Rules of Engagement: Six Things Not To Do on Twitter

You may have heard the term ‘Facebook is serious business’. Originally meant as a joke, it sure isn’t anymore; social networks like Facebook and Twitter are becoming the backbone of communication for human beings as a whole, even surpassing phones in their usefulness.

But nobody wants a sore backbone, right?

Don’t answer that. Let’s rap for a minute.

I needn’t remind everyone reading this, again, that I’m a Twitter fanatic. I’ve got the apps, I schmooze with celebrities (or at the very least, those I equate as ‘famous’), and I tweet useless information as mundane as the next guy’s. Yep, Twitter is quite a party.

But like any party, there’s an unwritten code of etiquette. I don’t mean, like, shrimp-and-salad-fork etiquette – after all, this is the internet, and in terms of its level of civilization, it’s still largely Wild-Western. But there are common sense rules you just gotta follow, lest you look like the irritating drunk person at the party who winds up with his pants down, face up in the punch bowl, half-singing songs from his highschool experience.

These are some of them.

…Common sense rules, not songs. Oh, just keep reading.


@Example: omg, about to eat lunch!
@Example: omg, eating lunch!
@Example: omg, almost done lunch!
@Example: omg, bathroom break!

Twitter makes it real, real easy to tell people what you’re doing. I mean, so easy. I was absolutely delighted when the sign up process for Twitter took all of five seconds, and I proceeded immediately to do things like excitedly inform my followers every time I pooped. I quickly realized, however, that while Twitter is nothing if not a platform for saying absolutely ridiculous and inconsequential things, there is such a thing as overkill.

Anyone steeped in the Twitterverse is likely using an app (I use Tweetie) to feed them contact updates – overtweeting, besides annoying the hell out of a user by notifying them incessantly of your mundane activities, it pushes potentially useful updates and fun web content by others down the list, perhaps not to be seen at all.

Solution: Just relax! We still know you’re there, even if you’re not updating every four minutes. After all, the most interesting guy at the party is the mysterious, cryptic one who keeps his mouth shut. …At least don’t tell anyone about your bathroom breaks.


@Example: So there I was, at the hardware store, trying to decide between the ten-piece metric wrench set and a new pair of hedge clippers when suddenly I received…
@Example: …a call from my buddy Klauss. Klauss and I go way back, he was on my freshman rugby team, and he called to tell me that…

Sometimes, you’ve got a lot to say, and sometimes, you just wanna say it through Twitter. Twitter’s design demands 140 characters per message, and it’s that way for a reason – to provide one’s followers concise, streamlined, and (hopefully) well-constructed bytes of information. The 140-character limit forces a user to thoughtfully truncate their musings into catchy quips that encapsulate a complete thought. Thoughts like, “If you choke a Smurf, what color does it turn?”

 Y’know, stuff like that.

However, frequently, through creative use of the ellipse (. . .), some of my followees (and I’m willing to bet some of yours, too) will cheat and break a message up into two, or even three tweets. Besides corrupting the spirit of Twitter, this is a potentially risky move. Twitter is a fast-paced environment – do you think people are going to follow you after seeing “…and then I ate the whole thing!” Answer: no, they are probably not.

Solution: Streamline your messages! If we want to know more about a topic, we’ll ask; that’s what @username is for! If the thought absolutely cannot be condensed into Twitter form, why not write it elsewhere and provide a link? Simple.


@ExampleA: @ExampleB omg, totally saw Josh today.
@ExampleB: @ExampleA Isn’t he SO CUTE?
@ExampleA: @ExampleB Ya, and he was wearing the most adorable short shorts

This instance is a bit more rare, but every bit as aggrivating: those people who just don’t understand that Twitter is not an instant messenger service.

 Y’ever follow two people who also follow each other, allowing you to see their @messages to one another? Y’ever get utterly bombarded by @messages between the two, deciding what to wear to a party, or asking how to make a delicious lobster thermidor? Isn’t it exhausting? I wouldn’t bring a megaphone to a restaurant to tell my friend across the table I’m having knuckle surgery in October. Neither should you.

Besides needlessly informing others about things they’re not meant to be informed about, again, this pushes perhaps more interesting information way, way down your followers’ Twitter feeds, and makes for an awful lot of frowny faces. Twitter has the Direct Message feature for a reason – to separate your public and personal tweets!

Solution: MSN, AIM, YahooIM, Skype, ICQ, Facebook Chat, email, a telephone, snail mail, morse code, smoke signals, two cans and a string, or real life conversation. Actually, nobody does that anymore. Come to think of it, nobody uses ICQ, either. Just find a way to talk privately!


– You are now being followed by @ExampleA.

@ExampleA: @ExampleB y u not flolw me >:C

– You are no longer being followed by @ExampleA.

There’s nothing like getting new followers – knowing you’re important enough to have someone willingly choose to give you their attention every time you decide to say something silly is a satisfying feeling, innit? But there are those who follow simply for the purpose of hoping you’ll ‘follow them back’, and can get vocally angry if you don’t. If you’re one of these people, chill out – it’s your prerogative to decide to listen to Shaquille O’Neal make ‘yo momma’ jokes, just as it’s his to listen to yours. Don’t attack the Shaq.

To be fair, the ‘followback’ is sort of an old ritual of Twitter etiquette in its own right, and is still considered by many to be a simple act of courtesy; but, as Twitter becomes more and more The Way of The Internet, it’s not practiced nearly as often. It’s like the powdered wig of Twitter.

..or something.

Solution: There’s another way to get followers – be interesting. Have something to say! Tweet! Be heard!


@Example: Guys I’m totally having the BEST SANDWICH EVER. #justinbieber

Your sandwich, of course, has very likely little, if anything, to do with child pop stars, and as such you shouldn’t be using their names to boast about your ingestion prowess.

Assuming your followers aren’t ones to follow the Trending Topics anyway, this isn’t much of a problem, but misrepresenting your content under the guise of something else is still a really sneaky thing to do.

Solution: Be honest. Justin Bieber fans are going to be pretty angry once they realize all you tweet about are really awesome sandwiches. Even if they are REALLY awesome sandwiches.


Twitter: Going to the Lakers game tonight to see @The_Real_Shaq!
Facebook: Going to the Lakers game tonight to see @The_Real_Shaq!

I’d like to point out that this last one is based entirely on personal preference on the part of the follower, and as such is often not a case of Twitter misuse. But even then, it can be a little screwy. Here’s why.

For the ambitious social networker, there’s applets for both Twitter and Facebook that allow the cross-pollination of the other service with your messages. In a lot of cases, this is very useful – small businesses, celebrities, musicians, and other notable figures alike can interface with their fans at the touch of a button. But where this feature crosses streams with the typical Twitter user, it becomes a much more harrowing experience for the follower who is also Facebook friends with the followee. Every message is read twice! This can, of course, be turned off on the Facebook side, but if you’d rather not have all your Facebook friends ignore and mute you, you may need a better strategy.

Solution: Make sure you have a reason to be broadcasting on all channels. While the feature totally rules, it’s not meant for everyone, and could lead to a lonely social network life!

Though Twitter is still in its infancy in terms of its contribution to the Internet at large, it is a living entity. Actually, that’s kind of creepy. Let’s go back to the party analogy. Yeah. It’s a party, and like most parties on the internet, it learns how to live as it goes through community-driven, unspoken codes. For all I know, what’s acceptable now may not be in a couple weeks, but such is the nature of the beast, and you’ve got to know how to dance if you don’t want to look like a geezer without any net savvy. Even if you are.

By tydunitz

Ty is an illustrator who stays up too late, and has to wear glasses. You can follow him on Twitter if you want to (@glitchritual), but he's just gonna throw your stupid PR crap in the garbage, so don't email him.

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