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Updated for 2021
While yes, social media remains the “wild west” in many ways, there are slivers of hope on some social media platforms, including Twitter! Here’s my take on the rules of Twitter and Twitter etiquette including some thoughts on following, retweets and follow-backs.
If you’re looking for civil discussion on Twitter my best advice: find your community and ignore the haters! And follow my rules…
Twitter Etiquette 101 – An Intro on How to Behave Yourself Online
Chances are, if you ask a hundred people their opinion about what to do and what not to do in social media and you’ll get 100 different answers. Social media is an inexact science – in fact, it’s not a science at all, it’s an art. Some people seem to be naturally good at it while others struggle along. I’m not sure which of those two categories I fit into, but either way, having some basic knowledge and (eventually) tools can assist any user. There are typically two types of users I consider on a spectrum opposite each other.
I’ve been on Twitter since 2010. I was a late bloomer joining to some extent, and made some mistakes along the way myself. I really had no idea what Twitter was at first; I just knew that I had to get on it and figure it out. If the hundreds of millions of people before me could do it (if Kim Kardashian could do it) then so could I! That’s partly the tech geek in me, I must admit. But the mistakes I made were common and, with a bit of advice, would be very easy to avoid. I’m providing these Twitter etiquette “rules” in the hopes that you get a jump-start on the proper use of Twitter as both a social media outlet as well as a social marketing platform. Let’s start with my first Twitter rule of thumb – Following.
Twitter Etiquette 101 – Following
Twitter is far different from Facebook in the respect of friends requests (on Facebook) vs following (on Twitter). Following someone on Twitter doesn’t really require the other person’s permission or even knowledge, for that matter. As an example, at the time of this post, Kim Kardashian currently has 36.8M followers. Of those, she’s probably spoken to only a handful directly. They follow her tweets, they don’t necessarily interact with her (where ‘interaction’ requires two-way communication). If you find someone interesting on Twitter, follow them. If you change your mind, unfollow them. Follow etiquette on Twitter is very simple. However there is the idea of reciprocation or “you follow me, I follow you”. If you unfollow someone that’s also following you they may unfollow as well!
The bottom line when it comes to the “rules” of following on Twitter are to follow those that interest you and if they follow back, great. If not, no big deal. It’s also good to note that Twitter currently has a follow limit of 2,000 users – at least until your follower count catches up. You won’t be able to follow more than about this number until more people start following you. This is to avoid the creation of spammy accounts that are only setup to inflate follower counts.
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Twitter Etiquette – Am I obligated to retweet?
In short. Nope!
But holup. Let’s make sure everyone’s on the same Twitter page and define what is meant by a retweet. A message sent on Twitter in the public domain is known as a Tweet. A retweet is when someone else takes that same message and passes it along to their followers, thereby, increasing the ‘reach’ of that tweet. If I have 2,000 twitter followers and I send out a tweet, those 2,000 followers have the potential to see that message (more on the potential part in an upcoming post – stay tuned). If my friend, who has 50,000 followers retweets my message, the message has the potential to be seen by 2,000 + 50,000 users (mine plus my friend’s followers) minus any overlapping followers of course. They’d actually see the message twice.
Retweets are important it two very distinct ways. First, when you retweet a message it reflects on you. You’re sending out a message saying, “This is worth reading.” to your followers. It’s your stamp of approval on someone else’s tweet. Second, when that message is sent out the typical formatting will also ‘copy’ (similar to the ‘cc’ function on Email) the original user that their message has been retweeted by you. They’ll know that you took notice and shared that post with your followers. Retweeting is both a way to let your followers know what topics or people you’re interested in and it’s a way to show others you’re taking notice of their tweets. Both are equally important in Twitter etiquette!
Twitter Etiqutte – Am I obligated to follow anyone back?
Twitter etiquette gets a bit more tricky when we start to talk about the Twitter follow-back. Again, to define a ‘follow’ is when you follow someone or someone follows you while follow-back is a reciprocation of a follow.
If someone follows you and you decide to also follow them, that’s a follow-back. Follow-backs are NOT mandatory. You shouldn’t feel obligated to follow someone just because they decided to follow you. You follow only who you want.
Back to my example of Kim Kardashian on Twitter – she’s got 70.1M followers, but she’s only following 123 users. Like retweets, who you follow on Twitter can reflect on you, so you may want to be mindful of who’s on your follow list.