Category Archives: Twitter Etiquette

Are you acting dumb on Twitter and don’t know it?

Twitter is the last place in the world you need to say or do something ignorant. And yet it happens all the time.

Twitter is full of information, and people who want to help you learn. It’s easy to get informed quickly here. Let’s take a look at four tips:

  1. Got a question? Do thirty seconds of reading first
  2. Don’t copy people’s behavior blindly
  3. Get educated before doing something drastic
  4. Don’t tell others they’re doing it wrong

Rule #1: Got a question? Do thirty seconds of reading first.

If you have a question about a person, read their most recent tweets and bio, and perhaps also their most recent 1-3 blog posts or “about” page on their blog.

Example: @ChrisBrogan tweeted a bunch of times that he was unfollowing everyone (and blogged about it), yet tons of people who were unfollowed then tweeted about their confusion in ignorance. A quick read of Brogan’s tweets would have cleared things up, and then they could have made informed, rather than clueless, tweets.

Example: Twitter had a huge volume of problem reports recently, but didn’t update the Twitter status page. However, there were notifications from both official Twitter accounts and @TweetSmarter.

If you wonder about a Twitter problem, do a quick check of two or more Twitter status sources, or do a quick Twitter search.

Example: There are a lot of hoaxes out there. Don’t fall for them or ask about them in ignorance.

Type a couple variations of the words about the hoax into the search box at the top of, or do a quick Google search, before tweeting about it.

► Some folks disagree with this, and think it’s best to tweet any and all questions without learning anything first. While I do agree that questions are good, a 100% ignorant question is not the best way to do it.

Rule #2: Don’t copy people’s behavior blindly

When you’re newer to Twitter, you learn in part by watching what other people do. But ask around or watch for awhile before mimicking people without knowing what might happen.

Example: Using #IFollowEveryoneBack-type hashtags

So you want followers, and you see people getting them by promising to follow others back. Scroll way down to Become Known As A ‘Follow-Backer‘ ” for more info about this. In short, it makes you a target for scammers, starting with people who follow you, wait for the follow back, then unfollow you. Plus, some versions of this behavior are explicitly prohibited by Twitter’s rules, and can get your account suspended.

Example: Thanking everyone for following.

It’s nice to thank people, but you don’t want people to feel spammed or overwhelmed by your messages about it. If you try to thank everyone, you may find you need automated solutions, and those are by their nature impersonal and spammy. Experiment and ask around about better ways to thank people on Twitter rather than just automating it.

► Copying people without a clear understanding of what can happen is what your mother warned you about when she said “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff too?”

Rule #3: Get educated before doing something drastic.

People take dramatic actions on Twitter every day. Whether its starting a petition to stop something, deleting your Twitter account or  unfollowing everyone, it’s always good to find out what’s really happening before responding to it

Example: @ChrisBrogan said he was unfollowing everyone (and that he follow would some back later) because he was getting too many spam-type messages that included a  “link that would enslave my account.” He also said he would quit using Twitter if Twitter gave him a hard time (“flagged his account”) about unfollowing everyone. A comment like that made it very clear he was frustrated. He indicated that it was the junk clogging his DM box that caused his action.

While this is one approach, Chris never mentioned awareness that the accounts giving him trouble seem to have been largely hijacked accounts.

He’s engaging people on the point of following back real people, without seeming to realize that if real people are hijacked, he’ll get the same messages again. And if he wants to unfollow “trouble” accounts, he could have simply unfollowed everyone who sent him a direct message (make a list of DMs from archive, give list to unfollow service).

So he took an action that could have caused him to quit Twitter seemingly without first checking on the source of the problem or asking about alternatives.

Example: Deleting your account because people are treating you harshly.

In cases of harassment I often suggest that someone immediately make their account private/protected. They can always undo it later, but it gives them much more control.

I do appreciate that some people are really, really awful in how they treat others. I realize that blocking people who then start new accounts to continue the harassment makes blocking ineffective. However, if you make your account private, you will never see tweets from people you don’t want to, and they can never see your tweets.

► When frustration builds up it’s natural to want to stop it. But don’t react without checking with a friend or known resource first about what your options might be.

Rule #4: Don’t tell others they’re doing it wrong

See Twitter Rule #1 :)

More Examples

Example: A number of blog posts were written about a scam without realizing it was a scam, the “bet with boss” retweet scam.

The first one, from The Next Web, led others to write about it. But they quickly posted a retraction after a number of commenters informed them of the scam. And several blog posts had been written about it already saying that it was a scam, and doing a search tweet on the tweet itself reveals all the other scammers doing the same thing.

So before other bloggers wrote about it, they should have done some checking, either by doing a search on the tweet, checking TNW for an update, looking through the comments, etc. However, this kind of thing is hard to catch, when someone credible says something is happening, most of us don’t check first. (The first time I saw the tweet I thought it was real, and I was influenced by how many retweets it had.)

Example: Petitions are frequently started to get Twitter to do something. For example, to suspend an account.

Twitter doesn’t suspend accounts unless they violate Twitter’s terms and rules. Starting a lynch mob for an account that won’t be suspended, however odious the account seems to you, is ineffective insofar as getting Twitter to take action. Finding how how they are in violation, and pointing out to Twitter is more effective.

A similar thing happens when people start petitions to get a particular suspended account restored.

Here, it’s good to know that Twitter usually restores suspended accounts on the request of the person suspended. They do that so that they can have a discussion with the person who was suspended, sometimes explaining to them what it was that got the account suspended. Often it ends up with person who was suspended saying “I understand now what I did wrong, and won’t do it again.”

Why smart people post dumb tweets

Each of us has a kind of inner measuring stick that tells us when we’re doing something foolish or out-of-character. But there is a problem we overlook.

Comic Emo Philips explains it succinctly:

“I used to think that the human brain was the most fascinating part of the body. Then I realized, well, look what’s telling me that.”

What do you do when the thing you use to measure your behavior gets out of whack?

I started meditating several decades ago. One of the first things I learned—from experience—is that your brain works differently at different times. (You don’t have to meditate to learn this life lesson.)

Social media is full of examples of people posting things that make them look dumb, and hurt their personal and work relationships. Plenty of people have even been fired for tweets and facebook posts that they would surely have reconsidered posting had they been in a better state of mind.

Simple solution: Develop your own “rant-o-meter”

In almost every case I’ve seen (that didn’t involve drugs or alcohol) the tweet that someone later wished they could take back was a rant of some kind.

In talking with people, I find that they experience a kind of accelerated compulsion, a feeling of “respond now!” when they are about to say or so something stupid.

How to protect yourself, from yourself, in three easy steps:

  1. Post something stupid on social media without realizing how dumb it is.
  2. Think back to how you felt before posting it.
  3. Repeat.

Over time, you’ll start to notice before you are about to post something stupid, by noticing how you feel.

Quit worrying about people that don’t want to follow you

Twitter is endlessly fascinating. There are almost no rules.

You can irritate 99% of the people that read your tweets, and amazingly, still build a large community of followers from the other 1%.

What the rest of us can learn from the “less sane” ones

You’ve run across these folks. You can’t understand why they have 10 followers, let alone 50,000. But there they are on Twitter, ranting all day with their tens of thousands of followers. What you need to know is this:

You’re just like them in more ways than you realize.

You may feel very sane, a pillar of your community, beloved by cats, dogs and meter maids wherever you go. But, just like the crazy people, there are plenty of people that don’t want to follow you. That’s right—no matter who you are or how you tweet, millions of people won’t be interested.

I say, embrace it.

Quit worrying about who follows you…or who unfollows you.

Realize that no matter what you do or say, some people will never want to follow you. So relax. Let your hair out a little. (A little. Avoid sending drunk tweets at 3 AM.) Occasionally say something more personal than you’ve ever done before. I’n not saying be angry, wacky or stupid. Just personal. People want to know you. So, sometimes, let us know a little more about you.

You’re unique: share it!

I realize that neither Twitter nor the world is divided up into “crazy” and sane people. Probably 99% of us are somewhere in between…and who is to say who is sane, anyway? ;)

So think a little about what makes you different, rather than what makes you just like everyone else.

What are your hobbies? Favorite movies? Music? Let us know a little bit about all the things that, put together, make you different than everyone else.

If you’re one of the less sane or “more unique” people

You don’t care what I have to say, I know.

So if you feel really strongly about something (politics, religion, doughnut-smoking, what-have-you), feel free to let it out on Twitter and see what happens.

But be prepared to discover that nobody cares, and that you’re only talking to yourself.

Or that your tweets will be seen by people that cause you trouble you’d rather not have, like people you work with (your boss, perhaps?) and friends and family. It’s all public here on Twitter. Might I make one suggestion though?

While you’re experimenting with letting it all hang out…consider NOT using your real name ;)

Ever been treated badly on Twitter?

TIP: If you are having trouble with an abusive person on Twitter, you need to read Twitter’s official help page.

Why does being nice sometimes result in being ignored or treated rudely? It’s fair to expect that if we behave graciously towards someone, they will reciprocate.

Of course, you should research who you are talking to first. Some people don’t respond to people they don’t already know, and some accounts are automated. And if you’re not interesting or relevant, even when a real person reads your tweet they may not respond.

BUT: There’s a hidden problem you may be overlooking. Before you came along, there may have been someone just like you who seemed nice, said all the right things, but quickly turned into a jerk. So when you contact popular  Twitter accounts that have a real person responding, realize that your courtesy may be seen as probable manipulation, rather than “here’s a nice person.”

You need to understand the kind of people that came before you.

Myself, most of the time, I don’t mind rudeness or complaints or attempted manipulation too much. Often, it just makes me laugh. Sometimes, it makes me feel compassion for someone who is obviously overwhelmed. Other times I barely notice it. (I’m not paid to do this, I don’t work for Twitter, I’m just here to help.)

I know some people just have bad manners, or are having a bad day…over and over again. I accept that only a small percentage of the time am I thanked for my help. I know many people are contacting me to try to sell me something or manipulate me into doing something for them.

Regardless, I answer all reasonable questions that I can understand.

But you need to know that other people’s bad behavior may make me suspicious of your behavior if you suddenly change your tone.  I have a very low tolerance for people acting nice solely to manipulate me, who then make it obvious by changing their behavior.

I’m still to this day amazed by people who have such good manners and graciously worded requests turning so rude or unresponsive or downright insane (e.g. “why can’t you give me your other Twitter account?”). Manipulative people who gain what they want (or didn’t) and then turn off their “Mr/Ms nice act” still shock me. You would think there wouldn’t be that many of these people. You would be wrong.

However, sometimes it has turned out to be a communication problem.

What you can do to get a good response to your request

First, when asking for assistance, sometimes it helps to be clear about both what you’re asking for and why you’re asking. It makes your request clearer.

I had someone once ask me nicely to repeat a tweet I had just sent about them. When I explained that I don’t send out multiple tweets about someone just because they ask me to, they started sending multiple tweets about what a jerk I was to their f0llowers. Of course, turns out we both misunderstood what the other person was saying. If they had said more about why they were asking, I would have immediately understood. The missing “why” set off a major communication misfire.

Second, if someone is treating you nice but suddenly treats you poorly, one strategy is to immediately act as if a miscommunication has occurred. Stop talking about the topic and start talking about the communication, e.g. apologize, and then say something like “it appears I’ve communicated badly somehow, can you help me understand my mistake?” It’s amazing how what is really a small amount of effort can prevent a major misfire sometimes.

When large media organizations ask me to rescind or correct a tweet

Disclaimer—I have a personal bias, and it is this: Organizations and people should take responsibility for their actions first, intentions second.

Almost every day I encounter situations where a person’s stated values or an organization’s stated policies are in conflict with their actions.

When the BBC asked me to tweet a correction

Today, persons associated with the BBC asked me to make a correction to a tweet I sent out, saying I had missed the true picture, where a credible report was made that:

The BBC had taken images from Twitter in violation of certain rights, and that an employee of the BBC had followed up by saying they were within their rights in using those pictures without attribution or payment.

When this issue became a blog post, employees of the BBC commented that this was against the policy of the BBC, and that an investigation would happen.

It was tweeted that “…damage [was] done to the BBC by @TweetSmarter…” Of course, it was an employee of the BBC that had “harmed the BBC” and complaining about my part it in was typical a “shoot the messenger” reaction. Usually this is justified by saying “you didn’t just share a wrong message, you mis-stated it, therefore you are the one doing harm.”

As it appeared to me from reading the blog post (which continues to garner new comments), it appeared that the BBC stole the pictures and justified their right in doing so. While “stole” may be considered a sensationalist word, there are worse ways to characterize an organization that does so and then justifies their right to do so.

If asked not to send the tweet beforehand, would I have complied? No. I would have sent the tweet, but I would have worded it according to all the information I had. I might have changed it something like “People argue that the BBC steals/takes pictures from Twitter without attribution.”

In response to the request made to me, I said I would delete the tweet, and tweet any official information as a follow up that I found or was provided to me. I am more than happy to delete tweets that may need correction in the future. Whenever I find a story reported incorrectly, I try to at minimum delete any tweets I’ve sent that got the information wrong, and send corrected and sometimes interim tweets.

Some people feel you shouldn’t delete anything, but you can’t edit a tweet to correct it. I will correct a wrong blog post, or indicate that more information is coming, but there is no such mechanism for a tweet. So I delete and re-issue a corrected tweet (when I can). Of course, I can try to link to the previous tweet in the future corrected tweet, but the character limit makes that impractical and confusing in most cases.

How people blame others instead of taking responsibility:

The problem of course, is that everyone blames their situation, while saying they have good intentions:

  1. Organizations complain about how they have good policies/intentions and shouldn’t be called out on their actions instead of taking responsibility for bad actions that happen in their name.
  2. People complain that they have good intentions and shouldn’t be called out on their actions, as their boss or employer or organizational climate pressured them into bad actions.

Instead, take responsibility for actual actions first. Later you can complain about how unfair it is that you are being criticized because you have good intentions/policies.

How difficult it is to take responsibility

Now, I realize how difficult both situations are: For large organizations to control the actions of their many members; For employees to go against a bad climate or direction.

For the organization that realizes it is doing bad things in contradiction to good policy or intentions, to change things can be expensive to the point of putting the existence of the organization at risk.  The organization has to care deeply that  the right thing is done, rather than justify “the good we do by existing outweighs the bad that is hard to control.”

For the employee that realizes they are doing bad things in contradiction to good intentions, to change things can be expensive to the point of putting the existence of their position within the organization at risk. The person has to care deeply that  the right thing is done, rather than justify “the good intentions I have outweigh the bad that I am forced into due to circumstances beyond my control.”

I am biased against both people and organizations that say they care deeply but find the effort to actually take the right actions too expensive. However, I don’t mean you must quit today or close down your organization. It’s wiser to make a smooth transition.

Fact of life: Doing the right thing usually costs something in the short term.

You do it because it makes you who you need to be. And if you are wise, you can also see from enlightened self-interest that acting from values in the short term can lead to long-term gains, even if there are short-term losses.


I have had similar situations with other large media organization more than once, such as Mashable and the New York Times. I wanted to put this post together as position statement so everyone would have some idea of where I stand on such issues. I realize that tweets can be considered libel, and that both ethical and legal considerations should be made before tweeting something.

Of course, it’s easier to criticize organization that you don’t know intimately. I respect that people who know a lot of good people taking right actions within an organization might be more forgiving to that organization. I think if you really feel an organization is doing a lot to see that right actions are taken (and if the organization responds responsibly to controversies) you might give them more leeway to respond or correct before reporting on problems.

As an outsider, I can simply comment on the actions and available information. But I fully admit that if I had detailed information about an organization for whatever reason, that it would inform my reporting of them. So I am not claiming impartiality here. I am simply trying to expose my different biases and be as fair as I can within those limitations.


How to say Thank You on Social Media

I focus mainly on Twitter here, but this is true of most online situations.

Many “thank you” messages (especially “thanks for following” DMs) are automated and hence impersonal, and so a lot of Twitter users view them as spam. Some people unfollow anyone who sends them an impersonal “thank you” via DM.

Saying “thanks” may feel like good etiquette, or a way to open a connection to someone, but it’s tricky. Because there are so many automated “thanks” messages from following software, it’s become generally a poor idea to thank someone for following you. However, many people still feel it’s okay to tweet or DM a “thanks” to people who retweet them (though not everyone agrees).

So the safest, smartest way to thank people is usually to engage with them first. How?

  1. Retweet something of theirs and add a comment to it;
  2. Answer a question of theirs;
  3. Ask them a question.

If this opens up a dialogue, try to work in a thank you comment at some point early on, e.g. “BTW Thanks for retweet.” (If you feel strongly about thanking them, try to include your message in your first tweet, in case they don’t respond.)

But realize that if you’re engaging with someone who is responding, you’ve already made a connection, and thanks may not be necessary any more :)

Why Thanking Online Is Different Than In Person

In person, a “thank you” is usually part of a conversation between people who know one another, as in “Thanks for coming to the party! What have you been up to?” or “Thanks for calling tech support, how can I help?”

What can happen online is that the thanks can get separated from the conversation. So what you need to do is make sure to have made or are about to make a connection—some kind of engagement—before using a “thank you.” The “thank you” itself should NOT take the place of actual engagement.

This is why thanking for a retweet can be okay: someone read your tweet, and has shared it with their friends. They may have even commented on it, which can be the beginning of a conversation between you. But, as an example of what can be wrong with thanking for retweets, you also see automated retweet bots receiving automated “thank you’s” from other automated retweet bots, where no conversation is possible. This leads to a very, very important principle of social networking:

If you start a conversation, you have to be available to listen

Some businesses will post questions, e.g. “What do you think of the new G4700 product?” And then when people reply, they never respond. Why? Because no one is listening.

So don’t say “Thanks” for anything, if you aren’t reading tweets that people are sending to you.

Don’t thank automated fake accounts

Another reason to be careful saying “thanks” when there is no conversation is that you may be talking to a robot. Generally, if you haven’t taken the time to look at someone’s account at all, you probably shouldn’t be trying to have a conversation with it. If you send a few “thank you’s” throughout the day just to seem more warm and friendly, you should at least try to send them to real people.

How understanding Twitter etiquette can lead to big opportunities online

First I point out some things you may already know…but then I share a secret that very few people seem to know…

A chain of Canadian newspapers interviewed me and Scott Stratten (@UnMarketing) last month. The topic was “Rules and etiquette of social media.” In “10 Guidelines to do doing well on Twitter” (excerpted from that interview), three key rules stand out as proactive etiquette guidelines. They are:

  1. Seek others that you can help, and help them.
  2. Work at striking a positive tone in all your communications.
  3. Be biased toward setting a good example, instead of telling people who are still learning what you think they should do differently.

Keep these three guidelines in mind; they are your tools. If you haven’t taken these three tips to heart yet, consider rethinking what you’re doing, as the death stick seller does when he meets Obi-Wan Kenobe in this Star Wars excerpt (which always makes me laugh):

How your biggest opportunities hide from you:

In “Why Defending Your Reputation Is a Waste of Time,” Justin Kownacki outlines a typical mindset: when people criticize you, you have two choices—defend yourself or don’t. But there is an incredibly valuable, third perspective:

Your critics are the most engaged members of your community.

Even when a complaint is valueless in and of itself, the person isn’t. Make a connection. Network instead of argue. It doesn’t have to be about:

  • Who’s right, who’s wrong.
  • Defending your reputation (yet).
  • Exposing or avoiding someone acting like a jerk (probably the most popular responses).

To strengthen and build your community when engaging with a critic, look for ways to defuse tensions somewhat so you can introduce networking techniques into your engagement with them so you can make a connection with them.

Step 1: Change the playing field

You need to start by defusing emotion, and orienting yourself towards learning. Begin by doing everything you can to find some harmony with a critic:


  • Let emotions run wild because you are “right.” Put the opportunity to connect first.
  • Pretend disagreement doesn’t exist. Just start with listening, learning and understanding.
  • Talk or explain first. Listen first.


  • Seek first to understand (habit 5 from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).  Be interested. Clarify actual issues by listening and questioning WITHOUT sharing your perspective yet.
  • Learn about the person. Read about them online, or ask basic networking questions (interests/background/current goals). Point out one or more interests that you share.
  • Find areas of agreement or shared interest. Find what you can appreciate about how they interact (be it caring passionately, reasoned discourse, deeply thought out points, etc.); what their points are; remember to point out shared interests (“we both love Twitter” etc.)

Step 2: Keep your attention on what you can gain

You have their full attention—don’t waste it! Turn the engagement into an opportunity, and make the most of it.

  1. Your behavior is a public workshop that your community is attending and will review later. Be an inspiring mentor; be a leader—which means going beyond the obvious. Leaders use their behavior to reach outcomes that are often invisible to others. Take the opportunity to connect and learn.
  2. Critics will be promoting you to their community later. Often people will have a lot to say to their communities after disagreements. What they will say often has more to do with how you listened and communicated versus what you actually said. It’s how humans are built—emotions, visuals, connections realized all play a part in how someone will perceive and present you later.
  3. Very often, areas of disagreement are found to be small, and areas of agreement large. Your critic then becomes a new strong, positive connection for you, connects their community to yours, and becomes a positive force in your community.
  4. Of course, sometimes you actually learn something you didn’t expect when you probe for details and listen. Pay attention! Give credit to them for anything you learn.
  5. You will make valuable new connections. By learning as much as you can about people you engage with, you will learn about their strengths, their connections, their communities.
  6. Sometimes your worst enemy can become your biggest supporter. People pay attention when engagement is strong, whether it is positive or negative.

Step 3: Keep networking

Make sure you’ve done you’re homework, and stay engaged.

  1. Did you learn everything you could about them? For example, if you forgot to read the bio on their personal blog, do it now. Pay attention to who they communicate with, read what they write. Twitter is of course excellent for this. You can often see conversations they are having with others at the same time they are engaging with you.
  2. Follow up! At this point you may or may not have made a new friend. Either way, stay in touch, at least at first. Brainstorm reasons to follow up and reconnect with them.
  3. Encourage them to write about what they had to say. Read what they write or have written. Comment thoughtfully.
  4. Engage with others in their community where appropriate. This is how we all get to know each other, how communities are built.

A few tips

I’ve bolded a few pieces in this further excerpt from the interview to provide some additional guidance:

Q: Why do rules of etiquette constantly require reiteration? Is a person’s lack of etiquette often amplified online?

The emotions that we naturally pick up on when meeting in person can be missing in short written statements, sometimes making us looks harsh and distant. So it’s helpful to add a little positivity to what we say online to restore that natural emotional balance from in-person interaction. There are always people at various stages of learning. Those of us trying to help others love and care that people have the best Twitter and social media experience.

It’s worthwhile for those of us more comfortable with online communication to help out those that aren’t. It’s often simplest to set a good example for folks, and let those ready to make the necessary adjustments do so in a positive atmosphere.

Q: I find the net is like a community “policed” by its people — sort of a mega-Neighbourhood Watch that sniffs out these rule-breakers. So, what are the consequences of breaking the rules of social media etiquette?

You can make amazing connections and get life-changing help online—it happens all the time. Find and be positive member of an online community where you can fit in. If you don’t make the effort, you’re going to miss out!

Have any good examples?

One that comes to mind for me happened recently. On a very difficult day for me, carelessness on my part turned Aaron Biebert—at that time a future friend only—into a vocal critic of @TweetSmarter. After many tweets, I blogged about the interaction here, Aaron then blogged it here, and we have made plans to connect further in person. It’s a good real-world example, because I made a lot of mistakes in the first few minutes, which I detail in the blog post.

What are YOUR stories? I’d love to hear your comments below:



The Twitter following controversy

I’ve learned that the more transparent I am, the faster I learn, and learning is really important to me.

I keep getting comments from the anonymous Twitter user “Alan” complaining about how he/she thinks @TweetSmarter follows and unfollows people on Twitter. You can see those comments on many of the blog posts that are just before this one, such as “following secrets I’ve never told anyone before,” and “how you don’t have to follow lots of people to get followers.” Here’s my latest response:

Dear Alan,

Thanks for your concern for my reputation (you said “I think you’re providing a nice service for lots of folks. Don’t erode your brand with this nonsense.”) I appreciate your recognition that I’m here to help, and that you’re trying to advise me on how to protect my reputation with the “veterans of Twitter.” I’m sure that, like yourself, people will make up their own minds, and that’s fine by me.

Here’s the short summary: I’m trying to be ever more selective of who I follow while I get rid of people I don’t want to follow, of which I’ve accumulated too many. So less following and more unfollowing is happening. But you just see large numbers in following and even more so in unfollowing and therefore I must be doing the same junk everyone else does. Or you just think that doing lots of following and unfollowing can only be bad, no matter how it is done. I wish it were just semantics, and we were simply using different words for the same thing.

I’ve pointed out that I really can’t recommend following large numbers of people on Twitter, because it’s so ridiculously time consuming to do well, and people who try it do it poorly, and most are doing it for the wrong reasons. I do it much more poorly than I wish I did and I’m constantly trying to improve. I’ve already explained a lot of the things that can go wrong in trying to get followers, that’s it’s the wrong thing to try to do in the first place, and pointing out how even getting more retweets can be a bad thing when it’s just junk accounts retweeting you.

I claim that I use following as a carefully thought out tool, spending lots of time finding the “people who help us help others” that you call part of a “laughable” and “intellectually bankrupt justification” on my part. Gosh, don’t sugar coat it, tell me what you really think, lol! Again, it seems to be the numbers that bother you. You’re sure they’re too large to be well thought out on my part. You’re sure I’m just doing what everyone else is doing and I should just admit it and stop doing it.

I claim that I’m building a community in part by using lots of analytical tools to follow quality people a fairly high rate/high volume. You claim it’s just what you call “pump and dump” following and unfollowing.

You’ve positioned yourself as an expert, saying your expertise allows you to “see through” my “rambling justifications.” So let’s test that expertise a little bit, in an admittedly completely unscientific way (rambling justification alert!)

I’m going to give brief overviews of three unscientific examples of the power of the community that has formed around @TweetSmarter. They won’t “prove” anything, but maybe you’ll get a glimmer.

Basically, I could NOT do what you describe and have had the extraordinary community that has formed around @TweetSmarter form as it has. The test is this: You have no way of explaining how these things could happen. If I’m doing what everyone else is doing, how can the @TweetSmarter account have such an extraordinary community?

Let me anticipate your most likely explanations: that since I spend a lot of time on Twitter helping people, and have a lot of followers, that explains why there is such a devoted community that has built up around @TweetSmarter. True to a point of course. Yet, there are around 1400 accounts with more followers than we have, and more all the time. @TweetSmarter is not growing, it’s shrinking, at least when compared to the overall Twitter community. Also, there are hundreds of people, authors, bloggers, CEOs who are tremendously active on Twitter, famous outside of it, and have fanatically devoted and very large communities. And yet, measures of the community that has built around @TweetSmarter have ranked it among the highest in the world for years. @TweetSmarter is not just influential, it’s more influential than any remotely similar account in the world. It’s sometimes the most influential.

You don’t believe my explanations of why and how I follow. Perhaps a couple of examples might make you wonder if there really is something more to it:

Influence analytics

On Twitalyzer our account was measured as one of the 5-10 most influential in the world for most of 2009. We reached the #1 spot repeatedly, usually trading place with @GuyKawasaki for it. When Edelman’s Tweetlevel came out, we debuted at #3 in the world. And even as Twitter grows, we spent nearly all of January 2011 on Edelman’s list of “top 20″ most influential in the world, peaking at #5 on January 21st.

Maybe you’ll notice that these things don’t really have that much to do with number of followers. There are 1,393 accounts on Twitter that have more followers than @TweetSmarter does as of this writing. Hundreds of them are very active, with great communities around them. And yes, hundreds more are simply celebrities who don’t really use Twitter very well. But many of the other accounts on the top 20 during the times we appear on the list have millions of followers. Our follower numbers are nearly inconsequential. It’s the number of “people who help us help others” in our community that matters. Take for example a list of users from a quick search I did, their number of followers and their Klout score. All except @Scobleizer have a LOT more followers, yet NONE of have a higher Klout score than TweetSmarter the day I checked. Note that the founder of Klout says it doesn’t care how many followers you have. Numbers are expressed as network/overall online influence. Network mean “how often engaged by influential people,” meaning not even @LadyGaga with 8.4 million followers is engaged by influential users more frequently than @TweetSmarter is. :

  • 93/86 @TweetSmarter  0.24
  • 91/87 @Mashable  2.2 Million
  • 86/86 @Twitter 4.3 Million
  • 89/85 @CNN 1.6 million
  • 89/86 @ConanObrien 2.4 Million
  • 87/82 @GuyKawasaki 0.31
  • 88/86 @Aplusk 6.3 Million
  • 88/81 @Scobleizer 0.17
  • 78/73 @Biz 1.7 Million
  • 93/92 @LadyGaga 8.4 million

The 2009 Shorty Awards

The first year of the Shorty Awards, I thought I might try to win to see how positive an effect that would have on building our community. (I’ve tried all kinds of things and this was another.)

I competed in a category that had fewer competitors, and simply tried to keep the number of votes for us near the highest, without trying to look like a clear winner until near the end. I had no idea of how many votes it would take to win, or if we stood a chance at winning…but we did win. The real revelation came afterwards.

A scandal

After we won, I read some information from a more competitive category than ours. Apparently there had been a scandal.

Dan Zarella, an extraordinarily successful and well-respected expert and social media researcher, said that no matter what he did, he could never seem to get more votes than this other guy (who I won’t name—all info is still on the web if you care to research). Dan made it clear he was going all out and still falling short. So he did some digging, and discovered the other guy was buying votes!

So here you had a social media expert going all out to win in a competitive category, trying to stay ahead of someone who was just buying votes. Dan won (the other guy was disqualified), and you would expect that he had a TON more votes than we did, right?

Actually…no. In fact, our account had more votes than most of the winners in any of the categories. But the real revelation was this—@TweetSmarter could have gotten probably four or five times as many votes, easily—I was only trying to keep it close in our category! I had no idea our community was so much stronger than those around others. It really opened my eyes.

Let me just add one little addendum: I haven’t competed in the Shorty Awards since then. Why? While it demonstrated to me the strength of our community, it was clear it had very little to do with building or nurturing community. And yes, I mean in part it doesn’t bring in many followers. But of course I mean it doesn’t bring in GOOD followers, while you’re probably still just thinking about the numbers. If popularity mattered, we’d still be competing—and winning. (Never say never, the value of the Shorty Awards could change in future years. And then I’d compete again.)

How did I do it? I simply asked a small percentage of the people who engaged with us to vote for us—the same thing everyone else was doing. I could have asked tons more. No rocket science. We just had a stronger community.

Why I’m responding

I’ve learned that the more transparent I am, the faster I learn, and learning is really important to me.

But also, what I’m doing is I think is at least a little controversial, because I’ve basically tried a little of everything over the years, and I’m trying to be as fair and smart as I can with what I’m doing now. The more I try to do things on a larger scale the more I have to use tools—the most important of which are analysis tools—but which means automation of some things, some of the time. I think you basically applaud my reason for being here but  misunderstand some of how I do it and feel that some of it shouldn’t be done. Clearly you think searching for good people is fine, but we disagree beyond that.

Can you admit that maybe, just maybe, I work as hard at find good people to follow as I say I do? And that it has made a difference to growing a community that is both large and high-quality?

And that’s what really bothers you, isn’t it? It’s the numbers. I must be “bad” for doing lots of following/unfollowing, why won’t I just admit it? I must be “bad” for using following to find good people. I must be “bad” for unfollowing my mistakes—and having made so many of them.

Despite demonstrating that I could achieve what you seem to think I’m doing by other, more automated and secretive methods, you’re not convinced. You see big numbers, I must be doing bad things. I’ve pointed out a lot of the better options I could be using if I was just trying to do what you’re accusing me of doing, to no avail.

I’ve watched people try every trick in the book on Twitter for building their communities. There are a ton of people with 40,000-300,000 followers who have done “pump and dump” from day one and still do it today. There are a significant number with more followers than @TweetSmarter has. We both know this. You’re saying I’m doing the same things they are, and I’m saying I’m doing something different at a similar volume.

But there is definitely something addictive about connecting with lots of great people around the world, and I’m going to keep trying to find ways to do it better.

Why we didn’t tweet your link

We get asked a lot about sending links to us. First, realize around half of the posts suggested to us we have already seen. Of the remainder, about half don’t fit into the @TweetSmarter account (as outlined below).

If you still want to to send us links, please read this whole post to understand what we’re looking for. And actually send a link! Don’t just say “I tweeted something you might like.” Realize particularly that we don’t want emails or DMs containing lots of explanation, just links to a site.

So, why didn’t we tweet something you sent to us?

First, realize every day and week is different. Sometimes we adhere more closely to these guidelines. Don’t tweet us and say “but you tweeted such-and-such yesterday.” Each day is slightly different for a variety of reasons. Here are the main overall reasons, in order:

1. It’s not current

  1. We mostly try to tweet things that are less than 48 hours old. Didn’t realize that? It’s one of the reasons we have nearly 300,000 followers. We find the good, new stuff. (And it takes a lot of time to do it!)
  2. Almost every old post ever suggested to us we’ve already tweeted, or read and decided against tweeting.
  3. Some old posts worth tweeting we’ve already tweeted a more current version recently or have scheduled to be tweeted soon.
  4. Yes, sometimes we repeat very old classics that have great content, are still relevant, and that we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on. So don’t see a couple of old posts one day and get the wrong idea: 99% of what we tweet is new.

2. It’s not significant enough

  1. It’s something we tweet a little, but not a lot of.
  2. It’s something we’ve already covered enough (or too much).
  3. It’s a summary or based on another post, and the other post is a better choice (but: sometimes not).
  4. It’s something we might have tweeted on another day, but on the day you sent it there were higher quality things to share.

3. It’s something we’ve already tweeted

  1. You forgot to check to see if we already tweeted it (this happens a lot).
  2. You checked, but we changed the wording so you didn’t realize we had already tweeted it.
  3. We tweeted something very similar already.

4. It’s poorly written

  1. It’s full of unrelated content, lots and lots of talking about your life, excessively long introductions, not getting to the point for several paragraphs, not making it clear what your point really is, etc., etc.
  2. If English isn’t your first language, run your post by a native English speaker before promoting it. If the content quality is good, we’ll be more forgiving. But we get complaints, and have also noticed that people don’t retweet things that seem written strangely to them. It’s not prejudice: we tweet a LOT of things where clearly English is not the first language of the writer. Content quality is what’s most important.
  3. Auto-translated spam posts begone!
  4. It’s a hollow shell: An outline for a post with very little actual content filled in. Boy, there’s more than one big blog I’d love to call out on this one!
  5. It’s one very short idea that isn’t that useful. Short posts are fine! But you must have some useful details or insights to share. We’ve tweeted one paragraph posts, so any length is fine, but I’ve noticed that many short posts really don’t have that much to say.

5. The site design or ads are poor

  1. Main content loads slowly.
  2. Hard to tell content from ad/links/sidebar.
  3. Hard to read (poor choices of animations, color, fonts, etc.)

6. It’s off topic

  1. We tweet about Twitter and a little about social media generally. A little about technology that affect that internet or Twitter apps. We generally emphasize posts of interest to all users, but also tweet specifically for business users at times. In other words, social media technology for business users is borderline off-topic. Twitter for all users is spot on, content-wise (it still needs to meet other criteria).
  2. If you send us things completely unrelated to what we tweet about (e.g. rap videos), expect to be marked as a spammer. If you send us off-topic requests (e.g. “Tell people to follow me”), expect to be marked as a spammer. How often does this happen? Several times EVERY day.
  3. Realize that we test new kinds of content, and respond to feedback about what we tweet by tweeting more or less of some things. We try to stay responsive to user’s needs.
  4. We don’t want ANY off-topic material of ANY kind tweeted to us. It’s a full time job finding good current ON-topic material. Don’t make our job harder. Yes, we tweet, for example, non-Twitter humor from time to time. That’s because we have lives outside @TweetSmarter and sometimes see things we want to share. We don’t want any help finding non-Twitter material.

7. We don’t want to encourage you

  1. We prefer to give positive feedback and help people learn, rather than negative feedback. But sometimes that’s a challenge, and the easiest thing to do is to ignore you for a bit.
  2. You obviously mean well but aren’t quite listening to our feedback yet (we’ll give you a few chances to listen).
  3. You send us a lot of borderline junk, just barely good enough occasionally and never awful enough to keep us from trying harder to stop you.
  4. Quit saying “You’ll love this!” Arggh! Usually that’s from people who send us borderline content of their own making to promote themselves. No, we DON’T love it.

8. We don’t want to encourage them

  1. Some blogs put out borderline spam or just plain junk, mixed in with a few decent posts. We don’t really want to send people somewhere if we think 90%+ of the content there is poor.
  2. Some blogs have a policy of phrasing things in the most inflammatory or misleading way, and then adding a small correction at the bottom later. This is a really, really bad idea. One of the biggest social media blogs in the world does this regularly, which makes us reluctant to share their material.
  3. If I see so much as even borderline soft-core porn, forget it. And that’s getting harder to avoid these days, as a lot of blogs are monetizing with racier images advertising other content. If there are like 20 pictures of cheerleaders after the post, and one is borderline, we’ll probably overlook it if the content is good. But if those pics are at the top of the sidebar, and most of them are questionable, forget it.
  4. Of course, if we get a malware warning for a site, we won’t tweet it. And we might not tweet anything from that site in the future. Yes, most malware nowadays actually comes from ad networks that blog owners have little control over (since even Google and Yahoo let malware get through, it’s hard to avoid). But some sites have just a ridiculous number of ads, and even though they make their content clear and stand out from the ads,  malware warnings for their site happen frequently. Seriously 50+ ads is waay too much.

9. It’s already ridiculously well known

  1. For example, we don’t Tweet Mashable posts a lot, because we actually get complaints when we do! “Seen it already” “Why should I follow you if I already follow @Mashable” (We don’t ignore them completely, though.)
  2. If we’re late in finding out about something that everyone is talking about (maybe we were sleeping—we do sleep, you know), and it isn’t really on-topic enough, sometimes we’ll pass rather than tell everyone something that doesn’t really matter that they probably already know.
  3. Of course, if it’s on-topic, we’ve been known to overtweet things. Balance is a learning process sometimes :)

10. We screwed up

  1. We make small errors all the time. (We have to work very fast to get through all the work involved and still have some time for other things.)
  2. If we make a big screw-up, we LOVE hearing about it! Seriously, if it wasn’t for feedback of all kinds from our fantastic community, we couldn’t do this job.
  3. It happens. Our apologies…and we’ll try to make it up to you :)

11. Why did we tweet some of your links for awhile and then stop?

We change how we find links all the time. We check our best sources first, and then sometimes check other sources. Usually “other sources” means tweets. And since we’re testing new kinds of search and new sources all the time, inevitably we see a lot of things before we see them in tweets.

12. Why didn’t we credit you for your suggestion when we DID tweet it?

We try not to let this happen. If we found something on our own before you suggested it, it may go out as scheduled without crediting you, because we found it, not you. But sometimes, especially for great community members, we’ll credit you even though we found it without your help, just to be encouraging :) Note that if we see the same link from two people we’ll often credit both, and always at least credit the first person we saw it from.

No, it’s not going to be good for both of us

Saying that if we do you a favor you’ll do us a favor is not a good approach. We’re here to serve a community. I’m not saying we don’t favor content from some people some times, but when it happens it’s generally because they’re people also with a great track record of serving the Twitter community over the years.


You may also want to check out Top 10 Reasons I Did Not RT Your DM Request by the wonderful @buzzedition