Summary: Targeted primarily to rookies, this guide offers a set of Twitter best practices that helps people maximize their ability to maintain a strong 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 Twitter habits as well.
As I wrote in Twitter for Rookies: Simple Guidance for Getting Started, it is perfectly appropriate to open a Twitter account with the intent to just listen. You never have to send a single tweet. Twitter even says so themselves (or at least they used to - click here for my take on their recent changes). But, depending on your goals and objectives, you may decide you want to become an active tweeter. If that's the case, you'll want to make sure you engage in Twitter best practices to ensure you're viewed as a valuable contributor rather than a noise creator. This post offers 11+ tips to help you accomplish just that, so you can avoid being this guy:
As with all our Twitter guidance, this post focuses on using Twitter for professional purposes. Given that, you'll want to keep the following in mind:
And of course a few caveats are in order:
Quality should always trump quantity when engaging on Twitter (or any platform, for that matter). The quantity/quality balance for an individual or organization depends on a variety of factors, including:
Things to keep in mind:
Bottom line: If you don’t have something substantive to share, don’t tweet.
Limit your tweets to 140 characters. I know it seems like no one makes the mistake of tweets that are too long anymore, but I continue to see truncated tweets on a regular basis. 140 is the absolute limit, and there's no excuse for going beyond it. Twitter, HootSuite and other tweet originator sources all count characters so you know when you've maxed out. Many people will in fact advise that you limit your tweets to 120 characters, to give people room to retweet without having to modify what you've created.
Abbreviations and other Twitter conventions are generally okay, but if you have room, there’s no excuse for bad grammar, sloppy writing, and unnecessary shorthand and text speak. Also avoid unnecessary jargon, slang, crude and foul language, and inflammatory wording.
Always “think before you tweet.” Yes, this advice also seems obvious, but it's a mistake that people make regularly - even those like public figures and journalists, who should know better. It's best to avoid sensitive and/or controversial subjects – but if you do need/want to tweet about them, get someone else to review those tweets before you publish them.
Check out Twitter Hashtags: 7 Tips and a Decision-Making Flowchart for my Twitter best practices guidelines for including hashtags in your tweets.
There are many ways people can view your tweets. Think about the impression you give off through all these views.
What constitutes drivel? Among other things:
There are many Twitter enthusiasts who will take issue with my characterization of some of this content as drivel. In the early days, the whole point of Twitter was to share personal information (e.g., see this Twitter in Plain English video, which is now quaintly anachronistic), and that's a norm under which their own usage evolved. But now that there are more platforms for engaging and status updates are an element of virtually all of them, the unique value of Twitter to share “what we’re doing” has diminished. In addition, individuals who are using Twitter as part of their career management efforts need to think about how personal updates may negatively reflect their professional brands (remember, virtually all Twitter activity is public). You can reveal your personality via your tweets without unnecessarily revealing intimate personal details.
In the summer of 2012 I conducted a LinkedIn poll to see what people thought was the optimum number of tweets from an organization (versus an individual). By the time the poll closed we had almost 500 votes and dozens of comments on the poll itself, and dozens more comments on the various LI groups and other digital communities where we shared the question/poll. Unfortunately the poll is no longer available on LI (they did away with the feature and removed all history), but I do have a snapshot of the results:
As you can see, the consensus for fewer tweets was very strong, with 58% of the respondents indicating a “sweet spot” of 0-5 tweets a day, and a cumulative 79% saying that ten per day should be the max. The preference for fewer tweets was stronger among older respondents and more senior professionals. These results can be used as a general guide, but there is no “one best way” or single number of tweets that all individuals or organizations should target. You should define your own Twitter engagement based on your goals and objectives and a variety of contextual factors. There is also no need to simply “guess” at what might work. Actions like the following can help define and refine specific best practices:
All of the following contribute too much noise to Twitter and should be avoided.
For personal use, sharing on Twitter - like most social platforms - is all about spontaneity and impulsiveness. But for professional purposes Twitter best practices require a mindful approach. That doesn't mean you can never be spontaneous, but it's generally better to plan your sharing and schedule tweets that aren't time sensitive. Some specific guidelines to follow:
In my original post I said that all live tweeting was ill advised, and I got a lot of valid pushback on that assertion. So I’ve modified my position as follows…
Many experienced Tweeters experimented with live tweeting in the early days and realized they ran the risk of creating too much noise, thereby alienating people who didn’t want to follow a specific event/news that closely. Even people who opt into tracking an event by following a hashtag can be overwhelmed by multiple tweets with the same basic message, as well as personal messages between individuals trying to connect or carrying on a side conversation through the back channel. There’s also the risk that speakers’ ideas will be misrepresented and/or that a Tweeter could share something in the heat of the moment he/she would later regret. Finally, people have also realized it can be distracting and even a bit rude to live tweet at an event.
I’ve seen all of the above happen. So as with other applications of Twitter, it’s wise to be judicious and respectful when live tweeting, and/or to consider more appropriate alternatives. For example, live blogging is a great way to create a focused stream on a specific event/story, because it allows people to opt in to the conversation and provides a more robust platform for in-depth sharing and discussion. Or, if you want to report/reflect on an event, write a blog post about it after you’ve had time to absorb the experience and can present your thoughts more carefully.
Although it’s possible to create a secure/private Twitter account, it’s pretty unusual. Most accounts are public, which means most tweets are public. Users can send private messages to their followers by prefacing them with a “D” for “direct message,” but they have to “@” message anyone who does not follow them. The problem arises when people carry on personal exchanges via public messages. This is the Twitter equivalent of “cell yell,” forcing people to listen to conversations they’re not a part of and have no interest in. And if they don’t follow all of the parties in the conversation, they’re subjected to a stream of non-sequiturs and disjointed thoughts.
Occasionally sending an @ message to someone who doesn’t follow you is unavoidable, but when you have a reciprocal relationship you should use the D feature. And if there’s a group of people “chatting,” you should find another, more appropriate platform for your exchange - like a Google Hangout or a group messenger tool.
What would you add to this list? Any other Twitter best practices I might have missed? Other suggestions for Twitter rookies? Questions? As always, I welcome your feedback.