As a regular tweeter, I’m always wondering how people view my tweets. Communicating in 140 characters is quite a thing, and I’m not sure I always get it right. Here are my top suggestions for things to avoid, based on how my approach has changed over time. (I’ve broken nearly all of them.)
(Updated with four brand new tips on 23 Jan 2012.)
1. Retweeting compliments
Behaviour: Retweeting everyone who says something nice about you.
The problem: I’ve chosen to follow you, so I already think you’re interesting.
2. Retweeting your own FFs
Behaviour: Retweeting someone who mentions you as a Follow Friday.
The problem: I already follow you.
3. Knee-jerk tweets
Behaviour: Posting a grumpy tweet whenever something bad happens.
The problem: Things go wrong. Often it’s not anyone’s fault. Chances are a real human being will be monitoring and responding to that company’s Twitter mentions – don’t make their life any harder than it already is.
4. Rudeness when unfollowing
Behaviour: Unnecessarily rude comments when you choose to unfollow people.
The problem: It suggests I might be next to get the chop.
5. Negative tweets about people
Behaviour: Posting rude tweets about people you encounter in real life.
The problem: It suggests you might say the same thing about me.
6. Multiple-user Follow Fridays
Behaviour: Posting a #ff full of nothing but Twitter handles.
The problem: Without knowing them, I’m not sure why I should follow these people. Much better to post a couple of separate tweets recommending one or two people, with some context as to why I should follow them.
7. Identical tweeting from corporate and personal accounts
Behaviour: Posting the same tweet from both your business and personal accounts, without changing the wording.
The problem: Posting the same message to both accounts results in duplicate tweets for people who follow both. A better approach would be to post the corporate message on your corporate account, and retweet it on your personal one using Twitter’s retweet button. This way, personal followers interested in the product can discover and follow the corporate account from the retweet.
Behaviour: Repeatedly asking people to vote for you in a web poll.
The problem: It suggests that you’re only interested in your followers for their votes, especially if repeated over several days.
Behaviour: Constant re-promotion of the same product or event.
The problem: Rather than re-promoting a product or event, it’s better to find a new way to continue my interest, such as an editorial blog post, a constructive review, or an insight into its creation.
10. Unconnected tweets from a corporate account
Behaviour: Posting unconnected business tweets from a corporate account with a particular purpose.
The problem: I’ve followed a particular corporate account to find out about a certain event or product. If the corporate account is clearly marked as being related to that event or product, I’m not necessarily going to be interested in other unconnected things.
11. I’m at X
Behaviour: Constant public tweets from an automated location service, telling everyone where you are.
The problem: This kind of automated tweeting becomes a bit annoying when it happens too frequently.
12. I just ran X
Behaviour: A public tweet from an automated exercise tracking service, telling everyone about the exercise you just did.
The problem: You end up inadvertently spamming people’s timelines with adverts for ExerciseTracker.
13. Personal conversations
Behaviour: Using Twitter as an instant messaging system.
The problem: If I follow @VeggieTrouble and @MeatToEat, I see their personal conversations in my timeline.
Don’t forget that everything you post on Twitter is public, including @-replies. And any @-reply you post is included in the timeline of anyone who follows both yourself and the person you’ve replied to. If your public conversation would be better continued in private, consider switching medium (perhaps to direct messages, an instant messenger system, or email) to avoid an extended or semi-private conversation appearing in many people’s timelines.
You can also use my Twitter @-reply tool, Who Will See It?, to find out whose timelines your conversation will appear in.
14. Linkless tweets
Behaviour: Talking about something interesting without actually linking to it.
The problem: Half of the fun of Twitter is sharing interesting things with like-minded followers. Shortened links to online resources only need 16 characters or so, so include a link wherever possible. We want to share the fun too.
15. Link-only tweets
Behaviour: Posting a link on your public timeline without saying what it links to.
The problem: I’m not sure whether this link is safe to click on at work. Give me some context, and I’m far more likely to click on it.
Behaviour: Starting tweets with the word “Interesting”.
The problem: Does that mean some of the things you post aren’t interesting? Also, cats speaking Italian! I’m already sold!
17. Mysterious behaviour
Behaviour: Posting mysterious or deliberately teasing tweets, without following up by saying what’s going on.
The problem: No-one likes being teased unnecessarily. Tell us what you’re up to (we’re interested!), or wait until you can.
18. Single-word tweets
Behaviour: Posting a single-word tweet.
The problem: There’s rarely a point to single word tweets. If all you’re saying is “Driving” or “Cooking”, it might not be worth saying it. If you’re being mysterious (“Ouch”, “Yikes” or “Wow”), then likewise maybe don’t bother, unless you’ve just given some context in a previous tweet. There are valid exceptions – such as posting “Home” after tweeting a particularly arduous journey – but generally, if you only have one word to say, don’t say it.
19. Hashtag overload
Behaviour: Adding hashtags of words already in the tweet.
The problem: Hashtags work best when used to abbreviate a long event name, or when used to tag your tweet with an agreed phrase for that event. This makes it possible to collate all tweets for that event in a search, and may lead to that event’s hashtag trending. They don’t work so well if you’re the only person using that hashtag. In any case, inline phrases (e.g. “Gregg”) will trend in their own right without you needing to tag them. A better approach would be to use the primary hashtag inline, e.g. “Watching #std with my friends – that Gregg is well lush!”.
20. First world problems
Behaviour: Grumbling about an unimportant problem in your first world life.
The problem: Unfortunately, nobody cares if my iPad 2 Smart Cover is a bit flappy.
Behaviour: Tweeting too frequently.
The problem: If you tweet very frequently, you can end up swamping your followers’ timelines with too many posts in quick succession.
There are exceptions to this rule, such as live-blogging an unfolding event, when the posting of many tweets in a short time can be appropriate for a subset of your followers. If you’re live-blogging, try and tag each tweet with a consistent agreed hashtag for the event; many Twitter clients allow users to mute specific hashtags, enabling people to filter out non-relevant live-blogging without the need to unfollow.
22. Retweet blitzes
Behaviour: Retweeting too many tweets in a short period of time.
The problem: As with Being noisy above, retweeting a lot of tweets in a short period of time imposes on your followers’ timelines. It also assumes that they are as interested in the retweeted subject as you are.
23. Tweeting a blog post
Behaviour: Posting many tweets on one subject in quick succession, when a blog post would be a more appropriate way of capturing your thoughts.
The problem: Tweets are great for communicating quick thoughts on a subject, especially if these thoughts lend themselves to a retweet. Tweets are transient, however, which means those thoughts don’t stick around for future Googlers to find and learn from. Tweets also don’t suit more detailed thoughts and observations, due to their 140-character length. If you find yourself posting four or five tweets on the same point, it might be more effective to capture your thoughts in a blog post and tweet a link to it instead.
24. Over-long tweets
Behaviour: using services such as TwitLonger to write tweets longer than 140 characters.
The problem: TwitLonger’s tagline – ‘For when you talk too much for Twitter’ – should be a clue here. As with Tweeting a blog post above, it’s good to choose the right medium for what you want to say; if it’s longer than 140 characters, it’s probably not a tweet. Instead, consider signing up for a free Tumblr account, writing a blog post, and posting a link to it on Twitter.
These are my top 24 – are there any I’ve missed?
With thanks to Alyson Fielding for additional thoughts and comments.