In the year-plus I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve followed and then unfollowed a number of people for two main reasons:

  • Found what they said uninteresting
  • They so often that they dominated the feed

In almost all cases, both reasons applied to the same tweeter.
This got me thinking about Twitter etiquette, especially if you use Twitter for something more than personal reasons—as business channel, you’re a blogger, etc.

Be Social and Let Others Talk

Social media is about being social—have something to say and listen to what others are saying.  Have an interesting story to share?  A link?  Something cool happened that you have to tell the world about?  Fine.  But if I log in to Twitter and see over a dozen tweets along the lines of:

TalksTooMuch loves coffee… mmm
About 1 hour ago from Mobile

TalksTooMuch has his coffee
About 1 hour ago from Mobile

TalksTooMuch has ordered coffee
About 1 hour ago from Mobile

TalksTooMuch is waiting in line for coffee
About 1 hour ago from Mobile

I will unfollow TalksTooMuch.  He’s boring and, more importantly, his inane tweets are forcing others off the main page, making me scroll down several pages of TalksTooMuch’s stream of banality before finding someone else with something interesting to say.  (And anyone who thinks every moment of their life is that interesting probably isn’t someone whose opinions I’d value anyway.)
To use a real world example, he’s that person at a party who never shuts up, dominates the conversation and drives away everyone except that poor last sap who’s stuck nodding because it would be too rude to walk away mid-sentence.


Now, there are exceptions as to why someone would tweet every few seconds:

  • Tweeting a Live Event – A blow-by-blow makes sense since you don’t know what little details or actions will become important.  This could be something positive like an award show or something chaotic like a natural disaster (see the effect Twitter had on last summer’s earthquake in China).
  • Updates for an Activity – Perhaps you’re travelling, performing some task, trying to meet up with fans at a con, etc. where frequent updates are necessary and a text-based, real-time, one-to-many method is needed.
  • Replies – If you are a popular person and get lots of @ messages, you should reply.

Lists and Technology

Yes, some Twitter apps and the new Lists feature can mitigate this, but that is a reactive strategy.  As a Twitter user, I shouldn’t have to adapt to you because you’re tweeting on and on and on like a bird outside my window at 5AM.

What To Do

If you’re on Twitter, especially for business or professional reasons (even a side business or hobby, like me):

  • Have Something Meaningful To Say: But meaningful doesn’t always mean profound.  Not all tweets need to be “New legislation is a threat of civil liberties –”.  Tweeting your child is sick can be meaningful if friends and family follow you, or even if you use Twitter for professional reasons but are very open with your personal life (e.g., “Home with sick kid so blog post delayed.”).
  • Have a Reason for Tweeting: Ask yourself why you are tweeting something.  To inform?  Entertain?  Amuse? All are fine reasons, so long as you have  a reason.  You can even tweet to reinforce a personal brand.  If you’re a musician or writer involved in dark, gloomy works, tweeting something ambiguous like “(sigh)” or “dark… so dark…” might not communicate information, but helps reinforce your image.
  • Let Others Talk: In my role as publicist for ChiZine Publications, I maintain their Twitter feed.  With a day job, I used to come home, look at what needed to be tweeted, and post the links and comments all at once, resulting in about 5 or 6 tweets within 10 minutes.  I did this until someone said they hated the “clutter”, which made me realize I should space things out a bit.  Twitter allows you to stay up-to-the-second, and should be used if your tweet is time-critical, but a link to an article can wait 15 minutes if you just tweeted something else.

Your mileage may vary.