Twitter is a whole new way of communicating and interacting with others. People use the platform to do and say any number of things, and unsurprisingly many tweeps have their own views as to the correct way of using Twitter.
There is still no consensus about how best to use Twitter. For example, some believe it’s okay to unfollow people on Twitter, and that unfollowing doesn’t automatically mean “I don’t like you.” So a common reaction when such Twitter behaviour is under discussion, is that this is not what Twitter is about. People follow those who tweet on subjects that interest them etc.
Others on the other hand may be confused if you unfollow them, or fail to follow them when they’re following you. They may be offended if you fail to respond to their @ messages or direct messages (DM) – although if you’re a celebrity receiving thousands of @ messages daily, it’s accepted you won’t have time to reply to them all.
At the heart of these differences lie two completely different approaches to Twitter.
Those who use Twitter as a channel to engage and interact with other users talk disparagingly of broadcasters using it primarily as a micro-blogging platform. While broadcasters consider Twitter to be more a news channel than a social networking platform, and wish the responders would take their nonsensical patter to a chat room where they could natter on in privacy.
Pete Cashmore of Mashable fame has nearly 20,000 followers and follows fewer than 1,000. Generally speaking, responders tend to be those who have streams filled with @ commands and they would be expected to follow lots of people. Whereas broadcasters tend to follow far fewer people than follow them, and won’t necessarily feel the need to respond to @ notes or DMs.
There is very little sign of engagement on Pete Cashmore’s Twitter stream. So he might be described as falling in the broadcasting camp. However, as the founder of Mashable he is hardly dismissable as someone who is ignorant about proper Twitter use! (Interestingly, Pete uses his own picture on Mashable instead of a logo – a subject I discussed in my blog post Business Tweeting).
So, how you behave on Twitter depends on which of these two camps you lean towards. If you believe Twitter is all about engagement, and is a great way to build relationships you’ll try to also promote other people. You’re likely to retweet people you know, partly because they have an interesting update, but also to help them get noticed. You’ll believe that joining conversations and answering questions is the way to go in order to create relationships.
It’s worth bearing in mind how easy it is therefore, to adopt behaviors that are more reflective of the opposite camp to the one you essentially subscribe to if you don’t take the time to think through the small details. Inconsistency can creep in all too easily as Twitter is still in its infancy, people are testing the waters, and you hear all sorts of random views about what Twitter is or is not supposed to be all about.
While nobody believes you have to respond to every @ mention – on the other hand, the more you can respond, the more people tend to stay with you and build relationships.
I recently tweeted: “Deciding never to retweet or #ff anyone who doesn’t thank me when I do so”. This was followed by a second tweet saying “How I will remember who did not thank me for a retweet or #ff so I don’t favour them in this way again is another matter”
While of course I’m not going to notice or remember who does or does not say thank you because I’ve got better things to do in life, if for some reason, someone’s behaviour jars wih me, then I will hold it against them….. until I forget about it again.
As they say: every action has an equal and opposite reaction….
This is human nature even though our sensitivity levels do differ, as does our ability to forgive and forget. (I have yet to work out how to thank for mentions and #ffs without cluttering up my twitter stream and am trialling sending thanks by DM or just retweeting the #ff ).
Some people never thank anyone – possibly in essence they are broadcasters, or maybe they do thank them in DMs, or perhaps they have made a policy decision not to waste time giving thanks. Provided a consistent approach is adopted this is less likely to offend than inconsistency – thanking some people but not others.
The same social skills that help you make others feel recognised in real life (IRL), and which don’t cost a lot of time go a long way on Twitter too. Just as if you snub people IRL, or make them feel overlooked they may get upset, so it can happen on Twitter. That is why if someone unfollows me, I will wonder if it was something I did or said.
If you belong to the engagement school of thought, then it’s important to bear in mind, when making policy decisions about your Twitter approach, to remember that Twitter does not change the normal (unwritten) rules of etiquette. If you know somebody IRL and they begin to follow you, then I believe you should follow them back
Often when people are retweeting information, there are a variety of different people available to them to credit with the information. If you want to be noticed and retweeted, then as well as having interesting updates, it matters to know how to win friends and influence people on Twitter as much as IRL.