Ten Twitter mistakes to avoid

Ten Twitter mistakes to avoid

Clients often ask me about the “cultural norms” of social media. Like many social media consultants, I reflexively dive into the cocktail party metaphor (act like you would at a cocktail party). Or I give them the “mind your manners like mom said” spiel. Or the “if you wouldn’t say it on the nightly news, don’t say it on social media,” followed by lots of psychobabble on being engaging and transparent. Oy. “Be specific,” they retort, “give us a crash course.”

You asked for it.

Here’s a list of don’ts on Twitter – ignore at your peril!


1. Pick a username that’s too long. It chews up too much of the scant 140 characters you have to communicate within a tweet. Also try to stick with something close to your real name or something about you, like @dblacombe, @BizBoxTV, or @CalgaryRealtor. Anything with numbers in it makes me suspicious, as that often means spammers, or porn stars, or spamming porn stars, so avoid @trixie69 at all costs.

2. Leave your bio, location or web address blank. Think about it – I can’t connect with you if I don’t know anything about you. At the proverbial cocktail party what do we usually ask first? Where are you from or what do you do? Providing this info makes you look more legit. Blank bios scream scam – legitimize your presence with a nice succinct introduction, it’s only polite.

3. Use the stock Twitter background and colours, it screams newbie. Even though more and more people access Twitter via third party applications like Tweetdeck or via mobile applications like Twitter for Android, it’s still an important branding opportunity and identifier. Twitter recently complicated the creation of custom backgrounds. Fora full explanation of that, head over to my blog on communicatto.com and search for the word “background”.

4. Use Twitter exclusively as a broadcast medium. Some announcement/monologue tweets are OK (like announcing new blog posts) but if I see a profile that only announces, never replies or retweets (forwards other’s tweets), I assume they are stuck up and move on. Back to the cocktail party metaphor, it’s the equivalent of monopolizing the conversation, for hours. Ugh.

5. Ever send an automatic direct message – aka Auto DMs. This is where you hook up your robot to say Hi to people, and thank them for following you. Hey, if I wanted a lazy Rosy-the-Robot thank you, I’d have befriended a Hoover or a Coke machine. A Twitter answering machine is just obnoxious.

6. Ever send a DM imploring me to check out your site before we’ve established a relationship. There’s even an acronym for this particular misbehaviour – CMJ – “click my junk”. I’ve got lots of websites already, thanks, and I don’t need you pimping yours.

7. Pollute a hashtag stream with unrelated garbage. An extreme example is when direct marketers would pollute the #Justin Bieber stream (itself a form of pollution in my mind) with all manner of weight loss nonsense and worse. A more tame example was when the #yyc hashtag (the Calgary chat as denoted by the airport code) first became popular and its originators chafed under its perceived misuse.

8. Send out tweets containing giant long URLs. They eat up more characters than is convenient, often break, and are hard to retweet. Learn about URL shorteners likebit.ly and get the hang of sending tweet friendly links.

9. Follow everyone who follows you. At first Twitter had a culture of reciprocal following;it was almost a courtesy to follow back. As time went on, and frequent users like me gained more experience, people came to realize that, like in real life, not everyone is that interesting. A one to one follower to following ratio says you indiscriminately follow regardless of the potential for interaction or common ground.

10. Swear. Many will disagree with me here, but I go back to the notion that the internet never forgets, and if you wouldn’t say it on the nightly news, don’t on Twitter. I’m no prude, and have been known to let loose with the odd invective, but recording it for posterity is ill advised.

Social media cultural norms are basically societal norms, which means you are dealing with a pluralistic global audience with various values and mores. Being respectful of that without making yourself generic is good personal or corporate branding. Think before you tweet.

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