To tweet or not to tweet: thoughts on Twitter etiquette

With every new medium comes changes in the way we communicate and new social norms for behavior. I’ve written before about how technology changes the way we write. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the norms for Twitter.

How much is too much Tweeting?

My tweeting patterns vary dramatically based on what’s going on. Some days I can have a dozen tweets and other days I’ll have none. I try to tweet only what’s interesting, but that’s highly subjective. I typically don’t retweet @Techmeme, @Techcrunch or @CNNbrk — not because I don’t respect the work, but because many people who follow me already follow them and I don’t need to add to the echo chamber unless I’m adding unique value.

I tweet less frequently than I’d like because I know Twitter doesn’t offer followers any tools for filtering tweets. Filtering based on location or topic would increase how much I contribute to Twitter, plus allow me to follow more people. (See my earlier post on improving Facebook filtering; much of that would apply to Twitter.)

How much self promotion is OK?

In a way, every tweet is a bit of self promotion. What I’m referring to here is explicit promotion of blog posts or companies you have an interest in. I refuse to follow people whose feeds consist entirely of promotions for their blog. Tacking on “also see” to every tweet is also over my line.

When Gerry Campbell asked about this earlier, I half-jokingly said that if your good friends stop following you, you’ve crossed the line. (It would be nice if Twitter showed a “recently departed” followers list.) If half or fewer of your tweets are self promotion, that’s probably OK.

How do you edit retweets?

With only 140 characters, spreading memes can be tough. If I’m retweeting longer tweets, I start by cutting out as many filler words as I can. If it’s been previously retweeted, I will then edit out intermediate retweeters. (I usually credit the person who brought it to my attention, unless an intermediate tweeter has significant relevance.) Losing that data is a shame because the path tweets take could be useful for analyzing people’s reputations as well as the importance of a piece of content.

I typically don’t re-shorten a link and replace it with my own trackable link, but some people do. Ideally the shorteners would credit back to previous retweeters automatically on a regenerated link.

On the question of “RT” vs. “via”: I use “RT” when I’m quoting someone else’s tweet. I use “via” when someone brought a story to my attention but the comment is mine.

Some of the above goes out the window when I’m mobile and laziness rules. e.g. I use “via” for everything because that’s what Tweetie puts in and it’s too difficult to change it.

If I’m posting something that I think has a high likelihood of being retweeted, I deliberately leave an extra 18 characters for “RT @rakeshlobster “.

How do you decide whom to follow back?

Because Twitter allows asynchronous relationships the rules here are different than on Facebook. Many of my new followers are just follow spammers and they’re easy to ignore. People who I know personally (and like) get an automatic follow.

For people who I don’t know, I’ll take a quick look at their profile and recent tweets to see if their content is likely to be interesting to me. It’d be nice if Twitter prompted new followers to send an @reply introducing themselves. Aside from the spammers, I’m curious to know what random people who follow me find interesting.

Is it OK to tweet during dinner or when out with friends?

This will vary with your group of friends, but for me the answer is a resounding “NO!” When I’m out with friends or colleagues I try hard to give them my full attention. Tweeting, emailing, texting, taking phone calls are for emergencies.

More on: twitter, social networking


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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