Although Twitter continues to grow and mature, many users still engage in some questionable practices when leveraging it. Targeted primarily to Twitter novices, this guide helps people maximize their ability to maintain a high signal/noise ratio and avoid making mistakes that can hurt their individual professional and/or organizational brands. More experienced Tweeters – including mavens – may want to consider the advice and reconsider some of their own assumptions and activities as well.
Why We Need to Focus on “Worst Practices”
Twitter is a great social media platform with diverse uses that can serve a wide variety of individuals and organizations. But there are certain practices that Twitter users engage in that many people find off-putting, and those practices have limited the extent to which folks – especially social media rookies – are willing to leverage it both personally and professionally.
I regularly interact with people who don’t “get” Twitter at all. They think it is a ridiculous waste of energy and that the people who use it are vapid, shallow, silly, immature, narcissistic, unprofessional egomaniacs with too much time on their hands and not enough “real” work to do. And believe it or not, there are still plenty of people who don’t even understand what Twitter is or how it works (if you happen to be one of those people, check out the Twitter Basics section of the Twitter Help Center for a “101” introduction).
It’s easy enough to dismiss “those people” as Digital Era Luddites, but they are much more representative of the general population than Twitter mavens are. Twitter may be approaching 500 million accounts (according to this article), but the number of active users is far lower than that, especially when you consider multiple accounts from both individual and organizational users. Given the nature of the platform, the potential users of Twitter could match or even succeed Facebook’s numbers (currently over 800 million globally), but not without significant changes in how it’s used. It has to become less noisy, shallow and unreliable if it’s going to appeal to a broader range of people. In other words, it’s going to have to become a little less cool and a lot more square as it evolves from “the next big thing” to a mainstream utility. Fortunately, we’re seeing the pendulum swing back toward the center from the “anything goes” mania of Twitter’s early years, and many of Twitter’s earliest adopters and most ardent users are recognizing the need to dial things back to a more manageable level.
It’s also worth noting that Twitter views itself as an information network rather than a social network. Many users, especially early adopters, still consider it a social tool, but the organization’s leaders have increasingly made it clear that emphasizing the information sharing potential of the platform is a key part of their strategic direction and an important element in their ongoing maturation (see this New York Times story to learn more).
Am I Talkin’ to You? Maybe…
In early 2011, just after Twitter celebrated its fifth b’anniversary (HT to heuristics marketing for that term), I published Unlucky 13? Twitter "Worst Practices" for Rookies (and Others) to A..., which was one of the most popular pieces I’ve written. Although much of the advice still holds, I thought I should update the original set of worst practices and add a couple more that had occurred to me since then.
As I was crafting the original list, I correctly anticipated that many Twitter mavens would vehemently disagree with my assertions and feverishly attest to all the benefits they’ve received from following what I characterize as worst practices. Neither that post nor this one is targeted to them. Though I think my conservative perspective is worth consideration by everyone, I generally exclude the following from my admonishments: news organizations, celebrities, BtoC commercial entities, higher education institutions, non-profit organizations, politicians, established bloggers and thought leaders, and any individual or organization with a large and successful Twitter presence.
This guide is targeted to Twitter novices who want to get started using the platform and engage in the most effective ways. It’s designed to help them avoid making mistakes that can hurt their individual professional and/or organizational brands, and to maximize their ability to maintain a high signal/noise ratio. It’s written from the perspective of rookie/casual users, who are likely to have a much more narrow view of acceptable behavior than active/ardent users.
The rules implied by these worst practices are not absolute, and as with most social media there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution. As your experience and sophistication increase, you may decide it’s worth taking a few risks and experimenting with some of these practices, but – especially in the beginning – you won’t go wrong heeding my advice.
For additional advice on how to use Twitter more effectively
be sure to check out the Related Resources at the end of the post
What would you add to this list? Any other “worst practices” I might have missed? Other suggestions for Twitter rookies? Questions?
As always, I welcome your feedback.
Courtney Shelton Hunt