Mar 2, 2011
Twitter has somehow catapulted into a slightly undeserving position in the everyday norms of social communication. Nobody’s quite sure why, given its limited functions, but it certainly looks like Twitter isn’t going away anytime soon. Maybe I sound a little harsh, and don’t get me wrong, Twitter can be fun, if used correctly. So I have assembled a very personal guide to the pros, cons, dos and definitely DON’Ts of using it, garnered from my two years of experience running the Wireless Theatre Company’s Twitter feed – @WirelessTheatre – as well as my own personal one.
Let’s start with the positives. Advantages of Twitter –
- It can be a great way of reaching a much wider audience than you would normally have access to. This can be useful when promoting shows, gathering feedback and generally increasing your audience.
- In a way, everyone is equal on Twitter. We are all constrained to 140 characters and no matter how many followers you have, you still need to find pithy ways of getting information across. This is good. There is nothing more annoying than people writing extensive notes on their own Facebook walls, or worse, on yours. Keeping it brief is always good in my book. And my book is really good.
- If you follow any even remotely interesting people, you do occasionally learn the odd snippet of useful information. Sometimes just random trivia, often breaking news that I’m always a step behind and mostly humorous observational everyday-life-based comic one liners.
- It makes X Factor an intensely enjoyable experience. For some reason, people seem to save their wit for tweets about X Factor. The magnificent beast that was Wagner provided endless examples of this habit.
- There are obviously more but I am bored of being positive now
So let’s get on to the not so nice side of trying to navigate an enormous world of complete strangers: disadvantages:
- Most people in the world are boring. Am I exaggerating? I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like it when I read endless tweets about what people had for breakfast or how they’re late for an important meeting and the train is not moving. Yawn. The major problem of Twitter is that it encourages people to think that the world is actually interested in what they are eating or why they are late. It almost creates the illusion that we are all celebrities being followed by the imaginary paparazzi who are fascinated by our every move. This is not true. And to be honest, the celebrities are often the most boring tweeters, especially the well media-trained ones, or worse the ones who don’t even write their own tweets.
- If you want to follow a decent number of people, even if your following list is way less than your follower list, it becomes almost unusable. My feed updates with 20 new tweets every few minutes, and there’s just no way I’m going to read even a fraction of them let alone be able to interact.
- Spam. And by spam I mean not only the blatant spammers who @ you with links to Viagra vendors at very reasonable prices (I’ve never clicked one, honest), but also the more subtle types. The companies who follow as many people as they can in the hope that you’ll follow them back so they can fill your feed with rubbish. Even when they are looking for people in relevant industries etc I still think this is cheating. And then there’s the self-promoters who just tweet about their own careers and work and endlessly talk about themselves but never actually provoke or contribute to interesting conversations.
- Again, there’s more, but I’ve got to be somewhere in an hour, so I’m trying to be brief.
So let’s get on to some basic ground rules. And to be entirely clear, this is a set of rules which, if you follow to the letter, will enable you to be a tweeter who does not piss me personally off. And let’s face it, that’s most people’s aim in life, right? To not annoy me? Good.
Rule 1 – Don’t just tweet about yourself and your boring life. Tweet about other, interesting things, that have no impact on your career. Tell me about good movies, or books, or what’s happening in the news, or ask questions, stimulate debate, say something controversial.
Rule 2 – Do not repeatedly @ me or any other individual. It is annoying for the person you are @ing, it is annoying for your other followers. Everyone is annoyed. This is not a good way to promote you, me or anything.
Rule 3 – Do tweet regularly. Although to be honest I will probably not notice if you don’t. And I fully understand that if it’s something you do outside of work and other social activities it can be hard to do it that often. But don’t tweet every 10 minutes of every day. I think 3 or 4 tweets a day is plenty, and if you have more than that then refer back to rule 1 and consider whether what you’re saying is actually worth saying.
Rule 4 – If you use links via bit.ly or other shortening site, be clear in your tweet what the link goes to. If you don’t tell me what it is, there’s no way I’m going to click it as I’ll assume you are trying to give me a virus.
Rule 5 – Do interact with people. If someone asks a question, do answer it. People are trying to reach out to you, they are probably lonely, you don’t need that on your conscience. It’s also fun to be part of a Twitter debate.
Rule 6 – Retweet with care. Only retweet things which are genuinely interesting or amusing. For example, I usually retweet things when someone is talking about me. Because I am interesting and amusing.
Rule 7 – Be funny. If you’re funny, you are much more likely to get people’s attention than taking everything very seriously. I realise not everyone is capable of this, but it really helps.
Rule 8 – Obviously do not expect me to follow any of these rules myself.