Twitter Etiquette: Five Dos and Don'ts

Twitter beginners need to understand the rules of etiquette for the service. So before you stick a foot measuring 140-characters-or-less in your mouth, check out our advice on how to follow and un-follow, share politely, direct message appropriately, and more.

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4. Reciprocate Gracefully

Advice on using social media outlets is often served up with a slew of jargony slogans like "engage with the community" or "build your social capital." But sometimes what that means can be unclear, especially on a service like Twitter, which is still relatively young.

So more to the point: how do you become respected by the community and benefit from the give-and-take that happens between users on Twitter?

It's not all that complicated.

"Be honest, interesting and unselfish," says Laura Fitton, @pistachio), who runs Pistachio Consulting, which advices businesses on how to utilize Twitter.

That means not just tweeting links to your own company or website. It also means when you tweet other people's work or news, you shouldn't make it look like a chore. Add some feeling or commentary, or people will see through you.

"You can't just pretend the unselfish part and phone it in," she says. "You either are or you aren't."

One way to show how unselfish you are: contribute to topics of interest to you by replying to tweets on that subject. But just replying isn't necessarily enough to convey that you care. Don't be afraid to stir debate and define your views.

Individuals should avoid making their personal account an RSS-like stream of their own content, unless they explicitly say that's their intention. Organizations have more leeway to make a Twitter feed of that nature because it's implicit in their name. If, for instance, you follow @nytimes, expect to get an stream of New York Times content, not the Washington Post's. If you follow @jetblue, expect deals on Jetblue flights.

5. Use The Direct Message Correctly

Although Twitter generally operates as a one-to-many medium, the direct message allows you to reach out to a follower privately. (In order to direct message someone, they must follow you.). But direct messages can be misused, too.

Direct messages, in their best form, should be used as a Web-based version of the text message. Message someone private information such as when you plan to meet up for an appointment or share your cell phone number. You can use this option for any message that doesn't concern the rest of your followers.

However, direct messages are not just a way to e-mail spam people. Some marketing and PR professionals have been criticized for sending direct messages that say "thanks for following me" accompanied by a blatant product pitch.

"That annoys me to no end," Dixson says. "Sometimes, people have told me they get so annoyed with those that they'll un-follow a person."

Remember, many people have direct messages sent to their e-mail inboxes. In this case, you could increase their e-mail overload problem.

Also, remember what someone sends you via a direct message isn't for public consumption.

"There's an implied confidentiality there," Boyd says. "It wouldn't be good etiquette to post a direct message with someone's name on it unless you got permission."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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