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Five Things Everyone Should Know About Twitter

In the past year or so, it seems the world is divided into two camps. Those who use and love Twitter, and those who just don’t get it.

Sure, it’s been around – and I’ve been using it – for more than a mere year. In fact, the little blue bird has just celebrated its sixth birthday. But as Twitter continues to become more and more popular, I find myself explaining to friends, co-workers, and even the person sat next to me on a train or plane, why I find it such a great addition to my life.

Inevitably, some of these people then want to know more before they sign up. And that’s when I find myself sharing my Things I Wish I’d Known When I First Started Twitter tips.

To save those lovely people (and future tweeps) from having to take too many notes at the time, I now take a brief break from my travel blogging to put fingers to keyboard and share my top five things that everyone should know about Twitter.

1) Twitter etiquette

There are oh so many posts and guidelines out there about what to do and what not to do on Twitter, and lots of people have different theories. But if I can give one piece of advice, it’s to behave on Twitter as you would in everyday life.

Speak to fellow users the way you would if you were chatting in a café or at a bar. The fabulous Australian journalist and media commentator, Melissa Hoyer, (@melissahoyer) wrote a great guide to Twitter etiquette which suggests thinking of Twitter as a giant cocktail party, where you can dip in and out of conversations and move from one group to another.

It’s also a very obvious point, but it’s best not to get rollicking drunk (or even tipsy for some) and continue to tweet. Remember those embarrassing drunk texts you sent to an ex? Well, pickled tweets are a lot like those, but everyone can see them.

Sure, you can delete the tweets through your hangover the next morning. But by then who knows who will have read and shared them? And then there’s the screen shots that are so easy to take and can save those embarrassing tweets for years to come.

2) Embrace Lists

This is the one I wish I’d known from the very beginning, as it’s much easier to put people in lists as you go along than try to do it down the track.

When you start following a few hundred people or more, it can be hard to see the tweets from your favourite people. I almost stopped following more folks because I felt like I was missing out on what my Real Life friends were saying.

Then I figured out what those lists are for. By creating lists of my friends, the media organisations I follow, or the travel peeps I like, I can at the click of a mouse see a twitter feed of just what those people are saying.

I find checking out other like-minded people’s lists is also a great way to find people I’d like to follow. And you can follow other people’s lists as well if they’ve put together a group you like.

Oh, and you can also have private lists for those categories you don’t want other people to know about (if you don’t want someone wondering why they’re not on your Favourites or Close Friends list for example).

They’re very easy to make and if you head to your own lists section on your profile, it’s fairly self-explanatory. But if you’d like a step by step guide, the nice folks at Twitter have put together a How To Use Twitter Lists guide.

One point, if you’re using a Twitter app on your iPad, iPhone or other hand held device, you will be able to see your lists, but not edit them. Which is rather frustrating. There are times when I’ve followed some interesting new peeps when I’m on the road, and then have to wait until I’m back on a desktop computer to be able to sort them. So the sooner that’s fixed the better. But it’s still a very good system to embrace.

3) Following Back

I’m often mystified by those people who have thousands of followers, but follow absolutely none – or maybe half a dozen or so – back. Wow, how rich and diverse their Twitter feed must be. Or do they just like to speak to the masses without the hassle of listening to anything but replies to their own thoughts? Once again, I make an exception for certain news accounts, but I avoid others who have those kinds of Twitter lives.

Whether to follow back or not is an individual’s choice. And I’m not suggesting anyone should automatically follow everyone back.

But a few months ago I also discovered something that changed my views on following back. When you go over 2,000 people, Twitter limits how many more you can follow. They start to tighten a following / followed ratio noose around you, which means that if you’re not being followed by roughly the same amount, you may be blocked from following new people.

As I mentioned, I follow a lot of news organisations which don’t follow back, and there some people I’m quite happy to follow if they don’t follow me. In fact, according to Tweepi (@tweepi) I’m currently following 814 accounts that aren’t following me back.

Which means I need to run a bit of a tight ship when it comes to new people to follow. And I also need to do the occasional cull so I can continue to follow interesting peeps, and the nice new ones who are following me.

So when someone follows me, I always look at their most recent tweets to get a feel for whether I want them in my Twitter life. Sometimes I can tell in the three examples the iPhone app shows me, sometimes I need to open more to get a better feel for them.

Personally, I prefer not to follow:

· Those who only promote a product, or their own business or website. Sure, a lot of us (myself included) want to share our work on Twitter in some way, but if that’s all I’m going to see, tweet after tweet, I’ll give that a miss, thanks (though I do make exceptions, of course, for media outlets and some business accounts).

· Those who never reply to, have conversations with, or retweet anyone. I’m interested in following those who engage with their fellow tweeters.

· People whose Twitter updates are overflowing with Foursquare updates. Though I really don’t get the point of Foursquare / Come Rob Me, some dear friends of mine use it, so I don’t have a total blackout rule. But if I struggle to see real tweets amongst a list of riveting “I was at the 7-11” updates then they’re not for me.

· People who SHOUT ALL THE TIME or will fill my Twitter stream with a stream of expletives. I don’t consider myself a prude, and can swear like a fishwife myself from time to time. But if that’s all I see when I see your tweets, it’s not going to work out.

· Fake accounts, spammers, and bots. Though I make an exception for @KarenWalkerBot because she is open about who she is(n’t), and makes me laugh. Which brings me to….

4) How to tell if an account is “real”

I’ve noticed a lot of people are using the extremely annoying TrueTwit “service” which ironically sends out an automatic response asking people if THEY are real.

As you can see, I’m not a fan. In fact, when this first started popping, I’d go straight to the person whose account sent me the TrueTwit message, and immediately unfollow them.

These days, I’m a bit more relaxed. Some TrueTwit users aren’t RealTwits after all, so I’ll give it a week or so for them to figure out if I’m real (and indeed if they want to follow me, which certainly isn’t for everyone either!) and then make my unfollow decision from there.

Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s very easy to tell if someone is real simply by looking at their last dozen or so tweets. And I want to get a feel for who they are before I follow back.

Sure, there may be some people who just want to automatically follow back real people without actually finding out what those real people are like. But that’s not the kind of person I want to have a Twitter relationship with anyway, so I’m happy to let those ones go.

Twitter tips for beginners

5) Stamp out the Spammers and Stop the Viruses

And finally, a quick hint on helping to remove the Twittersphere of the insects amongst us… the spammers.

I actually get a slight thrill when one sends me a public message as I just love to squish them like a mosquito.

If you get a random message suggesting you go to a link from a strange user, don’t click on it. Instead, click on their profile, and if you see they’re sending the same random message to a bunch of other people, you’ve got yourself a spammer.

You can then open their profile and click on the little picture of the person. There, in the drop down menu is the button that lets you report them for spam. Then they are magically blocked from contacting you, and Twitter knows what they’re up to.

Oh, and if you get a Direct Message (DM) saying something like “people are saying real bad things about you” or “is this you in this photo?” it’s most likely a virus. Don’t click on it, or you’ll spread it amongst your own followers.

If you think someone really is asking if it’s you in a photo, send them a message and ask before you click.

To find out more about viruses and phishing, check out Twitter’s Keeping Your Account Secure page. It’s got some top tips in there for you.

So that’s my Twitter rant for the day! What about you? What advice do you give someone when they’re starting out in the Twitterzone? I’d love to hear your thoughts either in the comments below, or you can reach me on this fun thing called Twitter:


Leave a Comment

  1. I wish I took advantage of the lists more, Amanda. However, it usually takes me forever to set something like that up, and I still never use it.

    Glad we got connected via Twitter!

    • Oh they make SUCH a difference… I highly recommend starting to just organise new people you follow as you go along now. Down the track you may get motivated to go back and do the rest… but start with your favourites and see what a difference it can make.

      Thanks for swinging by… see you over in Twitter-land!

  2. Great guide. I was wondering why I couldn’t make a list from my iPhone app, and now I know it’s not me being a numpty. Will finally create my lists one rainy weekend 😉

  3. Thanks! I was going around in circles with Lists on my phone too, until someone finally explained to me that you just can’t do it on an iPhone app. (Slaps forehead!)

    Hopefully they can fix that soon, and my bus and train journeys will become even more productive.

  4. They’re great tips A! And yes I avoid following similar people too. I like to see it as a way to get to know other people better (rather than listening to someone talking to you rather than with you).

    • Glad you enjoyed it! I could have kept going a bit longer with my list of people I don’t follow (people who have sent 0 tweets, people who only tweet in another language etc!) but had to hold myself back a bit there.

      Was fun to get the Twitter list off my chest!

  5. These are almost like the 5 ‘golden rules’ of twitter. True friendship always begin and is always a two way street! I def agree with these rules.

  6. Mary Jane Murray says

    Thanks for the tips. I’m not very disciplined about my lists but I aim to be better…..you reminded me of the value. Thanks again.

    • Pleasure… funnily enough your comment came through just as I was updating some lists of my own! It’s so easy to miss out on it for a while, but makes all the difference down the track. (like so many things in this life!)

  7. Great tips Amanda. I’ve been more an instagrammer than a tweeter of late and this reminds me I should check my lists on twitter and make sure I’m following back interesting followers! (I usually try to if I figure there’re not a spammer or a bot!)

    • Thanks! And interesting that you’ve gone more towards Instagram. I’m yet to be fully seduced by that one. When it comes to using camera Apps, I love using Camera Awesome. It’s awesome! But I do love some of the photos people can get from Instagram (I just find the whole Facebook spending so much money on it bizarre).

  8. Great advice and I had to laugh about your comment re sharing your enthusiasm for twitter with random strangers (in addition to friends, colleagues etc). Because I’ve been doing likewise. Love Twitter & LinkedIn because they are straight forward, no-nonsense ways of finding lots of interesting people who enjoy thinking & having good conversations. Detest waffly, confusing, time-wasting Facebook-just not my cup of tea.
    Re. following few but expecting lots of followers – I get great joy from not following randoms (often from USA) who follow me, expecting an automatic follow in return…after which they drop you like a hot coal. Detest ‘users’ and as I tried to diplomatically explain to a friend trying to acquire many followers and doing little following, whatever way you look at it, unless you’re famous or truly special, it’s arrogant. I’m a bit blunter than you! Been meaning to finish by ‘twitter for bushies’ blog post for months – you’ve motivated me to get busy. Thanks!

    • Thanks Fiona – great to know I’m not the only one! I can’t wait to read “Twitter for Bushies”…. what a great title. Let me know when it’s up so I can share it.

  9. A great list! Thanks for the reminder to keep the balance right Amanda.

  10. Great tips Amanda. I’d forgotten about lists. I’ve written that on my ‘To do’ list!

    • Thank you 🙂 And yes, definitely put those lists on the To Do list. I check my three favourite lists every day, it makes twitter much easier to use, and more fun to boot.

  11. Fantastic advice Amanda. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to best use Twitter so this makes a lot of sense. I’m off to make me some lists 🙂