DM interactions remain the same. Don't spam someone just because you can.
Sometimes you'll want to share another user's clever tweet. That's fine. Stealing it is not. Passing off another user's content as your own may not be illegal, but it's still a form of plagiarism and it will net you major bad karma.
There are two ways to retweet. By clicking "Retweet" on a post you can share it, as is, with your followers. If you want to add commentary, manually retweet it. Include "RT," the poster's handle and his original tweet after adding your own insight. You can also use "via," followed by the poster's handle, if you've modified the content of the post, or give a H/T (hat tip) to a user who pointed you in the direction of something interesting.
Finally, Twitter is all about sharing your personality, so most users are averse to automatically-generated or scheduled tweets. Sending an automatic Direct Message to new followers that says something like, "Thanks for following me! Please check out my website!" is also considered spammy and in very poor taste. The Internet is extremely wary of bots (with good reason), so don't make yourself seem like one.
What Twitter etiquette do you live by? Do you wish Twitter instituted some rules? Share your own tips in the comments below.