How To Not Abuse Your Twitter Followers

Anytime someone expresses an opinion about how others ought to do something, they risk coming off as an insensitive, egotistical jerk. I hope I can diffuse that problem in this post while allowing us to discuss the issues at hand. Your patience is gold to me, friends. I hope this whole thing doesn’t come off as cranky. I’m shooting for helpful, mostly, and angry only where it really needs the teeth.

I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to Twitter. I use Twitter a lot. I’m coming up quickly on my 7000th tweet on my personal Twitter account, and I’m often annoyed by Twitter almost as much as I’m delighted by it. Because of that, I’ve built my own little list of personal rules over time, and I’d like to share those rules with you now.

My four rules: Favorite Freely, Don’t Retweet, Go Private Quickly, and Don’t Use Me.

  • Favorite Freely. When you see a tweet you like, take the time to thank the author by marking it as a favorite. You don’t have to be too reserved with what you mark. Think of a favorite like a laugh or a pat on the back. Freely given, but never forced. That will dictate how many you should give. Thanks to Twitter’s built-in individual favorites pages (here’s mine), and 3rd-party services like Tweeteorites, favorites are meaningful, first-class citizens of the Twitter world and not a silent afterthought.
  • Don’t Retweet. Controversy! I hold this rule for three reasons:
    1. I’m following you for your tweets, not the tweets of your friends. If I wanted to read theirs, I’d follow them. It’s not offensive, it’s how the system works. Please don’t break the system.
    2. If it’s a “social justice / I have to spread the word” kind of thing, you can always take what they say, put it in your own words, and post that to Twitter with “via” attribution. Easy, and much nicer. Doing less than that feels lazy and abusive of your followers’ attention.
    3. If I want to see the tweets you really like, I’ll just subscribe to your favorites. No need to force me to see them by broadcasting them.
  • Go Private Quickly. If you’re publicly conversing with someone, tweeting back and forth repeatedly, consider taking the conversation private if it adds little or no value to those who follow both of you. It gets spammy really quick if you’re exchanging details about something that isn’t likely to be helpful or interesting to other people. That’s lazy and inconsiderate. So, one reply? No problem. Five? Way too many.
  • Don’t Use Me. This is the Golden Rule of Twitter. Don’t consider me and your other followers to be part of a force that you can bend and manipulate to increase your respect, fame, and fortune. I follow you because I’m interested in what you have to say, not because I want to make you rich or fulfill some ego-centric dream you have. If you’re going to sell me something, it had better be a rarity and it had better be a sincere endorsement of something you personally and deeply love. The more you push your money-making, notoriety-making schemes on me, the closer you get to becoming a… well, I won’t use the word here. It’s distasteful, and this is a family show. In short: be a person. If you have something to sell, open another account for that. If people don’t follow that account, take a hint.

If you have additional rules that don’t seem to be addressed here, add them in the comments, or feel free to agree or disagree with me there.

Happy tweeting!

7 Comments

  1. Posted July 26, 2009 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    I can’t believe no one has commented on this. I couldn’t agree more with your points.

    Some of the issues with Twitter I’m starting to think are tooling issues and not issues with Twitter itself. Like retweets. Why can’t my client of choice filter them out if I was privy to the original? For me, that would make them way less annoying.

    My only other desire would be another level of marking a tweet. Something like a star in Gmail or ‘Like’ in Facebook/FriendFeed/etc. Then I could see everything my friends liked and I could keep favorites for myself. Right now I use favorites as a “read later” marker on my iPhone for when I get back to my computer.

  2. Posted July 26, 2009 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    Also, forgot to mention: I like when people who follow me have lots of RT in their most recent tweets when I check them out to determine if I want to follow back. Makes it really easy to decide that the answer is ‘not likely.’

  3. Posted August 4, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    *chirp*

  4. Posted August 4, 2009 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    *sigh*

  5. Posted September 12, 2009 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t comment on this way back when you posted it because I thought your retweet policy was dumb. Who are you to tell me not to retweet, you big jerk? I didn’t want to get into it at the time, so I left it alone.

    But as I thought about it, I realized you were right. If what I want to retweet something it’s because there’s valuable content there, but in almost every case I need to recontextualize that content. You likely aren’t following the person who posted it, so I need to explain it a bit. I need to put it in my own words. Since I read this post I’ve been doing that and my number of retweets has gone way down, though I’m still spreading the word about just as much stuff. But hopefully with more value.

    If it’s valuable content you should be able to find a way to put it in your own words, not just parrot what someone else said.

    But then I was a little dismayed to read about Twitter’s efforts to standardize retweets. Basically they want to enable it so that if I retweet something from a person you’re not following, that person’s tweet will still show up in your timeline as if the person you don’t know tweeted it. How weird is that? There will be a small notation that the person you followed retweeted it, but it will be as small as the current ‘from web,’ ‘from HootSuite,’ etc. notes are now. And who notices those?

    Seems dumb to me. The value in a retweet was that the person I know found value in the content. I don’t care about the stranger.

  6. Posted September 12, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    For me, re-tweets are for thanking/citing the person who sent me the item. Also, they get to look at their replies and see where their meme is spreading. That’s cool.

    I regularly find new and interesting feeds by following re-tweets back to the source.

  7. Posted May 31, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    It might be worth noting that since Twitter redesigned the way retweets work I’ve changed my mind about retweets, and no longer find them nearly as offensive.

    I especially like the fact that if I don’t like your retweets, I can silence them and only see your original content.