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From the Trenches

Do This, Not That: Guide to Twitter Etiquette

Right Source | February 21, 2012

Whether it’s my personal account, my company’s account, or a client’s account, I’m on Twitter every day. I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with some practices that have become (appallingly) common. While some of these grievances certainly reflect my personal preferences, all of these poor practices can damage your professional credibility. The following is a list of particularly heinous Twitter practices that you should immediately discontinue. But never fear, for each action I tell you to stop doing, I will provide you with a better option, a la Women’s Health Magazine’s @EatThisNotThat.

Stop: Automatically direct messaging new followers. This seems to be irresistible to many corporate Twitter accounts. I’m sure you’ve seen those, “Thanks for the follow! Learn more about our services at CompanyX.com” direct messages. The reasoning appears to be that the account wants to show they care and that they appreciate you as an individual follower, but the fact that I have 36 of these sitting in my inbox on Twitter suggests otherwise.  In fact, it tells me that I’m probably one of thousands of followers who receive that same message. And, hello, your web address is more than likely listed on your Twitter page, should I feel the need to go to your site.

Do This Instead: Send a personalized tweet that starts a conversation. This may be more labor-intensive, but it’s a far better option if you want to welcome new followers. Just saying “@rightsource Thanks for the follow! What’s your favorite Company X product?” shows the follower that you’re ready to start a conversation. And, come on, you could mass customize those, right? Have a few responses ready to go and mix them up so you’re not constantly asking the same questions to new followers. While this may not be a feasible option for Twitter juggernauts, you can probably spare a few minutes each day to reach out to new followers in a way that actually shows them you care and appreciate them.


Stop: Checking in on Foursquare and tweeting it… every time you move. OK, we get it. You go to a lot of places during the day! Although I do find it somewhat amusing how many times a day you frequent Starbucks, I don’t really need it clogging up my news feed. It’s great to connect your social accounts, but be aware of how connecting your Foursquare account with your Twitter (or Facebook) affects those who are following you. I used Foursquare as my example, but this rule also applies to Tumblr, Instagram, and more recently, Pinterest. If those accounts are connected to Twitter, remember that you’re tweeting every update you make on those sites. You might have professional ties with those followers, and you don’t want to be that person everyone talks about as that annoying account!

Do This Instead: Check in on Foursquare and tweet it when you’re at an interesting place, with other people. I don’t want to be perceived as advocating against connecting your social properties—I want to advocate for the appropriate and moderate use of the technology. Tweet your check in if you’re at a cool networking event with other people; that has some value to it. Other people you might not know were at the event might see your check in and alert you of their presence. Or, people you meet at the event may ask for your handle and mention you, or vice versa. At the very least, mentioning the people you’re with will usually get you mentioned by them in return, which will help grow your connections and followers. Growing your network is an appropriate use of this technology, so feel free to tweet away!


Stop: Mass-tweeting during one hour of the day. As much as I can’t stand a string of 10 Foursquare check-ins, I also can’t stand a string of any 10 tweets in a short period of time. This is doubly ineffective; it bothers the people who happen to be checking their stream in that time period and doesn’t reach the people who aren’t checking their stream at that time. The whole point of following a variety of accounts means you’d like a variety of tweets to show up—not a bunch of tweets in a row from the same account. Like the auto-direct messaging, this also makes me wonder if you’re a human or a bot.

Do This Instead: Spread out your tweets throughout the day and the week. There’s really no excuse to mass-tweet in a short period anymore with all the social media tools available. Tools like Timely and Hootsuite are free and allow you to schedule a bunch of tweets throughout the week for various accounts. There are also more sophisticated (read: paid) tools that can track tweets, clicks, and other social media data across campaigns and accounts to give you a more complete idea of your Twitter performance. In either case, it’s very easy to be more strategic with your tweeting.


Stop: Tweeting pictures of all your meals. Will and Mike, Right Source principals, still hear this general criticism of Twitter when dealing with prospective clients: “I don’t really see the value in people posting what they had for breakfast.” You shouldn’t be tweeting pictures of your food at every meal. You may be proud of that grilled cheese sandwich, but your followers may find it less than thought-provoking and also a little annoying.

Do This Instead: Tweet pictures of the interesting places you’re going and things you’re doing. “Twit pics” are definitely great for giving some personality to your account and breaking up the steady stream of the text + link formula in your tweets, so take better pictures and tweet them. Take a picture of the cool atmosphere in a restaurant, a nice picture of the water as you walk around the Inner Harbor or a picture of the people you’re with. There’s more to life than food, people!


Stop: Posting unprofessional tweets on the account your coworkers, professional acquaintances, and clients follow. It doesn’t sit well with others if you’re complaining about your work or your coworkers on your Twitter if all your followers are business contacts. Some jokes that may be funny to your friends might be offensive to your followers. You can either censor yourself completely, or…

Do This Instead: Create separate personal and professional accounts. I saved this point for last so that I could point out that all the above annoyances can escape my criticism by separating your personal and professional life on Twitter. Create a private personal account without your work information so followers have to request to follow you and your tweets are not public. Then, do whatever you want! Tweet your Foursquare check ins when you stop at the Safeway, post pictures of your cereal and tweet 25 times in a row if you want to. If you still have followers after that, God bless you, but that’s your decision. Keep your professional account public and tweet relevant and appropriate content for your business/industry. Just don’t mix up accounts, or I might have to write another blog post.

What do you think of my list? Disagree with any of my points? Have a Twitter grievance to add? Let’s talk in the comments. And if you got a little lost, check out this Twitter guide for beginners to go back to basics.


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About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.