I’ve seen lots of examples of what I consider to be bad ‘twitter practice’… and whilst I’m by no means the authority on the subject - I do think that I’ve spent enough time scanning the twitterverse to have a good idea of what works, and what doesn’t.
Let me know in the comments if you agree; or disagree with any of these ‘rules’, or if you think I’ve missed out something important.
Rule 1 - Keep it simple: When people read tweets, they don’t spend much time reading each tweet; in fact most of the time they’re probably speed reading as they’re scrolling through pages of tweets. So if you’re trying to craft tweets with a lot of hidden meaning - then most of the time it will be lost on your audience - and they’ll just skip to the next message.
I tend to follow the rules for writing a press-release - i.e. tell them what you’re going to tell them in the headline; expand on it in the first paragraph, then give them the rest of the story in the body.
In twitter this means you need to grip the reader immediately with your first few words and compel them to act and hopefully share your message with their followers. So you should construct a tweet by grabbing the reader with the first few words that explain what you’re tell them, followed by additional information to expand on the message, finishing off with a link to find more information.
Rule 2 - Add value: If you want people to listen to you on twitter - which, let’s face it - is the whole reason for using twitter - you need to convince them to follow you; and to re-tweet your messages. If every message is a simple re-tweet; or you’re simply broadcasting your organization’s press releases via twitter - then you’re not adding a lot of value - and will find it hard to build followers.
The reason people will start following you is if you’re providing a unique or interesting perspective or opinion. So occasionally when you re-tweet, use the old-school RT method and add your own perspective to the end of the tweet which puts it into the appropriate context for your followers (e.g. RT @author message - Me: This is great for SMBs)
Rule 3 - Engage: To use the term social media can be a little misleading. I prefer the term coined by John Battelle from Federated Media - Conversational Media - because it makes the point that conversations are the key currency. You need to be getting involved in the space - and triggering or participating in discussions with thought-leaders about your topic. Engage is also the name of Brian Solis’s recent book, covering the new web - and comes highly recommended on Amazon.
A dialog between two people is usually more interesting that a speech from one person (just compare an interactive panel session or podcast with a single presenter), and it can trigger people that are following the person you’re interacting with to start following you (if you’re representing yourself well in the discussion).
So be on the lookout for people that are supporting your brand with their tweets - and respond to them with your perspective; or just reply to thank them for sharing their thoughts, and start up a conversation.
Rule 4 - Make your tweet ‘findable’ with good use of keywords and #tags: The tweet must contain the keywords that match the search patterns of the people you hope to reach. If you’re trying to drive mindshare for a new word or phrase to describe your product - make sure you also include keywords that are often used - not just your new concept
#tags can be overused: #tags are great for events; or for a subject that generates a discussion for a short period of time (such as the #ashcloud) - however they shouldn’t be return in for no good reason. Good #tags fall someone in a range between being too narrow for anyone else to use (#idumpedmyboyfriend), to being too broad for anyone to be able to discern anything useful from the stream (#HP). They’re best suited to something specific - such as #HPTF (HP Tech Forum).
Checking your hash tag before you use it is also usually a good idea. The last thing you want to do is to send you readers to a inappropriate off topic discussion. You can check your tag by simply searching for our odd on search.twitter.com
Rule 5 - Don’t Rick Roll your readers: Give your readers an indication of what they will get when they click on your short link. For example if it is a video, then say so in the tweet.
E.g. How to tweet: Video http://bit.ly…
In this case you could also give an indication of how long the video is (Video 2 min), to let you readers know if it is short and sweet our if it will need a long time investment.
Try to avoid short messages like ‘this is cool http://…’. Explain what it is you’re linking to, and why you think it is cool.
Use links effectively: Informational tweets are ok, but they’re a lot more useful if you include a short-link to a resource containing more information. If the source of the link is the BBC - include that in the tweet; and if you’re linking to a PDF or video mention that as well - to give the reader an indication of what they’re going to get when they click through.
Rule 6 - Don’t Spam: This one is a little tricky - because whilst you need to get your message out - if you send the exact same message from multiple accounts (as we’re encouraged to do through our tweet sheets) it could be considered spamming (Twitter rules).
Personally getting the same message from multiple accounts in response to a search for a #tag is annoying - because each adds no additional value over the first message. If you’re going to send out a message on behalf of someone else - then re-word it into your own words, or add some personal angle that puts it into context for your readers
For your more important tweets covering events or good blog posts - it can be ok to tweet the same tweet twice in one day - once in the morning; and once in the afternoon. This is because many people don’t scan back in history when they check their tweet stream, but usually just check the last few messages. If they missed your first tweet, they might pick up on your second.
Mark Suster mentions a great strategy from Babak Nivi over at VentureHacks - which is to run multiple tweets to the same blog post - but using different quotes from that post. This makes it more acceptable to your readers - because they’re not seeing the same tweet multiple times - but are getting a different perspective from the article.
Re-tweeting is great - but if you’re not adding commentary - then it’s best to use the native re-tweet built into the twitter website - because then if multiple people re-tweet, your followers only get it once - along with an indication of the number of people that have re-tweeted it.
Rule 7 - Make re-tweeting easy: Don’t use all of the 140 characters available - but leave at least 10 free - to make it easy to use ‘old skool’ re-tweeting (RT). This will become less of an issue when more people start to use the native re-tweet functionality built into twitter - but there will still be people who want to take your tweet, and add their perspective before sending it on to their followers.
You can also keep your tweets short by using common acronyms where possible; and replacing words like ‘and’ with ‘+’ or ‘&’.
Rule 8 - Fill out your profile: Setup your profile with a good photograph (of yourself… not your cat), and fill out a web-link and your bio. Accounts with no information reek of spammers, and won’t be followed.
Make it clear in your Bio what you’ll be tweeting about - so that readers can make an informed decision to follow you. If you’re being compensated by a company that you’re talking about - you need to make this it clear in your profile (due to the FTC’s disclosure rules)
Rule 9 - Talk to your shareholders: If you’re posting something that could be of significant interest to investors/shareholders (such as an acquisition or major analyst opinion), catch their attention by using $ and the stock ticker - $MSFT.
This will surface the tweet on the stocktwits website and applications. Please don’t over-use this one by $tagging every tweet about your company, because that will probably annoy the users of this service, and may get your tweets filtered out.
Rule 10 - Have fun: Whilst I recommend maintaining a personal; and a professional twitter identity - even with your professional identity - mix in a little of you into the stream. People like to talk to real people… not faceless brand identities.
Have I missed any? Let me know in the comments below…