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A Question Of Twitter Etiquette

Various articles have been written on the expectation of etiquette on Twitter but I thought I’d throw my own two pence in. As with anything such as this it is a series of guidelines as opposed to rules but I do believe the following is best practice. Hit the comments to let me know how you feel about my suggestions and to propose any of your own.


I think every time somebody makes the effort to ask you a question using the @Reply option on Twitter you should always reply. It’s simple common courtesy. I believe we should think of the reply function like we do SMS text messages. If somebody asks you a direct question via text message, only the rudest of people ignore it. If the text is open-ended then there is less pressure to reply. I think the same basic principles should be applied to replies on Twitter.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I’m Stephen Fry! I have more than two hundred thousand followers and get ten thousand questions a day.” And I feel for you, I really do. But here’s the simple solution. :)

If you have a big following and get the same question many times in a given day, consider replying openly to your followers. That is, don’t direct the Tweet directly at the person (or people) who asked the question via use of the @ reply. Instead, write an open Tweet that everybody reads. If you get the same questions later in the day, consider re-Tweeting it (although if you’re enough of a name I’m sure your followers will do it for you.)

If you find yourself  being asked the same questions day in and day out by new followers, give strong consideration to starting an FAQ that covers all of these repetitions and linking to it in your Twitter profile.

If you’re a small guy, though – like me :) – you have no excuse. If somebody asks you a genuine question on Twitter, answer it! (This is where I find TweetDeck and my real-time search for @Sheamus really useful, as I never miss anything.)

Direct Messages

I propose using direct messages (DM) sparingly. Most established Twitterers hate auto-direct messages so I’d remove any external facility you use that sends those. It just creates the wrong impression. Don’t use them.

That said, even personalised DMs can be a bit of a nuisance, notably if you send them whenever somebody follows you. I mean, think about it – automatic or not, it feels the same and may as well be sent by an external website for all your follower knows. Ask yourself why you feel the need to make this message private? If it actually is private information, then absolutely, go ahead and send it. If it is not, then be aware that it might strike the recipient as strange or even be perceived to be spam.

Be mindful that direct messages are only two-way if both parties are following each other. You will experience this again and again on Twitter. You’ll be following some big name and from time to time they’ll respond to your @query with a direct message. This is both rude and inconsiderate, as unless they are following you too (which is fairly rare, to be honest, until you also become a name) you cannot DM them back. They know this as they’ve been around the Twitter-block a lot longer than you and I. And because they know this, in these cases I think it’s fair play to RT their direct message back at them. ;)

In all seriousness, if you receive an @ message from somebody and you’re not following them, do not send them a direct message. It’s very poor form.

Follow & Unfollow

There’s been some debate within Twitter about the value of automated follow/unfollow services. The gist of the matter is that by signing up for these services you are not only subjecting yourself to the Tweets of many people whom you won’t have any interest in at all, but you’re also falling into the hands of the evil spammer.

I disagree on both counts.

Firstly, I like following people on Twitter. Twitter to me is all about socialisation. I think by restricting yourself to people in a similar niche to you then you are also restricting the impact Twitter can make on your life. (You may consider that a positive. :) )

There are lots of people who I follow on Twitter whom I never would have met outside of the service but have become great sources of all manner of valuable information. If I was selective about these follows, I would have missed a wealth of links, news and data, often from areas I wouldn’t normally have stumbled across elsewhere.

Furthermore, by using TweetDeck I can (and do) easily filter my favourite follows into their own group, ensuring I never miss any of their gems. This prevents me getting overwhelmed (as you will tend to do if you restrict your experience to, certainly when you move above 150-200 follows). But because I also observe all of my Twitter friends in their own separate pain (plus whenever I access my account on my Blackberry) I’m still in touch with everybody else.

Secondly: spammers. This is a massively overrated problem on Twitter. Yes, they exist, but they’re very easily dealt with, either by Twitter themselves (who are increasingly on the ball) or their handy block button. And this is where a high follow count becomes useful because in all honesty you won’t notice any spamming as it will get lost in the fray. And if you do, it’s two-seconds work to remove them. :)

It’s entirely you call if you use a follow/unfollow service, but I do, and find it saves me a lot of time and effort. Sure, I could check everybody out who follows me and decide if they’re ‘worthwhile’, but why not just give them a chance?

As for automatic unfollowing, I choose this option, too. My ratio of unfollows to follows per day is pretty small but it does happen to everybody for various reasons (Twitter removes them for you, you’re not directly in their niche, you use language they don’t like, and so on and so forth). Socialtoo provides me with a daily update on who has followed and/or unfollowed me – and the exact Tweet that I made when this happened – and that’s useful information. Because of this data, on those times when somebody chooses to unfollow me, I can give serious thought as to whether I want to follow them despite this, or not if we were always poor bedfellows. :)

ABC: Always Be Crediting

If you ask a question on have a problem on Twitter and get some good responses, always give public credit to those who helped you.

Again, it’s common courtesy and nobody objects to being openly thanked. In many cases I have found that by doing this you are essentially recommending these helpful people to other Twitterers which can only be a good thing.

It’s perfectly acceptable to thank several people in one Tweet. The important part is that you were seen to be grateful.


Re-Tweeting is great: if the Tweet actually needs to be re-Tweeted in the first place. I personally find it slightly ironic that the biggest users on Twitter get the most re-Tweets, even though virtually everybody is following them anyway. How does that make any sense? ;)

I’d also suggest that a lot of stuff gets re-Tweeted simply because a given name has submitted it, and the article is not always actually given much investigation (with the re-Tweeter relying heavily on the name of the submitter and how the article appears from the description in the original Tweet). I might be wrong on this but time and again I find the same things re-Tweeted. It’s definitely true that some of the Twitterati do consistently provide fantastic links, but a lot of fluff gets re-Tweeted, too (especially quotes and motivational rhetoric).

I say that assuming any Tweet warrants being re-Tweeted to your followers – and remember that to them it is now your recommendation – do check it out thoroughly first, and consider the person who originally Tweeted it. Small users providing good content absolutely deserve to be re-Tweeted, and consistently, too. The big names are going to be re-Tweeted by all and sundry anyway, and chances are everybody who follows you is following them, too. :)

Use Twitter Search. A Lot.

Twitter’s search function is getting a lot of press of late, with some considering it a rival – or even a usurper – to the mighty Google. I don’t subscribe to this philosophy myself, but it’s definitely a powerful tool and one that we should all be using regularly.

By tapping into the Twitter vein you can unveil a bouquet of informative delights, and often even a quick search will actually result in that most blessed of things and prevent you from asking a VFAQ (Very Frequently Asked Question, such as ‘What is #followfriday?’ Which I see about twenty times every Friday. ;) ). Do use it. Please? :)

You’ll have your own thoughts on the correct etiquette on Twitter – if there is such a thing – and I urge you to share them in the comments below. :)

(In writing this article I threw this question to the Twittersphere: “Here’s one for the grammar nuts: Is it ‘a usurper’ or ‘an usurper’? I’ve Googled and both are in heavy use. But which is actually correct?” The answer can be found in the article above. I’d like to thank @stephenjgray, @cheekymink, @photostrada, @dyr, @garethprice and @frostyjane for their assistance, and urge you to follow these fine folk.)

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