Twitter’s main selling point is that it’s a self-curated feed. You’ll follow two kinds of accounts, those of individuals and those of celebrities, businesses, and organizations. Celebrity/business accounts are often primarily one-way communication — they tweet, you read — but even promotional feeds should share some or all of the characteristics of a good “civilian” feed.
Your role is to choose who to follow to create a feed that you enjoy reading. To do that, don’t just reflexively follow everyone who pops up on your radar — look at the account profile before you hit “follow” to see if you think you’ll want to read what they’re broadcasting.
Start by clicking on a username; a “profile summary” with some good basic data will pop up.
- If the person follows you, it will say so next to his or her username.
- The lock symbol indicates that the account is “protected,” or private. If you want to follow this person, you have to send a request that he or she must approve.
- The rest of the info in the box at the top is the self-written profile in standard format.
- The number of tweets gives you a sense of how active the person is.
- Look at the balance between the number following/number of followers. If it’s completely out of whack, the person is using the account primarily for self-promotion. This may be fine for businesses or celebrities, but social media is more satisfactory if users engage with each other. Look for the two numbers to be more or less in line.
- If you’re already following the person, the “follow” button will tell you that; if you’re not and you want to, that’s the button you’ll click.
- “Followed by” names: These are other accounts that you follow, providing a kind of social proof that the feed is in line with interests you already have.
Naturally, the single most important thing to look at when deciding if you want to follow a feed is the feed itself. The profile summary only shows the two most recent tweets. These probably aren’t enough to give you a sense of the feed, so go ahead and click on “go to full profile” to see a scrollable version of the person’s tweets.
A good feed is about communicating with each other and sharing interesting information, which will come from a variety of sources. Aside from the subject matter, which you’ll have to judge according to your own taste, the signs of a good feed are:
- Tweets are written in grammatical English and not jammed with abbreviations.
- Links come with some explanatory info so you can decide if you want to click or not.
- There are links to items by other people, not just the user’s own blog or Etsy store.
- There are retweets of posts by other people, whether they go out under the originator’s username (as in the second tweet in the above screen shot), or through a tweet beginning with “RT” for “retweet.” (We’ll deal more with the two different ways of retweeting in a later post.) Again, these indicate that the person is on Twitter to participate in a more general conversation.
- There are at least a few one-on-one tweets (the “@name” is at the very start of the tweet). These indicate that the person responds to and engages with his or her followers and doesn’t just use the feed as a soapbox.
Obviously, not all of the feeds you look at will meet all of these criteria, but they’re good indicators for a worthwhile feed. If you’re not sure — what the heck, add the feed, you can always drop it later.
Things you don’t want to see:
- Lots of Four-Square check-ins (unless, of course, you really care where everyone is at all times)
- Ditto for any other other “automatic” posts, whether they’re to Etsy, Pinterest, a blog, or a website.
- Spam and sales pitches. If you don’t know what these look like, you probably shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet.
- The same tweet repeated a dozen times, with a different “@” address at the beginning or end. This is a sign that the person is just looking to get retweeted, i.e. take advantage of someone else’s following.
- The same person retweeted a dozen times. Where’s the incentive to follow the person doing the retweeting rather than the person being retweeted?
- Lots and lots of hashtags (words and phrases preceded by “#”). I’ll talk about hashtags in a later post, but for now will just say that one or two are fine, a plethora indicate that the person doesn’t understand Twitter.
- Requests for followers. Again, this person isn’t concerned with using Twitter well.
- Long one-on-one conversations. If y’all have that much to say to each other, take it to IM or email.
(By the way, I’d like to thank some of my Twitter pals for contributing their pet peeves to this list: @antijenic, @c8nhogarth, @evewrites, @mededitor, @MetaCookbook, and @miscellaneaarts. And if, even after consulting with these knowledgeable folks, I’ve forgotten any “don’ts,” feel free to add them in the comments!)
This should get you started on the “incoming” side of Twitter — now it’s time to start tweeting yourself. We’ll tackle that in the next installment.