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10 Basic Rules Of Twitter (And How To Avoid Being A Twanker)

Twanker – An egocentric individual, celebrity or organization who uses Twitter only for one-way broadcasting about their own greatness.

Twidiot – An individual or organization that uses Twitter only to talk about insignificant things no one cares about, like what they had for breakfast or their latest press release.

One of the funniest things about Twitter is how it has spawned a language unto itself for those who use it. People in social media love to see the world in terms of those who “get it” and those who don’t. This breeds a behaviour on many social networks (and particularly on Twitter) that sometimes seems no more mature than a high school clique – something that many might aspire to, but that thrives upon its artificially created exclusivity.

Yet as Twitter continues to evolve beyond the microblogging platform of choice for those with too much time on their hands to an easily understood service that encourages typically reluctant organizations and nongeeky individuals to finally start using social media, the barriers are breaking down.       

Still, as in many online networks, people on Twitter are establishing a code of conduct all their own and though it’s not written in any one place, the people on Twitter who ignore the rules of this code risk being called one of the above “twinsults” or perhaps a worse word yet to be created or popularized. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet seen a good compilation of the “rules” that people seem to assume that everyone already knows when it comes to how you should and shouldn’t behave in the Twitter environment.

So to help you avoid being a “twidiot” or a “twanker” – here are a few rules that seem to have become generally accepted for how to get set up, brand yourself or your organization and converse on Twitter. It’s not meant to be a complete list, but hopefully others will add to it in comments:

  1. Choose as short a username as possible. This really makes a difference when people are trying to retweet your links and include your username, but only have 140 characters to do it.
  2. Think hard about your thumbnail. For many methods of browsing Twitter, your thumbnail is the only bio information that comes through along with your username, so try make a statement with it that says something about you.
  3. Select a bio link wisely. Twitter offers you the chance to put a single link in to let people click and learn more about you. Don’t just automatically assume your homepage is best for this, think about whether there is a better bio page to link to.
  4. Use your background to share more info. The image you use for the background of your Twitter page is one of the few things you can brand and change. To take advantage, use the left sidebar to share more about you (and try to make it no more than 200 pixels wide). You can also use a service like Twitter Backgrounds.
  5. Follow other people (judiciously). This is a basic premise, but nothing demonstrates more that you are a twanker than following no one back. And if you can, try to make it more than just 10 people. Conversely, though, there is no social obligation to follow everyone who follows you.
  6. Reply to @ messages. An “@ message” is when someone types @[yourusername]. That means they are either just mentioning you, or trying to connect with you directly. Either way, the more of these you respond to, the more you can engage with Twitter.
  7. RT often and strategically. A retweet (RT) is the Twitter equivalent of forwarding an email. Usually it’s done with the syntax RT @[username] followed by the exact text you are retweeting. They are a great way to let your content travel, as well as share tweets created by others.
  8. Leave room for retweets. Calculate how many characters your username is (for example, my username “rohitbhargava” has 13 characters). Now add 4 characters for “RT @” – and in my case I get 17 characters. This means that if I want to let people retweet my messages without losing part of the message, my tweet should be no longer than 140 minus 17, or 123. Generally when I tweet something I want to get retweeted, I will therefore make sure it is less than 123 characters.
  9. Refer to people by their Twitter names on Twitter. Imagine Twitter is like a play and every user is like an actor. You wouldn’t call a fellow actor by their name on stage, you would use their character’s name. Twitter is the same way – so if you happen to link to me or this post, make sure you call me @rohitbhargava so others can see my name and follow me.
  10. Allow and respond to DMs. DMs (or direct messages) are private messages that anyone who follows you can send to you directly without posting them publicly on Twitter. It is one of the few private communications methods on Twitter and is a great way to have longer and more significant conversations with your connections on Twitter if you take advantage of it.

32 thoughts on “10 Basic Rules Of Twitter (And How To Avoid Being A Twanker)”

  1. Good post Rohit

    Great to see more original thoughts/thinkers

    if I might add

    point 6.) careful of the spammers which these days would just include our username for their purpose.. (my feed is private and they even tried me)..

    happy twitting and not become a twanker. 😉


  2. This is a great article, but point #4 seems to be missing the end of the last sentence:
    “You can also use a service like…”

  3. Oh man, let me tell you…Twitter would be such a different place if all this bad behavior was taken down a notch 🙂

    What’s funny is that all the spamming and crap don’t get results either, so they’re wrecking the user experience for others while not getting results for themselves either.

    Too bad…focus on creating value for others and being social. There are really not any short cuts.

  4. Sadly, the “purists” who got it originally and watch a platform like Twitter degenerate as more people get on and misuse it (or corrupt it, either way) have little choice to either leave it behind completely or join the party.

    Even social evangelists are acting like so-called celebrities tweetering in a 1-way fashion about their stellar existence, that’s all Twitter has become.

  5. Let me throw this question to the panel: someone posts a link. you want to repost the link, but not the tweet itself. It’s not really an RT (since you’re changing the copy), but you do want to give credit to the initial poster. I usually use “From” or shorten it to Fr if space is needed. Would you use RT or some other nomenclature?

  6. Not sure why — but stumbleupon insists that it cannot find this post. >sigh<. Admittedly I'm not the MOST tech savvy person on the planet, so it could be me. In case it's not, thought you'd like to know. Loved the post and the guidelines. Being a rulebreaker means I love to know the rules first -- that way I can decide if I should break them or not. Other than the fact that I DO think everyone should know when I add bleu cheese to my cold pizza for breakfast, I'm with ya on the rules! @pegkd

  7. We definitely can’t have enough primers of good Twitter behavior given the sheer numbers of new users signing up and learning to use the service every day. I like the metaphor of Twitter as a stage with actors.

    SEOMoz had a good whiteboard video about getting retweeted that covered the tips about creating shorter-than-140-character tweets:

    Chris Brogan’s version of a Twitter primer was crowd-sourced and very, er, comprehensive:

    And on the other end of the spectrum, our list was only 5 items long!

    Maybe it could all be boiled down to “Don’t be stupid”? 🙂

  8. I think you have some really great rules here although I have to say rule #10 is a bit difficult.

    There is so much spam and auto responders when you get past 10,000 followers it begins to get impossible to see all your DM’s let alone respond to them all.

    Otherwise your right on!

    Dawn Abraham

  9. Great post! May I suggest:

    Try to reate a username that describes who you are, what you do, or why you use Twitter. – If that isn’t possible, than be sure your profile name or bio line do that job instead.

    (I can’t count the number of people I’ve come across whose profile pages are blank. I don’t follow people who have no good purpose for Tweeting. You need to make people interested in hearing what you have to say.)

  10. Great post.

    Slight correction to #8: you really want to leave 6 characters in addition to your username, so retweets like this work:

    RT @username: tweet

    Retweets with ” (via @username)” use 8 extra characters in addition to your username.

  11. This one caught my attention:

    6. Reply to @ messages. An “@ message” is when someone types @[yourusername]. That means they are either just mentioning you, or trying to connect with you directly. Either way, the more of these you respond to, the more you can engage with Twitter.


    I don’t have exact numbers to back this up, but I’m seeing more and more Twitter’ers NOT engaging in this behavior. Especially so-called A-listers. And that’s disturbing.

    My own best practice — and the one I recommend to clients — is to respond to every @ message with a reply. Whether it’s a private DM or a public “Thanks”, someone is willingly offering to engage. It’s only polite and good manners that you offer back a simple reply.

    Disclosure: I work for Empower MediaMarketing, and this is my opinion.

  12. Great Information!

    I have been working on trying to make a living online so I can eventually leave my job for good.

    However, there are just sooo much still to learn and working full time, makes it a little difficult.

    Some of your tips reconfirms what I am doing and others, that I am not doing enough of.

    I will be keeping an eye on more tips from you.

    Thank You,

  13. Well one thing I’ve learned already is that when you comment on a post, double check your information. I mistyped my URL on my last comment.

    I did correct that mistake on this one.

    Sorry for the bad URL.


  14. I really enjoyed this article.
    I like twitter grader as a way to see how a twitter user rates. Too many affiliate links and score is down, RT and conversation and grade goes up. It’s more about the conversation than the number of followers.
    Off to follow you on twitter and strike up a conversation.


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Rohit is the author of 10 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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