Five Twitter etiquette rules you should never (ever) break


I offered a list of Twitter etiquette tips for journalists — or anyone — a while back, and it got quite a buzz around the Twitterverse. Here’s round two: My updated list of what not to do on Twitter.

1. Don’t send an automated welcome direct message. I am not a fan of automated anything on Twitter because it’s a medium dependent on conversation, and automated conversations just aren’t fun. But the automated welcome direct message has really come to annoy me.

In the face-to-face world, we never walk up to someone we have just met and play them an oral automated message or hold a sign that says: “You’re going to love what I have to say.” So don’t do it virtually. It comes across as really spammy. And if it’s meant as a joke, it usually comes off as stupid, not funny. And if it includes a bid to “read your blog” with a link, it really is just junk mail. If it was in print form, I’d chuck it right in the recycling bin. If you want to welcome me to your community of followers, fine. It’s OK to send a real direct message that’s unique to me.

Talk to me — not at me.

2. Don’t protect your tweets. I’m not sure what the value of Twitter is if people can’t read your tweets. Really, why are you using a public medium for something so personal that it needs to be protected. I have a pretty iron-clad rule that I won’t follow people who protect their tweets. I break this rule only for people I know in the “real” world. I guess it’s OK if you use Twitter to whisper sweet nothings to a few people, but I’m not sure Twitter is the right place for that.

3. Don’t leave your bio blank.  Let’s face it: It takes about 30 second to fill out a Twitter bio for your profile page. Do it. It is one of the main ways people decide whether to follow you. I’m to the point where I pretty much won’t follow someone with a blank bio because I figure: If the person isn’t dedicated enough to fill out a bio, what could they have to say that I’d want to hear.

Now I realize some people get stopped because they want to make their bio clever or funny. They try a few things but feel the result is too bland, so they drop it. My advice: Don’t. I’d be more likely to follow someone who has a straightforward bio than someone with no bio at all. What I’m really looking for is whether the person tweets about topics that interest me: the media, social media, technology, mommyhood.

And while you’re at it, add a picture, please.

4. Don’t end a tweet with “please retweet.” It comes across, at least to me, as sort of icky. If your tweet is retweet-worthy, it will get retweeted, trust me. And if you want insurance, chat offline with your real, honest-to-God friends who happen to be on Twitter and ask them to retweet it for you. But don’t ask the whole Twitterverse.

To me it’s a bit like the rule on gifts for a wedding. If the bride and groom prefer money to blenders and toasters, that’s perfectly reasonable, especially if they’re planning a destination wedding in Hawaii, and they don’t want to haul lots of boxes back to the mainland. But it’s rude to put on the invitation: “Money preferred.” The way to handle that is through back channels. The mother of the bride tells her sisters, who tell their sisters, and soon everyone kind of knows to bring cash, not towels.

I realize retweeting and gifting a wedded couple aren’t exactly the same thing. But I think the commonality is this: In almost every situation, it’s rude to tell people what to do. “Please retweet” kind of steps over that line, at least for me.

5. Don’t tweet your own blog post more than three times a day. I regularly tweet my own blog posts, and I believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as one also tweets other things. I’ve also found value in tweeting at different points of the day, to catch people in different times zones or who aren’t on Twitter all day. But enough is enough.

Again, the conversation metaphor is apt. Talk about yourself all the time when you meet new people at a party and you’re bound to be alone soon. I call it the 3-year-old syndrome. If you’ve had a 3-year-old (or ever been around one), you know what I mean. Three-year-olds are completely self-absorbed. I say that without malice. My kids were adorable at 3, and very young children are supposed to be self-absorbed. It’s how they survive. They need to get adults to do things for them. (Thank God, they are also incredibly cute.)

But the thing is most of us grow out of that, at least we should. For some reason, some people slip back into the terrible 3s on Twitter. (I know it’s usually called the Terrible 2s, but in my experience, 3-year-olds have it worse than 2-year-olds.) Resist the urge. Don’t regress. Grown-ups don’t do that.

Coming soon: My FourSquare etiquette rules.

What’s your Twitter pet peeve? What do you think of mine? Post a comment.


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31 thoughts on “Five Twitter etiquette rules you should never (ever) break

  1. I protected my tweets for a while because I was getting followed by spammers, porn stars and other crazy people and I didn’t have time to keep up with blocking them. I recently unprotected again. We’ll see what happens.

  2. You forgot this one: don’t tweet those annoying 4square check-ins. No one cares if you’re at WalMart buying dishwashing detergent. Really.

  3. People who protect their tweets are trying to import Facebook exclusivity into Twitter. Considering how privacy is being compromised on FB, I don’t understand the discomfort.
    I do notice, however, that the type of updates that tend to be popular on FB (baby pictures) don’t fly on Twitter. And references to topical subjects go nowhere on FB. I prefer talking to strangers who share my interests.

  4. Pingback: Twitter etiquette tips | Save the Media | Media Point - O Ponto de Encontro de todos os interessados nos Media!

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  8. Stephen and Kerri:

    You raise some good points about protecting one’s tweets. Stephen, I suspect you’re right that people are trying to bring Facebooklike privacy to Twitter. Although we all now know Facebooklike privacy was a bit of a myth.

    My rule of thumb with all social media: Assume anyone can discover anything you write, type, upload anytime, anywhere, forever. An assumption of no privacy makes it easier to deal with, at least for me.

    I guess the reason protected tweets bug me is it seems to go against the very essence of what Twitter is. It’s a very different medium than Facebook, where I tend to connect with actual friends, versus people who share my interests but who aren’t really even acquaintances.

    But, Kerri, I do understand feeling deluged by spammers and porn. I haven’t experienced that, but I can imagine it would be a pain.

    Good food for thought!


  9. Hi Gina,

    Thanks for posting this. My Twitter pet peeve is when someone follow me or follow me back but never talk to me. What’s the point?

    I’d try initiate conversation but still nothing doing. Argh.


  10. Great list! I especially agree about begging for RTs – it goes without saying that everyone would like retweets. The only time I think this is OK is if it’s about a missing person or other urgent situation where spreading the word could save someone’s life.

    Another thing that annoys me is when people put a dot in front of every @ reply, so that it doesn’t just go to that person – we all get the ‘benefit’ of their conversation about how they work so hard that they scarcely have time to spend 10 hours a day on Twitter.

  11. Shirley,

    That’s a great one. That bugs me, too. It’s a conversation.

    I often compare Twitter to a party. If you someone talks to you, talk back. (Unless they seem stalkerish, and then run.)


  12. Yeah, uh huh. I promise to tweet real good from now on.

    Be that as it may: tweeting around a bit, I find I’m not the only one who rankles at the suggestion that “three year olds are completely self-absorbed.”

    I’ve very very likely raised more three year olds than you, madame, full-time and without doubt under more adverse circumstances. The embarrassing consensus is, the “complete self-absorption” was never theirs.

  13. @Tom Dark

    Hmm. Sorry my comment about 3-year-olds rankled you. I’ve raised two children, so you may have me beat. I’ve been around many more 3-year-0lds than that, though.

    I wasn’t bashing 3-year-olds. I loved my kids at that age! Developmentally, though, kids are supposed to be focused on their own needs at that age. It’s not an insult; it’s child development.


  14. The .@reply complaint struck a nerve for me in a related sense. Sometimes when I follow famous people, they’ll know each other and I get stuck with pages of their chat. The most recent worst offenders are Keith Olbermann and his sniggering gang of colleagues and contributors. It was so irked by their mirthless coffee break banter that I unfollowed them all.

  15. This is excellent advice, and seems so basic to me. However, I can cite at least ten examples of each of your “don’ts” in my twit stream every day, so it is apparent that there is a real need for your advice! Keep on writing it! molly

  16. These rules actually make sense.

    So now my pet peeve is (most) lists of Twitter “rules.”

  17. Great list. One of my pet peeves is when folks retweet a #FF mention of themselves. It seems so self-serving.

  18. @Stephen Connolly

    That is annoying, whether it’s by celebs or regular folks. To me it’s like talking really loud at Panera so everyone hears your private conversation. Take to DMs, please.


  19. Filling out a bio is always good! That is a really telltale sign that the profile is for spamming, is extremely unimportant, or has something to hide. As far as pet-peeves, Twitter took care of my pet-peeve, which was all the third-party spam and advertising. Sponsored tweets will go a long way to help make Twitter a higher quality platform for advertising. I think auto-sending of messages has been established as bad etiquette for Internet communications for quite a while. Nobody wants to read a completely unoriginal message that has been copied 100 times. This was true 10 years ago for e-mail, just like it’s true now for Twitter and Facebook.

  20. Is it bad manners if someone Retweets me and then adds on an advert for themselves at the end of the RT, offering a service that competes with something I offer? How should I respond to someone who does that? I was very annoyed and thought it was really cheeky.

  21. thanks, for this great article. I found it through yahoo and i found it very interesting. i will look for more interesting articles at this blog. (=

  22. Pingback: Twitter for journalists | Save the Media

  23. Well, what can I say? I’m not really into twitter. But surely, I will always review this post once I start collecting 1,000,000 followers. :)

    Great post!

  24. Gina, Excellent food for thought.
    If only everyone in the “Twitterverse” read this and actually followed it.
    I’m pretty new to the Twitter world but some things people do just blow me away.

    Great post!

  25. Heya i am for the primary time here. I came across this board and I find It really helpful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to present one thing back and help others like you helped me.

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