Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How Not to Offend in 140 Characters or Less

It's about time I did a blog post on Twitter etiquette. Notice how I didn't say "twetiquette" or "twittetiquette"? I know it's not really an etiquette faux pas but as an aside, I do get annoyed by the insipid trend of just adding a 'tw' to the front of every word when it pertains to Twitter.

But back to Twitter etiquette. As an old-fashioned gal, I am sometimes prone to lamenting that social media is the stage on which whatever remains of our society's civility will go to the gallows. But then I type "Twitter etiquette" into Google and I am pleasantly surprised by the amount of entries that pop up. Obviously, many people care about this issue. So with that, I give you my top ten tips for not being a huge ingrate on Twitter. Feel free to share your own personal faux pas and pet peeves in the comments.

1. Reveal yourself - Make it easy for other tweeters to know who you are, what you look like and where you stand. Take the time to prepare a proper bio including relevant details like where you're from, what you do, your interests and, if you have a particular axe to grind, then be up front about it. I personally think it's better to include a photo of yourself and not your cat, a cartoon character or that Twitter bird thingie. As with all things social media, transparency is key.

2. Use the DM properly - The DM (direct message) function is like a Web-based version of the text message and should be reserved for one-on-one coversations, making plans with another person, in-jokes, etc. Please don't use it to create work for people (e.g. Louise, visit my website and do my quiz) and refrain from those automatic DMs that get fired off to people's e-mail inboxes after they choose to follow you. I've never come across anyone who likes those but many people continue to use them.

3. Use the RT properly - From an etiquette point of view, one of the greatest features of the Twittersphere is the desire to give credit where credit is due, hence the RT fuction. Retweeting gives you the opportunity to share something of interest that another person has tweeted. Not only does this make you look smart and connected, it exposes the other tweeter's message to a wider audience and many people assert that retweeting is what keeps Twitter going. When retweeting, use RT@personsname before repeating their message. Try not to edit or rephrase their words. If you are retweeting something that someone else has already retweeted and need to cut characters, retain the original poster.

4. Don't abandon good grammar - You are not a 13-year-old texting her best friend about Friday night, are you? Take the time to spell properly, check your grammar, doublecheck your links and avoid childish abbreviations if possible. So while it's okay to use numerals instead of spelling out numbers and the '& sign' instead of 'and', don't use text abbreviations like c u l8er!

5. Don't be lazy - If you can't say it in 140 characters, use another platform for your ramblings. I sometimes have to rework my daily etiquette tip several times to make it fit and it's good writing practice. Please don't use multiple tweets to get out one sentence, leaving us hanging in between when you run out of characters.

6. Be fair- 140 characters leaves no room for context or nuance. Online or offline, it's unfair to trash a person, place or thing without providing any kind of background or back-up. If you're referencing a blog post or news story, provide the link and encourage people to make up their own minds. Resist the urge to use Twitter as your own personal soapbox. Disclosure: I've been guilty of this at times. It's that darn instant gratification thing!

7. Remember it's public - One of the downfalls of technology and social media is that it seduces us into believing we're in our own world when in fact, we're sharing it with 6 billion others. To use an old-school metaphor, don't tweet anything you would not want to see on the front page of the daily newspaper. This is doubly important if you're tweeting on behalf of an organization or workplace, or even if you just include your workplace in your bio. Think before you tweet.

8. Spread the love - Remember how unsure you were when you first joined Twitter? There are thousands of poeple like you every day. If you see someone inadvertently commiting a Twitter etiquette faux pas, help them out. Tweet a generic message about how to RT or properly give credit. Don't mock newbies, bring them along. And if someone says they don't see the value of Twitter or of social media in general, you don't need to immediately post a "they just don't get it" rant. Let them come on board in their own time, or not.

9. Avoid profanity - Remember that rule about counting to ten before you send a nasty e-mail? Well, it's the same with Twitter. If you're emotional, walk away from the computer. Don't embarrass yourself and others with foul language and mean-spirited words. You're more creative than that right?

10. Don't fight - I wondered if it was necessary to include this and decided that it was, just in case Lindsay Lohan, Courtney Love, Kanye West or one of those other badly-behaved celebrity tweeters was reading. Your dirty laundry belongs in the hamper, not Twitter.

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