It’s easy to lose friends and alienate people on Twitter, says editor Steve Ranger – especially if you insist on committing these seven social media sins.

Even though there are roughly 175 million Twitter accounts in existence it’s only possible to follow a tiny fraction of them – say, 300 to 500 – without risking acute information overload. That means Twitter users have to be discriminating about who to follow, and carry out regular pruning sessions to keep it all under control. And that means any of the Twitter crimes below might get you the chop next time somebody decides to have an unfollow Friday.

Now we’ve not included the obvious crimes – spamming, posting inappropriate content, being an RSS feed in disguise. No, the ones listed here are some of the more subtle crimes you might be committing – and if you want to give your Twitter a high-tech make-over, check out our list of 20 Twitter tools to optimise your tweets, too.

Twitter sins

Are your tweets annoying your followers?Photo: pixelbully

So have you been wondering why your follower list has been going south, rather than north? Here’s a list of seven ways you might be irritating your Twitter followers – if you are guilty of any of these, time to give your personal social media policy a rethink.

1. You tweet too little…

If someone is following you on Twitter because they want to hear your opinions and find out what you’re up to, and your last tweet was, “Looking forward to New Year. 2007 will be amazing” then expect to get unfollowed pretty quickly. A similar sin – being boring. Surely your life can produce 140 characters of entertainment every so often? If not, you’ve got bigger problems than people dumping you on Twitter.

2. …or you tweet too much

Just because someone is interested in you it doesn’t mean they want a running commentary on every beat of your heart.

Also, if you tweet 20 times in rapid succession and take over my Twitter feed, you will be classified as one of those unblinking obsessive types who lurk on public transport and harangue tourists. Someone to be avoided.

And don’t repeat yourself either. A bit of self-promotion is expected but the tenth time you link to the same mildly amusing post on your blog, people will unfollow.

One fundamental thing to repeat in your head until you understand it: no one cares what you’re having for lunch. Unless, that is, you are intending to eat something larger than your head. In which case, supply TwitPic proof.

3. You go off-topic

If people are following you because they have a deep interest in your day job, and you keep tweeting about your kittens and your garden then you are likely to lose friends quickly. Unless your day job is kitten wrangling and gardening – in which case, keep up the good work. Of course, the reverse side of this is that…


…if you don’t go off-topic every so often, people will conclude that you are some kind of robot and ditch you anyway.

4. You ignore people

People like Twitter because it brings them closer to people who they might never actually meet in real life. But it shouldn’t all be one-way traffic – Twitter is about engagement, not broadcast. So if you don’t respond to people, they’ll dump you.

As for following people back, this is a trickier one – once you’ve got more than a few hundred followers, you can’t possibly follow everyone.

Well, you can, but it becomes impossible to read any tweets because your timeline will be updating too fast. Trying to read it would be like trying to read every number plate on cars as they go past on the M25. But if you don’t follow people back, they tend to get a bit annoyed, especially if they use tools like Friend or Follow to find out who is actually following them back. A balancing act – like so much on Twitter.

5. You plug too much stuff into your feed

There are loads of ways of analysing Twitter data but do it privately unless you have something profound to say about what you’ve learned. So if your Klout score has collapsed because you stopped tweeting about eating flapjacks – unlikely – then tweet it.

Otherwise, crunch your numbers quietly. Also, beware of plugging too many third-party apps into Twitter. You may listen to Achy Breaky Heart and Remember You’re A Womble every day but do you really want Spotify to share that with the world? Hmm, thought not.

6 .You’re still an egg after two years on Twitter

Really, what are you hiding? If you haven’t managed to crack out of the Twitter newbie egg by now, why are you bothering? It’s not that eggs are untrustworthy as such but your unwillingness to engage with the rest of Twitterverse by showing your face suggests a love of privacy that is web 1.0.

Unless of course you are an egg, in which case the question is, how are you sending tweets? Morse code through the shell? Well done, you.

7. Ostentatious thank-you RTs

OK, so we all know that Twitter is basically a playground for gigantic egos. That’s fine but some tweeters have raised self-promotion to a teeth-grindingly embarrassing art form. In particular, the ostentatious thank-you retweet, where someone has praised your blog, product or haircut and you just have to reshare it with the world. You may think you are just sharing the love, but really it’s just cringe-worthy.

Also, it’s entertaining to see some back-and-forth debate on Twitter – but watching you share a private joke over a dozen tweets is a bit like overhearing a young couple exchanging sweet nothings. At first it’s fun and then it becomes incredibly irritating. Take it offline.

Steve Ranger is the editor of and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, culture and business for over a decade. You can find him tweeting @steveranger.

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