Some time ago I wrote an etiquette guide for Facebook.

Because the article made a lot of buzz in social media, I thought I should write an etiquette guide on how to use Twitter effectively, the other major player in social networking.

The microblogging service was launched in 2006 and employs almost 1,000 people all over the world. It has a database of 140 million active users and, in competition with Facebook, represents the most valuable place to share information on the web. Tweeting constantly and being active all the time is very important, as followers can lose interest quite fast.

Although a tweet can be a maximum 140 characters, the information you can share within these boundaries can be incredibly useful. Many people in our industry share interesting links to tutorials, posts and product reviews – although written with less than 140 characters, the information can spread very fast and is very useful.

I don’t want to make a huge introduction about it; I assume that if you are interested in effective usage of Twitter, you already know what the service offers. So we’ll just jump right into the Twitter Etiquette Guide.

How to use Twitter Effectively as Individuals

1. Have a good bio

If people land on your Twitter profile without knowing who you are, they should be able to, in a matter of seconds, find out more about you. As said earlier, they can quickly lose interest. The first place people look is the bio. It is their first interaction with you and your profile and it is what you will get judged by at first.

Because there is a character limit there as well, you should pay extra attention to what you choose to write and what you omit. If you have a Twitter profile for building a network or a brand, it is important to mention something about your key interests and profession. Make use of different words to emphasize if you are a serious, tough individual or a relaxed, artist-like fellow.

Stating your real name and having a recent picture of you is something I advise you to do. It brings you and your profile more credibility and, when people see your profile, this is exactly what you need to keep their interest.

2. Be selective when following

If you follow 2,000 people without being followed by many in return, Twitter will not allow you to follow more accounts until you meet their ratio criteria. So although many don’t know it, Twitter has certain restrictions regarding the number of people a user can follow. This means that at least in the beginning, you need to only follow relevant profiles. If you are not interested in somebody’s updates or online life, it’s not worth to follow that person.

Following countless music stars is not very popular with web designers, for example. They clutter your timeline and you can miss important information. Moreover, the timeline can get confusing, showing you information from different fields of interest. If you follow an account and think it is not worth your time, you can at any given point remove the profile from your following list.

This will make more space on the timeline for the updates that matter to you. Be selective and only follow people you are interested in, to ensure you will get the most out of your Twitter profile.

3. Credit your sources

If you share some information or retweet a post, make sure you acknowledge the source where it came from. Typing a simple “via @user” will not harm anybody, but will bring you a lot of appreciation from the person you retweet.

Moreover, this kind of behavior is helps in creating a network and will affirm you as a professional and credible individual. There are high chances that a person whose tweet you share will at least visit your profile, if not start following you – and this is only because you acknowledge the user’s efforts in finding the respective information.

4. Make use of hashtags

Hashtags are a unique feature of Twitter. Out of the 400 million tweets per day, an average of almost 3 tweets per day for each registered user, you are probably only interested in a fraction of them and usually follow the people who can provide you with the information you want. But what if you are interested in something more than that but do not want to increase the number of followed profiles?

That’s why Twitter introduced hashtags (#) which facilitate searching the information you’re looking for within seconds. A search on Google is much simpler, but Twitter was never made with the search function in mind. However, they found a great way of categorizing content, by allowing users to use hashtags in their updates. Using hashtags increase a user’s visibility in a particular area of discussion and increases the number of followers from a specific domain.

5. Have a focus

The reason why you need to fill out a good profile bio is for people to know what to expect from you and your updates. You have to stick to this throughout all your updates, more or less. If you proclaim yourself an IT expert, people might not be interested in shared football stories; stick to IT!

Tweeting on unrelated topics will probably end up decreasing your number of followers, as the quality of your updates lowers. If you start losing focus on a domain, you will soon notice people start to un-follow you.

6. Engage

Like any other communication platform, Twitter is a two-way street. This means that you should not bombard people with information, but engage and interact with other users. This helps build a relationship with other users and creates a network for you. It is very easy to interact with somebody who already replied to you or retweeted you, so don’t hesitate to do it. Take a few seconds to answer, because you might get a lot in return for it.

7. Make use of short DMs

The direct message (DM) option is available with the users whom you follow. It is a very bad idea to get into an argument with somebody publicly, for example, so the DM option makes it easier for you and your privacy. However,don’t abuse DMs either, as this would most likely annoy users. Keep it short, ask for a quick answer or an e-mail address and then move the conversation there. Twitter is not for long discussions.

How NOT to Use Twitter

1. Do not automate

Automation is one of the things I hate most in social media today. I see people posting on Facebook and their updates automatically gets posted on Twitter as well. I am not very fond of  third-party applications either. Don’t send me an automatic “thank you” message when I follow you. And do not use apps that unfollow people who have not been active for a period of time.

You are not a robot, but a person. Users are not robots either (at least the ones we are interested in following), so treat them as they should be treated. There is simply no place for automation in social media if you ask me, so stay away from it. A smart user will be able to tell the difference between an automated tweet and a real-time one.

2. Don’t tweet irrelevantly

While it is very important to stay active on Twitter and engage your followers, don’t overdo it. Tweeting unnecessarily will also likely make your followers lose interest and unfollow you. Extremely personal information should not be tweeted either, as it is highly unlikely for anybody to be interested in it.

3. Don’t be an RT machine

Every update you retweet will automatically be posted on the timeline of all your followers, which means that with the click of a mouse button you will share information to possibly hundreds or even thousands of people. That’s a lot of users. And most likely they will not want to follow a ReTweet machine.

They can find the information themselves if they wish to. In the beginning it is interesting and the information shared is likely to be acknowledged, but after a time users will start wondering if the only thing you do is retweet.

You also need to provide content, don’t just RT content from other people. If this is the case, why would somebody follow you instead of the source you retweet 5 times per day?

4. Avoid leaking personal information

If your Twitter account is for business – avoid publishing personal information. Personal information might be misinterpreted in a professional domain, as many times personal life has nothing to do with the business side of it. Avoid tweeting about personal information on your professional account.

5. Avoid arguments

Getting involved in unnecessary arguments will never get you far, especially in public. When arguing with somebody you may say things you will later be sorry for, so make sure you stay away from those situations.

If amends need to be taken, then take them using the DM option or over e-mail, not publicly on Twitter. Although people are drawn to scandal, they are not likely to keep waiting for a resolution between you and the one you argue with – they will most likely cease to follow one, or both, of you. This is not the outcome you want, right?

Although this is common sense and everybody should know about it, avoiding arguments is not easy for Twitter users. To ensure you don’t get caught in such situations, avoid tweeting on hot topics regarding a person’s religion, relationships, career, professional or personal issues and so on.

6. Don’t ask to be followed

Those who ask to be followed are most likely the ones whom I will never end up following. If you can’t convince me to follow your profile with your bio and tweets, I will never follow it just because you ask me to. And even if we are friends – as long as we are not interested in each others’ domains, we should stay apart. I will not get anything out of having one more follower, if I know him/her is not really interested in what I tweet about.

7. Do not delete tweets

As mentioned earlier, it takes a few seconds for a tweet to reach your whole audience. In my opinion apologizing is always better than deleting a tweet, because it will show people you can accept your mistakes and take responsibility for them. I always prefer to post a tweet with the right information than to delete the previous one and post it again.

Twitter for Business

A company Twitter profile has to be managed differently than a personal one. The stakes of each tweet can be very high, so more attention needs to be spent making sure each tweet represents your company appropriately.

1. Optimization

Optimization is a key concept for a company Twitter profile. With only 140 characters for each tweet, a company has to strategize the message more than on Facebook or Google+, where longer messages can be posted.

When following a brand or a company, the user wants to familiarize with the products it offers or seek any possible promotions from one of their favorite brands. Therefore a company has to take care of their profile much more than an individual. A person can lose followers, while a company can lose much more than that – money and clients.

2. Have a focus

Every company profile needs an objective. It can, for example, be providing information to customers, using it for support, advertising new offers, responding to complaints or handling queries – whatever it is, a company needs an objective on Twitter.

Users usually follow a profile for a reason – if the profile changes its objectives, they might not be interesting enough anymore and will get unfollowed. The messaging needs to be kept focused to reach a single objective.

3. Tweet what is relevant

Tweeting only relevant information is something a company profile should do on Twitter. If Coca-Cola starts posting information about cars, their followers might think they are unprofessional and will often decide to unfollow.

A brand should always stick to providing the information their users are used to. If a company tweets something else, it might show that they do not have enough fresh content to keep people interested, which will usually create a bad impression.

A brand can also be personified by posting congratulation messages to different personalities. For example, AC Milan’s profile posts all the time congratulation messages to Novak Djokovic, a well-known fan of the Italian team.

4. Make use of dashboards

If a company has several social media profiles, making use of social media dashboards is always useful, as it makes it easier to manage all profiles. This also allows for multiple logins with the same password, which makes remembering the login credentials easier.

5. Be responsive

Followers will many times provide company profiles with feedback. Every company in the world has unsatisfied customers, it is simply impossible not to. Therefore it is an asset for a company profile to be able to respond properly to feedback.

Communication skills are important for a community manager dealing with such comments from users. They should try to clarify the response from the brand in such a way that the user will not be unhappy with the company for a long time. Knowing how and when to apologize is also important.

6. Identify brand evangelists

These people are so powerful they can make a small brand into a household name. If you identify the appropriate evangelists and engage them properly, you can make major strides in becoming a household name. But pay much attention, as they can also do a lot of damage with negative comments.

7. Engage customers

Probably the main focus behind a Twitter profile is to engage customers. Gaining insights from them is an opportunity only the ones using social media have. It is very important for a company to get insights from its followers so that they can decide upon the path to follow.

What not to do

1. Don’t spam

Spamming is the worst thing a company Twitter profile can do. None of us like spam and most of us stop following any profile that fills our timeline with spam instantly. It is easy for a huge company to reach a large audience, while it may not be as easy for a small one. Thus small companies have to put in more effort to reach a larger audience and they might start spamming. Regardless of how much you want to have more followers, do not spam – it can create a lot of damage from which you may never recover from.

2. Don’t make selling the main focus

Many companies see Twitter as a medium in which to sell their product medium, which is a big mistake. Twitter is not a selling medium; it works as a medium to sell your product even less than Facebook does. Use your main website for selling, not the Twitter profile.

Twitter should be perceived as a form of communication and should be used to listen, track and monitor conversations about the brand. Tweeting about discounts and offers is not a problem, but do not overdo it. Users are not always interested in getting bombarded with offers.

3. Don’t talk about your competition

Like I advised in my article about Facebook, it is a good idea to stay away from making any remarks about your competitors. This creates a bad impression about you to your followers, who will think you are only on Twitter to fight with your competitors. No good can come of this for you, or your competitor.

4. No tweeting about yourself

Customers follow brand profiles to find out more about the brand, not the person behind the profile. Making personal updates on a company profile is not a good idea and I do not recommend it. People following a brand are less likely to be interested in your personal life.

5. No automation

As mentioned earlier, automation is something I am not a big fan of, both on a personal and company profile. Companies should try to create relationships with their clients – this is impossible to do via automatic messages. Customers should be individually addressed if they inquire about something. And if you get a negative remark and offer an automated response, this will create an even worse impression. Always get in direct contact with a user that offers negative feedback and always avoid arguments in public.

6. No personal contacts

As tweeting about yourself is not a good idea, creating personal contacts from your brand profile is not a good idea either. Many companies actually prohibit their community managers to create contacts on their brand profile. The Twitter profile of a company should always be kept for creating relationships with customers and other brands.

7. Don’t reveal important information

The profile managers should never be allowed to reveal company secrets. There is a high chance that a competitor follows you and will use the information in a way you won’t like. It can even be used in such a way that your competitor will take clients from you. You can also use the option of allowing only some followers to read your tweets. By having a restricted profile you can allow only some users to follow you, which will ensure nobody whom you don’t want to know about your company will read your posts.

These are the tips I can offer you regarding your personal and/or company Twitter profile. Remember that more or less everything you do on social media (publicly) will be remembered by your followers, therefore paying extra attention to each update is something that will make the difference between a popular profile and an unpopular one.

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