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 Twitter.com, 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.”

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