One of the best, and most important, things about social media is that there are no hard and fast rules. Social media is what you make of it, and there's no right or wrong way to use it.
Social Media Rules of Engagement
However, some social networks are better-suited for certain activities than others. Twitter has more than 288 million monthly active users who post around 500 million tweets each day. The platform has been around for nearly eight years, but many people still don't understand Twitter or how to effectively use it.
Twitter can be surprisingly fruitful and at the same time mind-numbingly wasteful. As you scroll through your feed, reading breaking news updates, it can be jolting to suddenly see a completely non-related tweet, such as a haiku about someone's breakfast.
And that's OK. Twitter is designed to be a global, online town square, and if you want to make the most of the service you have to accept everything -- the good, bad and mundane -- that comes with it. Many of the things that make Twitter seem terrible at times are the same things that make it great. If you're not getting value out of Twitter, you're probably not following the right people. You also need to remember that Twitter is a two-way street, and you should be just as thoughtful about how you represent yourself on the platform as you are about the people you choose to follow.
Read on for our Twitter rules of engagement.
Don't Create Tweetstorms
Tweetstorms are a relatively new Twitter phenomenon, created mostly by academic types, billionaires and people who just love to see themselves tweet. Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters for good reason, and brevity is a thing of beauty. It's something you should cherish about Twitter, not circumvent.
It can be tough to narrow a thought, idea or joke down to 140 characters, but that's part of the fun of Twitter. There are plenty of things that can't be said in 140 characters, and those are what blogs, pens and paper are for.
If you can't say something on Twitter in less than 140 characters, don't say it at all. Sometimes a series of related tweets is warranted, but you should always keep them relevant -- and please don't write sentences that run from one tweet to the next. That's just obnoxious.
Avoid Retweet and @Reply Binges
Twitter sometimes makes people do strange things. Side effects of extensive Twitter use include (but aren't limited to) momentary lapses in reason and the unexplainable urge to retweet every semi-clever tweet that flutters across your feed.
It's generally good Twitter hygiene to be selective with retweets and favorites, and you should be particularly careful with retweets because they show up in your followers' feeds. You should also try not to retweet everything anyone says about you on Twitter and reply only to tweets if you have something of value to add to the conversation. Less really is more on Twitter.
Don't Recycle Old Tweets
We've all been there. You compose what you're sure is a brilliant tweet, and you send it off into the Twitterverse with the expectation that your self-aggrandizement will be reinforced by grateful and complimentary responses from your followers.
Then nothing happens. Not one favorite, retweet or knee-jerk @reply.
After something like that, it's nearly impossible to go about the rest of your day, wondering what could have been, if only that tweet received the recognition it so obviously deserved. Where's the humanity?
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The reality, however, is that humanity owes you nothing, especially on Twitter. Get over yourself, and fight the urge to repost something you already tweeted. Maybe the timing wasn't right or the context was wrong, but that's on you and nobody else.
Twitter is all about "what's happening" now (it even says so right in the compose-a-tweet box), so just move on. Maybe you'll have better luck next time.
If you're particularly proud of a tweet, you can always pin it to the top of your profile like I did with this tweet I wrote at the end of the Super Bowl. (To pin a tweet to your profile, go to the profile page, find the tweet you want to pin, click the "More" option and choose "pin to your profile page.")
Keep Twitter Separate From Other Social Networks
Twitter should not be used as a repository for everything you do on social media sites. Don't repost every single picture you upload to Facebook or every check-in from Swarm or Yelp. That's unbearably annoying.
Some platforms are specifically designed for posting photos or checking in, so leave those check-ins, Instagrams and Facebook posts where they belong, and let Twitter do what it does best.
Easy on the Emoticons, Hashtags and Spaces
There are times, although they're rare, when a funny emoticon, hashtag or well-placed line space fits the flow of Twitter. It's generally a good idea to proceed with caution when it comes to hashtags, emoticons and needless spaces though, because not everyone shares your affinity for them.
One emoticon is usually more than enough and hashtags have a purpose, but paragraph breaks are just annoying. Be considerate of your followers. Do you like it when you see a tweet full of emoticons or hashtags? Or one with so many paragraph breaks that it takes up your entire screen? No, I didn't think so, so don't subject your followers to them.
Never Feed Twitter Trolls
Meaningful dialogue, all the back-and-forth on Twitter, is a defining characteristic of the platform. However, when the conversation turns to negativity, hate speech or slander, it's time to sign off and take a walk outside.
If someone comes out of the blue with an @reply that insults or incites you, don't engage. If they can't muster the intelligence to have a conversation without being mean or goading you into a downward spiral, they don't deserve your time.
Repeat to yourself, don't engage the trolls. Avoid the temptation, don't sink to their level or give them the time of day.
Don't Be an @$$#*!~
Speaking of trolls, do not (ever) engage in troll-like behavior. The most important rule on Twitter -- and any other social network, really -- is simple: don't be an @$$#*!~.
You don't always have to be nice, but you can get your point across on Twitter without being mean, calling people disparaging names or posting hurtful things.