But Trust Me on the Twitter

Hello there.

I’ve been using Twitter for so damn long now that I’ve started to feel a bit like ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’

I started to wonder if all my time spent tweeting has resulted in me having any useful insights which I could share with you.  Have I got any titbits of advice which I could offer?  Not the basic stuff, (“try to keep your tweets below 140 characters or they will not work”) more the subtle guidance that the Old Man would have after years bobbing about on The Sea, piddling over the side of his boat when necessary.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve already written my obligatory little love-letter to Twitter.  You can peruse that by clicking here if you wish.

My twitter avatar was created by @twistedlilkitty, who knows I don't look as good as this, bless her.

So, do I?  Do I have some brilliant thoughts and insights into the Beast that is Twitter?

Do I?

It turns out that I don’t.  Not really.

This is really all I have:

1) Treat Your Twitter Timeline like a Hedge:  You have a hedge in your garden called Twitter.  It’s nice and pretty and it provides shade and nurture for all the creatures of the… (relax, Ken) … sorry.  Hedges are great but they grow up to be shaggy and unruly and obtrusive if you don’t attend to them from time to time.  You have to trim them back.  Need I say more?  You’re smart people, you know where I’m coming from.

2) Please Don’t Follow Everyone Back:  This is a bit divisive, I know.  Many people see following as a reciprocal thing, an “if you’re kind enough to follow me, then the least I can do is follow you back” type-of-thing.  I did it myself at first.  Here’s a couple of quick reasons why I think we shouldn’t do it.  Twitter is a network.  A network extends little branches and links throughout the world and can become really powerful and useful and fun.  When everybody follows everybody else… well that’s no longer a network, that's what’s known as a ‘crowd’.  In a ‘crowd’ everybody is hearing what everybody else is saying but, actually, they’re hearing little-or-nothing except a hubbub, a babble.

Also, if I followed everyone back who ever followed me, my timeline would be full of Double Glazing, Social Networking Gurus and Breast Feeding Advice… not all bad but not my key interests… well… (clears throat, moves on).  I wouldn’t see the things I really want to see in among all the glut of things I really don’t want to see.

You may rightly say that this doesn’t fully address the point.  Don’t follow the bots and the salesmen but follow all the real people, yeah?  This is an excellent point and if that works for you, I’m pleased.  Unfortunately, I’ve learned over my years and years at sea chasing the beeg feesh… sorry_ on Twitter that I have a limitation.  If I follow more than a certain amount of people, it gets messy and Twitter stops being fun for me.  I have chosen to follow the people I interact with over time.  My ‘hedge trimming’ means there’s always space for someone new and exciting but not for everyone.  See the next point if you abhor my way of doing things.

3) Other People will Do Twitter Differently, They are Not Wrong and Neither Are You:  The truth?  It took me a little time to learn this one.  Twitter isn’t any one thing.  It’s just a different kind of blank page to write on.  But we get defensive of it, as if it needs us to stick up for it.  It doesn’t.  Live and Let Live on there, if you don’t like how someone uses it, get over it.  If you don’t like what they are saying… well, that’s different.  It’s your choice how you deal with that.  It is, after all, your Twitter.

4) Sometimes, It’s Good to say ‘Goodnight’:  A silly little tip.  If you are up late Tweeting and it’s time for beddie-byes, there are two benefits to saying goodnight.  The first is obvious, If you say goodnight, one or two people may say goodnight back.  It can pack you off to bed with a warm community glow about you.  The second is perhaps less obvious – a simple goodnight, leaves your twitter account tidy.  It means that that last tweet, before you went, is not a rant against some poor minority or a filthy joke or a swearing session.  If anyone glances at your account, they will see a nice goodnight rather than some possibly-inflammatory thing which may jump up and head butt you when you return to Twitter the next day.  I told you it was silly.

5) #FollowFriday is not about getting followers: 
It’s really not.  Follow Friday is a neat-enough way of paying somebody a compliment, it's you saying, “I think you should follow this person, they’re great.”  You get to say someone is cool and they get to feel good that you said it.  They might get a couple of followers as a result, two or three maybe but, unless you’re Graham Linehan doing the recommending, that will be about it. This tip creates a useful converse:  Don’t bust your hole doing zillions of followfridays and thanking everyone individually for the few you might get.  Use it sparingly and move on.  Oh, and if someone who you think is cool is kind enough to do a followfriday for you, then watch carefully the few who come to follow you right after that – they are often Good People.

(I realise I’m breaking my own Tip 3 with my Tip 5… ah, well.)

6) Don’t be Hurt when People Don’t Reply all the Time:  I like to reply to people.  I rarely miss someone out but, sometimes, the sheer weight of replies means that it's not practicable to reply to everyone.  I’ve been on the receiving end of unresponded-to-tweets and I remember (from early days) how they can sting, “what did I do wrong?” “how puny and insignificant am I in their eyes?”.  It’s rarely like that.  Twitter rattles along quickly and, sometimes, tweets get left behind.  Take it on the chin and keep moving along with it.  And, hey, if someone is serially-ignoring-you, maybe they are telling you something.  If you’re a new follower of somebody, consider not replying to every single tweet the somebody makes.  It can look really terrifying and ‘stalky’ if you just turn up and start to do that shit.  I know it’s easy to do when you’re new and only follow a few people but think on.  Someone who just appears and has something to say about every tweet… it's a bit freaky, dude, okay?

7) Don’t Steal Other People’s Tweets and Pretend They’re Your Own:  Come on, guys, fuck it, give credit where it’s due.  It’s not hard.  And remember, even if you saw it on Facebook and brought it over, you still didn’t make it up, did you?  And people will think you did and think you’re great… for all the wrong reasons.  You don’t want that, do you?  Oh.

8) You, Too, Can Switch off Horrible Retweets: It’s surprising how many people don’t know this and it is a little gem.  You follow someone and you like what they tweet but they also retweet tonnes of complete drivel and it's killing your hedge/feed.  You don’t have to unfollow them.  In their twitter web page, beside their name, there’s a little green circle.  Click that and you won’t see their retweets no more.  It is sheer bliss and they’ll never bloody know you did it.  People who circumvent this button by using things like ‘via’ as their retweet format.  Well they're so clever they have left me no option but to unfollow them. 

As if I would do that!

That’s it for now.  Perhaps, if you have an advanced Twitter tip from your own experience, you might mention it in the comments section on this one.  Then we can all have a definitive online document which we can refer back to, again and again, in times of need…

…or not.


Gerry said...

Nice work Ken. Each one a valuable tip. I like the hedge metaphor. Knowing you on twitter, I know your a "web man" as opposed to a "tweetdeck man" or whatever. It's interesting how people find different clients to be a convenient fit with their lives. Using the web would do my head in, the converse is true for others with a phone or desktop client. Your thoughts, Ken?

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Gerry, thanks. I guess I 'grew up' on the web twitter interface and, although, I've tried many others (and use Tweetdeck upon occasion) nothing matches it for me. I have always been good with linear streams of information coming at me and that's what happens there. Tweetdeck is more of a 'spreadsheet' thing and I find that oddly disengaging.

Confession? I have a secret weapon which helps to keep me sane on web-twitter. I have one private list of my very-favorite tweeters (which you, of course, are on) and, although i most often just watch the full-stream, I can go there from time to time to keep up with my best buddies.

Dave said...

My Twitter rule would be "Tweet the way you'd like to be tweeted". Sometimes people forget that there's a real living, breathing, flesh-and-bone person behind the words.

Your blog posts make my Sunday. Another great one today!

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Dave, I like it. We should call your rule the Twolden Rule or some-such. :)

Frinster said...

Hi Ken, I don't follow you but we have a few mutual friends and I enjoy your blogspot (when they retweet it *cough*) That doesn't mean, incidentally, that I don't enjoy your tweets. I sometimes just read people's timelines rather than make the ultimate decision to follow (and then offend when I leave them after a couple of days.) The difficulty is when working to have the time to read a full timeline. I do really like your "hedge" analogy and your observations. I just wanter to say I see Twitter very similarly but to me it's a house party. I visit rooms and join in some conversations (if I can hear them over the music). But mainly I spend more time in one room (usually the kitchen) with the ones I've identified as my friends (that of course, is before alcohol kicks in and some of the conversation becomes bo*locks.) That said, there will often be the weirdo, making custard and jam sandwiches, that I inevitably end up interacting with and sometimes they even surprise me by making me laugh. But at the end of the evening, I bid my farewells and pop back to the party whenever I can, (usually once the hangover has subsided)

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Frinster and thanks. No worries at all on 'not following' I honestly don't believe I would follow me myself if I wasn't actually me. :)

I'll be trying to spot you now though... all over the place. :)

Karen Redman said...

Makes perfect sense to me. Well balanced advice. And witty with it. I'm jealous of that ... I would like to be earnest & funny at the same time & can't do it. Please advise in next blog! ;) x

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Karen, I'm blushing now... in an earnest-yet-witty manner. :)

Jim Murdoch said...

I have a Twitter account. I don’t follow anyone because everyone I would want to follow already posts on Facebook or has a blog. I see no point. As it is Facebook is full of irrelevant rubbish and I know I don’t get a fraction of it but I struggle to think what Twitter might be like, just this wall of words. Actually that’s not true. I follow my daughter but not on Twitter; I subscribe to her RSS feed. The only thing I post about are notifications of new blogs. I have no idea who I’m actually talking to but every now and then someone starts following me but I’ve not found anyone yet I’m interested in following. Not that I have a clue how to look because if I did find someone who interested me I’d follow their blog or friend them on Facebook and that covers them as far as I’m concerned.

When you say that it’s good to say ‘Goodnight’ you make Twitter sound like chat. I hate chat. I don’t think that fast. Occasionally someone sends me an instant message via Facebook. I hate that too. I like time to mull over my responses. I read your blog last night and this is me just getting round to something like a considered response.

It took me a long time to get a feel for Facebook. I still think it is a huge time-suck and the only real reason I use it is to keep my face in the public consciousness (okay, a tiny fraction of the public consciousness) and I spend more time in groups than on the main page. It’s also a place where I can go off topic with my close friends because none of us have the time to send daft e-mails anymore; e-mail has now been upgraded to ‘important stuff only’.

I simply can’t see what Twitter can do for me that isn’t being done already. Maybe you can help me out there.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Jim. Like you, I hate online chat. It comes at me too quickly, makes my pulse go quicker and makes me type like an even bigger goon than I am.

Twitter allows me my time to respond to someone. Having said that, I don't need very much time, just a wee-bit more than chat gives me. That mix of 'quick-fire' and 'time to think' suits me very well.

I don't think you need twitter in your life and I wouldn't want to try to sell it to you. For my part, I find it has reintroduced an interactive part of my life which had largely gone over the last ten years. The people I interacted with (family, work) knew me so well that the throw away fun stuff was largely redundant. Twitter allows me to be funny and throw-away and I find that boosts my creativity and makes me feel like I am more 'out in the world' than I actually am.

I like it. I like Facebook a whole lot less, not because it's a lesser thing, just because it doesn't 'suit' me as well.

We get to choose to take or leave these things. That, at least, is something.

Thanks for interesting (as always) reply.

keewa said...

You're one of my best twitter buddies and I've known you for ages, and all of this rings very true.
I'd add not to be insulted or upset when someone unfollows you. Maybe you just weren't their cup of tea, or you tweeted too much for their small follower volume. (This happens to me often, I tweet very quickly and some of my friends have complained about a timeline of no-one but me), especially when live-tweeting TV and events (which I do, and I don't apologise for).

Just accept that maybe your tweeting is not to their taste, but don't change the way you tweet it's your twitter and you use it how you want to.
Don't let someone else dictate how much or little you should use twitter. Ever.

Sam said...

Fully agree with this blog....THOUGH I am guilty of number 3, I started following people back who follow me (minus the egotists self promoting, usually musicians and "networking specialists" etc) and of course I not only ignore bots I report and block them, as with spammers so I feel I am being polite returning the follows and luckily I have followed some interesting people I may otherwise have not come across as I dont seek out people to follow really.

As for tweeting, I initially thought it was so self indulgent tweeting what you are doing/thinking/eating (it still baffles me people take photographs of their meals and upload it, its like virtual masterchef or porn for foodies and completely absurd) so I tended to tweet jokes, random observations which has now turned to tweeting links to things I find interesting such as photography, technology, news, art, music, generally a list of what Im looking at/listening to/etc.

I love discovering new sites and exploring the net and would much rather read someone tweeting such rather than what they are eating or think of brainless shows such as TOWIE (it kills me that I know of that show as it offends my reality that such scripted junk exists). So twitter to me is still a strange void, I tend to not get many responses and I am sure it could be as I tend not to tweet personal things, interact much, upload photos, but maybe Im just lost in the abyss of tweets from everyone following people to get follows back (it is sadly turning into Myspace where everyone wants to look popular) for that reason Im slowly losing interest in the site, It started off great, it was very much cliques when I joined, the artists, the writers, etc and it was fun, the banter and ease of contact but twitter has been bombarded with the human spam from myspace all promoting their "music careers/ modelling/ social networking experts/ etc) all of whom do no such thing and are just seeking out mass follows.
Those people infuriate me as they follow en masse then unfollow en masse so they look like they have tens of thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of followers. Funnily enough that is called aggressive follower churn and is against the rules but the fact they are still there shows twitter has got too big, out of control, and until these egotists jump ship its becoming too big a site.

Still there are some brilliant people to follow on there, I tend to keep them in lists for ease of timeline (you are in one or more of the lists) and we seem to follow the same people, we havent met and I havent met many of the people we are following, yet it feels fun to read the tweets of these people, it feels to me like the secret elite of twitter (the interesting people before it got big and full of fools) so for those people and yourself it is somewhere to stay, but its driving me mad with the balance of it. Twitter needs to seriously sort it out, the amount of bots and spammers is a joke considering the income they are getting from it.