Monday, June 23, 2014

8 Twitter Dos and Don'ts: What I've Learned from Communicating in 140 Characters or Less

I prefer Facebook for allowing us to communicate in paragraphs, and Instagram, where a photo is worth, if not always a thousand words, so much more than 140 characters. But I suppose that Twitter has its place. Though I haven't quite figured out the true purpose of it (aside from allowing us all to achieve the goal of being closer to celebrity, figuratively and literally, either by having billions of "followers" or talking directly to famous people), what it lacks in practical value, it makes up for in entertainment value, especially when celebrities start attacking each other in front of an audience of millions.

It can be a learning experience, too. I haven't discovered anything as enlightening as some of those articles that my Facebook friends are always sharing, but in my time on Twitter, I've learned some lessons, most of them about Twitter, not life. Here are 8 of them.

1. Do be careful! Big brother (and sister) is watching. In other words, don't tweet it if you don't want the entire world to read it. Unlike private Facebook posts, tweets, like Instagram pics, aren't only visible to your followers. I've had several people tell me they don't use Twitter because nobody cares what they have to say, and they couldn't be more wrong. I'm not sure how some random tweeter on the other side of the world happens across my tweet about how I'm en route to the loo -- BRB! -- and why that would inspire them to "follow" me, but s**t like that happens (pun intended!).

I'm sure there are privacy settings you can use to block non-followers from reading your tweets, but using them would be missing the entire point of Twitter. It's not so much about communicating ideas or even filling people in on what's new in your life as it is about accumulating as many followers as possible.

2. Don't be afraid to approach icons on Twitter. Just because Justin Bieber probably won't tweet you back doesn't mean someone much better won't. I once sent Alison Moyet a link to a blog post I wrote celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of Yazoo's Upstairs at Eric's album. Within minutes, she'd tweeted me back, thanking me for the kind words. Stephanie Mills once sent me a thank-you tweet, too, and I hadn't even solicited it by sending her a link to the blog post for which she was so grateful!

3. Do use hashtags, preferably in the middle of your tweets instead of at the end. I'm still not 100 percent sure what those numeral signs (#) in front of words are supposed to do, and they eat up large chunks of your allotted 140 characters. Social media-savvy friends have explained that hashtagged words make it easier to find your posts in search engines. Fair enough (I guess). I haven't yet determined their efficacy, but if you incorporate them into the body of your tweets instead of hashtagging at the end, not only will it save space, it also will break up all of that black text with a lovely shade of babyish blue.

4. Don't even attempt to have an intelligent debate on Twitter. It's bad enough that you have to condense your argument to 140 characters or less, but it'll only be further undermined when you have to drop a period at the end or use "2" 4 "to" or "too" 2 make it fit. Likewise, it'll be tougher to take seriously dissenting opinions addressed to "U" instead of "you." So keep it light and simple.

5. Do keep calm and say, "Thank you." The other day an Adam Lambert fan called me an "idiot" and wished me a "pathetic life" in response to one of my Huffington Post essays in which I made some comments about Lambert that he/she interpreted as being disparaging. (Of all the fans I've encountered in my six years of blogging, Lambert's are the ones most likely to take something you say about someone else personally.) I tried to think of a suitably snarky response, but in the end, I decided to go with a simple "Thank you." He didn't respond "YW" (that's "You're welcome," in Twitter speak, as I learned from another Lambert fan after blowing her off with gratitude), but within minutes he'd deleted the original tweet.

6. Don't ignore all unsolicited tweets from strangers that look like spam. In between those mysterious ones from friends hawking some item that neither you nor they would ever use, there might be the occasional valuable offer. I haven't gotten one yet, but I now have hope. The other day I was bemoaning the lack of razor-cartridge options in Cape Town supermarkets, and hours after my fruitless search, I received an email from Dollar Shave Club, a U.S. company that delivers razor cartridges directly to your home (sadly, not if said dwelling is on the other side of the world, in South Africa) and apparently tweets its offers, too. What if it had been a tweet offering a service that I can actually use and I had automatically tossed it out with the rest of the spam? If there's a company in South Africa that makes can openers that last longer than a few months, please feel free to tweet me.

7. Do post "#mickeymouse #tattoo" images. I'm not sure if he was only joking, but a friend of mine said on Facebook that this is the best way to "get every fucktard from Shangzen to Portland" to follow you on Instagram. I'm assuming it works on Twitter, too!

8. Don't sweat if you have nothing to say. Just tweet an uplifting self-help quote or a well-known name or place. Twitterers are suckers for positive-thinking aphorisms, and there are apparently actual people who monitor Twitter for every mention of certain names and places. Just the mention of "Hamlet" in one of my recent tweets, got "William Shakespeare" to follow me! Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare? Twitter followers don't get much more impressive than that, and all it took was name-dropping one great Dane.

No comments: