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The Thoughtful User Guide

Writing My Twitter Etiquette Article: 14 Ways to Use Twitter Politely

Every form of communication deserves an etiquette manual, if only so we can treat our fellows better, even in 140-character bites.

Credit: MALLIX

As it turns out, you are one fascinating SOB, and people need to know what you’re doing. You can almost feel the yearning. What are you doing? The ache is palpable.

Now, you already have a phone, an email account, a blog—but what about the moments too small to blog? (Snacking on pretzels.) Too insignificant to email? (The twisty kind of pretzels.) They’re happening every second! How can you share the moments between the moments worthy of note? Enter Twitter.

Bless you, Twitter.

Technically, this isn’t an article about the things Twitter does, it’s an article about the ways in which you can accidentally annoy people with Twitter. Should you choose to avoid Twitter, that’s fine. Enjoy your coffee. Ours is cold now because we were photographing the latté art to share with all our friends, but you can drink yours in solitude.

People use Twitter to do and say any number of things. Want to send email-productivity tips in 140 characters or less? Great. Want to set up a special account so you can twitter as a character from Gossip Girl? Done.

With the usual exceptions, people on Twitter tend to fall into two main camps. There are responders, who use Twitter as a channel to interact heavily with other users, and broadcasters, who use it primarily as a micro-blogging platform.

These groups don’t necessarily get along. Responders will tell you that broadcasters are condescending talking heads who think they’re too good for the community. Broadcasters wish responders would take their nonsensical patter to a chat room, where they could natter on in privacy. Everyone agrees that members of the other group are total jackasses who don’t know how to use Twitter.

Now, say you want to figure out who’s who, so you’ll know how to best engage with the people who read your posts.

Well, responders usually follow the people who follow them—excepting spoof or spam accounts. They have streams filled with @ commands, which let them talk to other folks in their circle.

People in this group may be confused if you fail to follow them when they’re following you, or offended if they send you a direct message (DM) and don’t receive a response.

On the other hand, broadcasters often follow fewer people than follow them, sometimes far fewer. They don’t necessarily feel the need to respond to @ notes or DMs. So you begin to see the potential for collision.

Whether you’re a broadcaster, responder, or newbie, if you’d like to be a better citizen on Twitter, here are a few guidelines to help you navigate:

1. Watch your ratio.

If only a few people follow you, but you follow a thousand or more, many people will assume you’re a spammer. That’s because you probably are. Go away, spammer. We do not care about your Facebook app.

2. Think twice before twittering in an altered state.

One drunk tweet might be amusing. Unfortunately, when you’re drunk or high, Twitter is like a can of Pringles. You don’t want to break the seal.

One drunk tweet leads to 20 poorly spelled missives on one amazing house party. If you think texting your ex is embarrassing the next morning, try texting all of them.

3. Consider pausing between tweets.

Twittering 30-plus times an hour pushes other people’s messages off followers’ homepages, and sends mobiles into convulsive twit-fits (to say nothing of excessive SMS charges). If you have a lot to say, but still want to engage with followers without alienating them, consider making more liberal use of DMs.

Also, don’t you occasionally need to use the restroom? Please don’t take your phone in there. Thanks.

4. Keep small conversations private.

If you’re deciding what movie to see with your girlfriend, no one else needs to receive those updates. Hitting @ becomes reflexive after a while, but DMs are a better option in these scenarios.

5. Accept that some people will use lots of @s.

If you’re getting a lot of nonsensical @ messages because you don’t follow the same group of users, either subscribe to the people being mentioned so you can follow the thread, or turn @ messages off. And then stop complaining.

6. Be vague when twittering private social events.

The host may not want her sensitive extended circle to know about the handful of folks she invited for birthday drinks. Let them see it on Flickr.

7. Remember everyone can hear you.

This may seem rudimentary, but Twitter is a public medium, just like a blog. Eventually, your mom’s gonna read it. To say nothing of your employer and your parole officer.

If it could get you fired, be used against you in court, or impede your ability to get laid, be-still your typing thumbs.

8. What’s rude in life is rude on Twitter.

Passive-aggressive tweets are never as inscrutable as the sender thinks. When you’re being mean, even covertly, eventually everyone figures out the target. And then they start firing the arrows back your way.

9. Don’t compound an accident.

If you accidentally twitter a message that was intended to be a direct text, there’s no need to send a follow-up apology if the mistake is obvious.

10. Try to keep within the character limit.

Twitter is best suited to messages that stay within its 140-character limit. Otherwise, users have to scroll back and track your name through multiple posts. That’s not such a big deal if you do it occasionally, but it can become galling if you make it a habit.

11. DMs don’t necessarily require a response.

You don’t have to answer every time someone contacts you directly, especially if it’s a stranger. However, there’s a greater social price for ignoring a DM if your crew is mostly responders.

12. Leave when you want.

If you want to stop following someone, stop. There’s no need to send a breakup note. Unless you’re having Twitter sex.

Wait. Do people have Twitter sex? Yeah, of course they do. Direct messages (from a secret Twitter account) are an ingenious way to communicate with slightly creepy, but intriguing, one-night-stands. Besides, what dedicated Twitter user remembers their own cell number?

13. Plug moderately.

Lots of people ignore this guideline, but if you’re almost exclusively using Twitter to plug your blog posts, events, or products, or to ask people to vote for one of your projects on Digg, you’ll lose some followers.

The exception is if you’ve set up an account named after your product or service, which sets a different expectation among subscribers.

14. Answer your own questions.

All tweets are prompted by the question “What are you doing?” Many people don’t answer the question, and others are religious about it.

Does it irritate people if you don’t answer the question? Sometimes. Should those people take a deep breath? Possibly.

That’s it, you can return to your mobile devices now. People are wondering what you’re doing.