The Internet is a wonderful if confusing world – and that’s why you sometimes need to be pointed in the right direction. Lucky for you, some of us spend far too much time online and logged in – and that wealth of experience translates into some social networking know-how. Consider Miss Netiquette (who you can reach at firstname.lastname@example.org) your guide to Web manners, and this week, she’s got all the advice on Twitter.
There’s no denying that Twitter’s one of the most powerful social tools we have now — it breaks news, circulates rumors, invented the hashtag, and has more or less officially turned into the a public platform of substance. It’s an essential tool for entrepreneurs, journalists, comedians, and (of course) social media professionals — but it’s also a fecund breeding ground for scam artists, spambots, narcissistic personality disorders, misinformation, beliebers, and general mayhem. That’s why Miss Netiquette needs to lay down the law and stop the tackiest Twitter tactics from spreading.
Dear Miss Netiquette: I have a new business. Should I buy fake followers to make people think I’m legit?
Ugh, no. I understand the impulse to buy followers, especially if you’re trying to use Twitter as a marketing tool. A higher follower count, whether we like it or not, bestows a certain initial aura of legitimacy around a Twitter account. But that false representation of popularity will actually end up harming your business — not to mention contributing to a growing problem that’s eroding the value of followers for people who actually have hoards of fans.
Here’s why buying followers will end up hurting you, specifically: sure, a few people might feel more inclined to follow you if you have a high count. But most people don’t just randomly follow businesses based on how many followers they have. So the benefit of the follower purchase isn’t high. Second, your trickery can easily get uncovered by programs like Fakers by Social Bakers, which lets you see how many followers are real or fake for any Twitter account.
Third, and most important, the whole point of Twitter is to get people talking to each other, to get people engaged. If you’re tweeting to a vacuum of spambots, why have a Twitter at all? Spambots can’t come to your gluten-free cupcake sale or donate to the Kickstarter for your short film about kombucha. They can’t re-tweet your most delectable bon mot about the Oscars. They’re numbers on the top of your page and nothing more.
Dear Miss Netiquette: I am really good at using Twitter. Should I call myself a “Twitter ninja” or a “Twitter guru” in my profile?
I don’t care if you’re Twitter’s shrewdest user (and that’s Kim Kardashian, by the way) if you use the following terms you deserve to have your account deleted: “ninja” “maven” “guru” “mastermind” “savant.” Stop it! It’s semi-understandable if you legitimately have an insane amount of organic followers, but it seems like most people who use these terms are trying to fake it while they make it and getting stuck on the “fake” part.
If you’re really good at using Twitter, you don’t need to brag about it in your handle description. Stick to something relevant to your interests.
Dear Miss Netiquette: Can I send out wedding invites on Twitter? I seem to do everything else there.
Please do not do this. If you’re not into spending money on paper invitations, which is fair, that is what e-vites are for. Postage is expensive, but there are a lot of middle-ground options between hand-stamping meticulously calligraphic homemade invites and asking people to “favorite” your tweet as an RSVP. E-mail, for instance. Even a private Facebook group is a more appropriate forum than Twitter. That said, if you’re expecting someone to come to your wedding IRL and not just Skype themselves in, you might want to consider exerting the effort to send them a tangible invitation.
Also: don’t follow in the footsteps of tattoo artist Kat von D and DJ Deadmau5 and get engaged on Twitter. If it’s your primary method of communication with your significant other, you have bigger problems than wedding invite etiquette.
— deadmau5 (@deadmau5) December 16, 2012
Dear Miss Netiquette: How many hashtags should I use? #notclearonit #confused #seriously #whatdoido
Engaging hashtag use is a confounding art. Technically, you can hashtag every word you use on Twitter, but will it really help you accomplish anything? It’s fun to use hashtags as a punchline, and they can be a good tool if you use them wisely. For instance, if you’re tweeting about a popular topic, find a hashtag that’s being used often but not so often that your tweet gets lost among thousands of others — unless you already have a substantial following, you’re not going to make much of a mark by using the same hashtag as everyone else. If you’re not sure which hashtags are helping you, use a Twitter analytics service — many of them are free. And if you’re using more than two hashtags, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Always err on the side of not hashtagging — you don’t want to end up like Susan Boyle, whose publicists clearly didn’t think the hashtag they tried to use to promote her album through — #susanalbum ended up a punchline instead of a promotion.
Dear Miss Netiquette: If something horrible happens in the news, should I re-tweet any info I come across about it?
Just because you see something on Twitter doesn’t mean it’s true — and the media coverage and Twitter situation following the explosions in Boston are good examples of why you should think before you re-tweet. Though in the immediate aftermath of the bombing most people in the area were helping, both amateurs and professionals on Twitter were spreading theories and false information. A fake Boston Marathon account popped up to fish for followers, and people jumped to some pretty awful conclusions. Even news outlets like CNN reported the wrong things.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about current events on Twitter. And the story broke for many people on the platform, as tweets rolled in from people at the scene. But before you press “Enter,” double-check that you’re adding something factual or thoughtful to the conversation instead of re-hashing rumors. Of course, if you happen to see something newsworthy, feel free to post it. But if you’re just commenting or adding to the conversation about a breaking news story without all the facts, it’s better to wait.
Dear Miss Netiquette: How do you feel about live-tweeting movies, events, sports, etc?
Live-tweeting is like hashtagging in that you can do it well and you can do it horribly, and it’s easier to mess up than it is to get right. If you’re too eager or not entertaining enough, followers will drop like flies infected with the “WTF” virus when they see you spew 20 tweets over the course of a “Mad Men” episode.
Now, if you want to gain followers during an event like the Oscars or the Superbowl, you can live-tweet and use hashtags to up your chances of getting noticed by new followers. If you send out a few different pithy remarks every 10 minutes or so, the people watching the hashtag conversation will have a better chance of seeing you.
I like a well-executed live-tweet, like those by Retta, the actress who plays Donna in “Parks and Recreation.” Her live-tweets from @unfoRETTAble are often of shows whenever she watches them — not when they air — so they’re definitely a flurry of tweets on your feed, but they’re so entertaining you don’t mind.
Retta is also a master hashtagger, so you can learn a number of aspects of Twitter mastery from her:
— Retta (@unfoRETTAble) March 28, 2013
Dear Miss Netiquette: What CAN I do on Twitter that’s not tacky?
OK, so I mainly dealt with questions by telling you guys to quit doing obnoxious stuff. But there’s a lot of non-obnoxious ways to use Twitter that will keep you informed, help your career, make you laugh or at keep you vaguely entertained and engaged without pissing people off. You can make a joke. Even a corny joke (but, ya know, not a racist or homophobic or sexist joke, please). You can re-tweet an interesting link AFTER you’ve read it and done a preliminary check to make sure it’s real and not garbage yakked up by the rumor mill. You can tweet at a celebrity to tell them you like them. You can tweet at a journalist and ask them about a story. You can tweet at friends. You can tweet quotes you like. There are so many cool ways to use Twitter — people write books, haikus, blistering one-liners, poignant reflections.
And even if you’ve accidentally gone on hashtag spree or you got a little trigger-happy and re-tweeted conspiracy theorists at some point, the good news is it’s a constantly-updating website, and you can delete your old tweets if you really hate them (although that won’t work if you’re a politician thanks to sites like Politiwhoops.)
There is hope, young tweeter. Go forth and be prudent with your hashtags and generous with your favorites.