Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Twitter Protocol Observations

For the past few months I've been delving into the complex and chaotic foray of Twitter.  It's been fascinating watching this relatively new online community evolve, and I've gradually come to my own understanding of how to do Twitter well.

One thing I've observed is that there are four types of Twitter users:

Type 1: The novice who isn't really sure what to do
Type 2: The casual user who posts things whenever the mood hits, hoping somebody will reply
Type 3: The seasoned user who regularly reaches out and listens to a broad spectrum of people
Type 4: Spammers who seem to think everybody is just dying to click their links (#doingitwrong)

Right now, I consider myself progressing from a Type 2 to a Type 3.  This post is addressed to Types 1 and 2, and to a lesser extent to Type 4.

These are some of the guidelines that I've seen the Type 3's out there adhere to, whether it's instinctive or planned.
  1. First and foremost, be real.  Your profile should be a short summary of what interests and/or motivates you.  And don't automate your tweets.  Compose all your replies and direct messages personally.  People can smell a robot.
  2. Use your face as your avatar.  By default, Twitter assigns a monochrome egg as your profile picture.  If you haven't removed that within a week of signing up (at most), you have no business using the service.  Nobody will take you seriously.  If you don't want your face online, delete your Twitter account.
  3. Be clever.  When you get a laugh out of people, the trust and interaction factors skyrocket.  If you're not naturally clever, then tell a joke.  Anybody can tell a joke.
  4. Be brief.  Twitter forces you to keep your comments to 140 characters.  You can get third party tools that allow you to extend this limit.  Don't do it.  Learn to fit in the frame.  If you have more to say, start a blog.
  5. Ask questions.  Few people will interact with tweets like, "I love my new shoes!"  It's because there's nothing left to say.  Most people (including you) are an expert or at least very knowledgeable about something.  Use that fact to your advantage.  For example: rephrase the tweet to say, "Love my new shoes. What do you look for in a shoe?"  You then open the door for two things to happen.  Twitter users of all types love to demonstrate their knowledge or give their opinions.  Either somebody will reply with an answer like style, price, comfort, etc, or somebody will find a joke waiting to be told and respond with, "A foot!"  See point #3.
  6. Don't link your networks.  Most social media networks allow you to link your posts from one to the other, so that people who follow you on one and not the other can get all your content, streamed word-for-word, from channel to channel.  There are two problems with this.  First, you have different types of people on your different networks.  Content on one is rarely relevant to content on another, unless you specifically design it to be so.  Second, it's lazy, and people will notice.  I lose a bit of respect for individuals and companies whose various social networks are just a bunch of echoes of stuff they've already told me.
  7. Use hooks.  There's a lot of chatter on the Twitterverse.  Most of it is white noise from types 1, 2, and 4.  Type 3 users know how to make you want to click their links.  Sometimes it's a simple as announcing a contest.  Other times you have to be more creative.  Again, rely on point #3 for help in this regard.
  8. Tap into your eclectic nature.  That's a rarely used word, but it means to have a broad range of tastes and interests. My profile states that I like, among other things, Nerf and Toastmasters. [update Jan 15/11 - it now points to my page, which lets me be a little more detailed.]  Use hashtags (the # symbol followed by a word) to search Twitter for a particular topic or theme.  Seek out the official Twitter IDs for the brands you like, and for users who talk about things you like, and follow them.  But first, see point 9.
  9. Be discerning in who you follow.  When my interest in a person or company is tweaked by something I see re-tweeted or a notification that I'm being followed, I review their past few tweets (including the dates of the tweets) to see which of the four types they are.  If it's a Type 4, I never follow.  If it's a Type 3 (i.e. a good mix of recent original tweets, retweets, and @replies) that displays a common interest, I definitely do follow.  If it's a Type 1 or 2, it's a judgement call each time.  Remember, quality is more important than quantity.  Also, look at the number of followers they have compared to the number they follow and the number of tweets they've posted.  You'll start to see patterns in these ratios that will reveal which of the four types they are.
  10. Be proper. Avoid profanity.  Use correct spelling, sentence structure, and grammar (but feel free to save a character but putting only one space between sentences instead of two).  I'm impressed that after a decade of instant messaging, this indication of sophistication and education has survived.

As I said, these are some of my observations of what the Type 3s are doing.  While I'm hardly the first guy to try to build this list, I find it fascinating how the unregulated Twitter community has spawned this emergence of commonly accepted protocols.  If you're a Type 1 or 2, you won't go wrong these insights.  If you're a Type 3, let me know if I've accurately tagged your secrets, or if there's anything you would add to this list.

If you're a Type 4, don't bother commenting - I'll just delete it.


  1. Hi James. You will want to delete this because as far as Twitter goes, I mostly only post my own blog updates. I find Twitter to cluttered and frenetic a place to dialogue in any meaningful way but hey, I'm an old guy. I do love where I have found a small community of A1 conservative Catholics. I prefer Plurk for a number of reasons one of them being the ability to have discussion threads. Even though each 'plurk' is itself limited to 140 characters you can string'em together and other users can do the same joining in on any thread they want. I find it a lot easier to actually "follow" people there than Twitter. But, whatever works and hey, I just "followed" you.

  2. Owen, your comments are safe here, specifically because I know you're not a spammer or a stranger looking for attention.

    Plurk sounds interesting... but the last thing I need these days is ANOTHER social network to stretch into.

  3. That's just how I feel about Twitter. And now, I'm going to bed so the only networking I'm about to do is face first into a pillow


Comments are welcome, but must be on topic. Spam, hateful/obscene remarks, and shameless self-promotion will be unceremoniously deleted. Well, OK, I might put on a little ceremony when I delete them.