Saturday 8 August 2009

Tom's Twitter Rules

I'm afraid I have been stirred to blog about Twitter yet again. My sincerest apologies.

Most social media 'experts' (old schoolboy joke: X = unknown factor; spurt = drip under pressure) have published their 'Twitter Rules' over the last few months, but I think none of them are anything like tough or practical enough for the average individual who actually has something resembling a real life, or business which has real work to do.

It is very easy to get seduced by Twitter and all the surrounding hyperbole and lose track of everyday realities. If you allow yourself to be seduced you risk becoming a complete Twatterer (the definition I mean is in there somewhere...I think) To avoid that sorry state, here are 'Tom's Rules' for real people and real businesses.

ONE: Have a plan. Know exactly what you are going to use Twitter for, and why. You can run several Twitter accounts each with their own plan - but stick to them.

TWO: Only follow people who are relevant to that account's plan. If you are a secondhand bookshop specialising in scientific and medical works you have no need to follow Serbian Skiing Conditions or Auntie Brenda's Cooking Tips - even if they follow you. And despite what a lot of people seem to think, Twitter is not about the number of your followers - it is not a game of the mine's-bigger-than-his variety. If you have a plan (see #1) you will quickly find out if other people are interested in your tweets. If you are the secondhand bookshop specialising in scientific and medical works, then you are a going to be very interesting for a limited but serious number of people. So be it. Forget hollow ego-boosting fantasies about 10,000 followers. However, if you are the twitterer for a real global brand, Firefox let's say, then 40,000 followers is reasonable. Note: Firefox is following a just-about-manageable number under 3,000 themselves (manageable for a big business that is).

THREE: Only follow people who have a bio in their profile. No bio = no follow. What are they hiding? - Or do they think they are being clever and mysterious? Or are they simply lazy? Of course it is OK to have no bio if you only want to follow others and make no posts yourself. In other words, just use Twitter as a kind of feed reader. But if you post at all then you must explain who and what you are about.

FOUR: Further to #2 and #3, whatever you do, don't auto-follow, or follow people manually just because they follow you. Following automatically is a slappy-happy-cosy-cuddly-luvvy-duvvy piece of etiquette from the early days of Twitter which maintains that it is the polite thing to do. Twaddle. Twitter was all fresh faced and innocent then. You just can't afford to follow back automatically. Nowadays the so-called Twittersphere is full of pimps, whores, chancers, spammers and snake oil salesmen of all descriptions. Plus people bizarrely just pretending to be one of those species of pond life.

This is a 'genuine' follower I attracted the other day:

If somebody follows you, check their bio (see #3). Check their followers; their followed; their URL and their posts. If they are following 468; have 11 followers (dozy auto-followers no doubt); no bio; a URL that takes you to a dodgy site (that includes ones that announce "I'm the best SEO expert in the entire cosmos"); have only ever made one post and they either have no pic or it's a young lady's bum in a pair of 'daisy-dukes' - then you must know you are dealing with cuckoos, vultures or magpies rather than chirpy little sparrows or wise old owls. Block them! However, if they pass all the checks, weigh up whether your plan considers them relevant enough to follow (see #2). Gotta be cruel to be kind.

FIVE: Replies. Be very careful. Replies can be very, very tedious for your followers and often exclusive - in the strictest sense of the word. Remember that your followers, who are quite likely not following any of the people you are replying to, will often have no clue what is going on, unless you are very clear in your reply about the the topic of your tweeted conversation. Sometimes it is possible to receive whole series of enigmatic replies in your Twitter stream, looking something like this:

SiliconLush @humbaggery yeah that's what I thought. Cool!
SiliconLush @bigtwaddler no sweat http://tny-thingy-thg
SiliconLush @SEOexperta thx for that
SiliconLush @longjohns he he he he http://nthrsmtng
SiliconLush @queenmuther sorry lost thread can u RT?

[Disclaimer: at time of writing none of the above usernames were in use at Twitter. If you have registered one of them since then, hey, that's not my problem. It's your problem! :-0]

Ad infinitum. And strangely they mostly appear in my stream around 18.00 Pacific Time on Fridays, emanating from people who should know better, but clearly lose the plot during their second cocktail. So if you are apt to get a little silly (or seriously shite faced) after work, turn off your cell phone and put it away out of temptation during the first mojito, there's a good chap.

SIX: Direct messages (DM). Again, be very careful. Who do you really need to DM on Twitter and why? In most cases you should have the phone or email of anybody who is going to appreciate a DM from you. My advice is only DM people who specifically ask to have some info DM-ed to them. Automatic DMs? No. Not even saying, "Thank you for following me." Everybody knows it's an auto and not at all personal, and it is a 'given' that people appreciate being followed.

SEVEN: Shortened URLs. These are a problem. If you can possibly avoid it, don't use them. But of course you have to if it is the only way you can stay inside the 140 characters. If you disagree with me, think about how you read, or graze, incoming tweets. I know I am much more likely to follow links when I can see what they are about, and if there is not a very clear indication in the rest of the tweet as to where a shortened URL is going to take me, or it's not from somebody I know I trust, I am likely to skip.

EIGHT: Sponsored tweets. Rhetorical question: why do people always look at something new and think how do we turn this into bucks? The only people who really need to make money directly from Twitter are Twitter. If you make sponsored tweets then in my book you are certainly a chancer (see #4) or probably worse. OK, if you want to get involved with sponsored tweets, then that's really none of my business, but I know that as soon as I spot a sponsored tweet from someone I am following they will be unceremoniously blocked. And I suspect a lot of people will do the same.

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