Twitter etiquette: How to tweet politely

Abiding by a few simple etiquette rules can help keep you and your followers happily tweeting along.

Because it's just a messaging platform, Twitter is far less complex than Facebook. Nevertheless, misuse and abuse seem at least as common on the former as on the latter. Some of our favorite Twitter etiquette rules follow.

Reconsider the running commentary. Live-tweeting sporting events or conference speeches may seem like a public service, but who's listening? If you normally use Twitter to post once-a-week status updates but then abruptly let fly with 80 tweets in a day, you'll aggravate followers who aren't expecting their account to be inundated by your sudden outpouring. Consider composing a blog post instead, or offer a single succinct observation each hour.

Understand @ replies. Twitter's biggest failing is its inability to organize conversations; and in this regard, overuse of @ replies can be extremely confusing to your followers. The proper time for an @ reply is when you're adding to a conversation publicly, preferably with a tweet that can stand (more or less) on its own. "@bob - Yeah I know" is a waste of everyone's time. For simple responses, use a D message instead.

Go easy on the acronyms. Twitter was designed for cell phones, but your iPhone has a full QWERTY keyboard, so there's no need for the abbrevo-speak unless you are severely crunched for space and/or really are a kid. (Fitting tweets into a single message is a polite and admirable practice.) No matter how many people fail to take it seriously, spelling still counts on Twitter.

Think about the venue. As one reporter learned, it's not okay to Twitter a funeral. Twittering during a solemn ceremony (wedding, briss, court proceeding) is generally a no-no. If you're unsure whether a tweet or two is permissible, check with the event's host. Be prepared to receive a funny look in response, though.

Learn the lingo. Check out our "Twitter Commands Reference Guide" (last section of the story).

Up-to-the-minute spoilers. Since Twitter concentrates on the current moment, it is unreasonable to expect tweeters to suppress or censor their comments for fear of spoiling a surprise. Users should simply avoid the medium if they don't want to know the outcome of a sporting event or the ending to a movie.

Following the followers. In Twitter's early days, it was commonplace for all users to follow anyone who followed them, regardless of whether they had anything interesting or relevant to say. But Twitter has gotten too large for this, and Twitter long ago disabled the account option that let tweeters automatically reciprocate when someone chose to follow them. Today reciprocating a Twitter follow is strictly voluntary, and there is no discourtesy in choosing not to; still, it's a good idea to look at the follower's profile before you decide.

Retweeting in 140 characters. If a tweet that you'd like to rebroadcast with an RT exceeds 140 characters once you've added the RT @username prefix, the recommended course is to meet the character limit by truncating the end of the message. It is also acceptable to edit the tweet as needed to fit, while retaining as much of the language of the original as possible.

Mind the plugs. If your feed consists of nothing but plugs for yourself and your work, most of your followers will unsubscribe. Exceptions exist for automated news-feed services (like @cnnbrk), which function more as the voice of a site than as a means for a person to share thoughts.

Twitter is public. Don't forget: Unlike a Facebook update, a Twitter post can be read by anyone. If you don't like the implications of this situation, either don't use the service or set your updates as protected (though this largely defeats the purpose of Twitter).

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Christopher Null

PC World (US online)
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