10 rules for the Twitter neophyte

If you're just beginning to explore the potential benefits of Twitter, these recommendations will help you build a network that has some real value.

If you're just beginning to explore the potential benefits of Twitter, these recommendations will help you build a network that has some real value.

If you're a longtime Twitterphile with half a million followers, you probably know most of the things I'm about to cover here -- or else it's coming too late. But if you're still getting things off the ground and trying to figure out whether there's any value in relationships that consist of 140-character snippets, I think you'll find these 10 rules helpful in building a more valuable network.

To be honest, my own interest in Twitter is in the potential it has yet to develop. At this point, I don't think it is what it could be. The value of attention is still real, but getting people's attention isn't the challenge anymore. It's getting the attention of the right people, which on the Internet means building a relevant network of people who share your interests. The natural shortcoming of Twitter is that it keeps racing by, and each message is just a blast that spreads for a moment and then gets washed away. Contrary to the premise that a good network is based on reciprocation and mutual interests, randomly building your "followers" to five, ten, or a hundred thousand can create a mess for you to sort out when the real worth of momentary messaging becomes clear. (Hint: I don't think it lies in blasting out "secrets" about teeth-whitening or free webinars about how to get/buy more followers.)

The intent of the guidelines below is to prevent the tendency toward superficiality and quantity-over-quality in Twitter's growing stream (just under 50 million unique visitors per comscore -- Facebook has more than 300 million by comparison). Many of these ideas I've picked up from other people who are better at it that I am.

Is it even possible to avoid Twitter's inherent weaknesses? Last week, Dell announced that it attributes three million dollars in revenue to Twitter since 2007. That's a start.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

The rules

1: Don't direct-message me with something you are selling, especially at odd hours. That will get you deleted.

2: Don't follow anyone whose messages say "Follow me." Saying it is not a good reason.

3: Never follow anyone whose name is a city, vacation spot, or other vague reference.

4: Don't follow anyone whose ratio of followers to following is more than 4:1. (Sorry celebs -- any exceptions to this have to be outrageously interesting, and most of you are not.)

5: If you talk more than once about what you ate recently, you get unfollowed. No exceptions.

6: Don't follow people who use "@" to direct-message someone with some personal comment instead of using "d." (e.g., @Joe "Yeah.") This either means the person isn't following you or you are just lazy.

7: Don't follow people with o_O as their icon/photo. Lame (or spam).

8: Porn and other raw sewage gets deleted and/or blocked. Sorry; not my idea of a network.

9: Unfollow people who keep sending the same message. Once might be an error or a correction, but this is the wrong way to overcome the "shotgun" shortcomings of Twitter.

10: Ignore and possibly unfollow people who consistently send out a URL with no explanation. Unless you have a network of only your relatives, why would anyone expect people to click on something just because they sent it?

Building the quality network

To sum things up, here's what you should be looking for in building your Twitter network:

  • People with the same interests you have (check relevant # filters)
  • Those in your professional field with pertinent things to say
  • People who generally make great observations and thought-provoking connections
  • Sources of relevant "early news flashes" that are relevant to their network(s)

Building this kind of group will take more time than using an auto-responder, but it will give you a network that has some real value. And keep in mind that the people who are successful with any social media tool are the ones who start with the premise "What can I give?" rather than "What can I get?"

Other rules?

What Twitter transgressions do you find counterproductive, annoying, and/or offensive? Share your own rules in the discussion below.

Jeff Cerny is a regular contributor to TechRepublic's 10 Things blog. You can follow him at @jeffcerny or e-mail him at jeffcerny@gmail.com.