Now that I’ve been pretty active on Twitter for a few weeks, I have come to some conclusions about the best way to use it. Here, for review and comment, is Version 1.0 of my Twitter Best Practices.
1. Respect the Fg/Fs Ratio. This is the ratio of Following to Followers, which is indicative of conversational intent. For example, at the moment I follow 354 people and am followed by 412 people. That’s a ratio of .86, which is not bad given that some percentage of your followers will always be quasi-spammers and extremists/nut jobs (see below). I need to follow quite a few people I missed along the way, and plan to use Friend or Follow to do that later tonight. People with a very low Fg/Fs Ratio should be unfollowed, subject only to the legitimate news source exception (see item 2 below). For example, @JasonCalacanis has a Fg/Fs Ratio of .0027. He should be unfollowed immediately. @fredwilson‘s is .0022, he too should be unfollowed. Compare for example, @guykawasaki‘s ratio of .92, which proves that you can be a well known internet figure and maintain a decent ratio. @Scobleizer, perhaps the most famous Twitterer of all, has a ratio greater than one (1.1), though Fg and Fs numbers that high tend to lose some of their relevance. Even @ajkeen, who thinks we’re all a bunch of idiots, has a ratio of .60. Sure, you have no control over who follows you and maybe you find most people boring, but the internet is full of places where you can pontificate (blogs, RSS feeds, Gillmor Gang podcasts, etc.), we want Twitter to be better than that.
2. But Acknowledge the Legitimate News Exception. We all read certain blogs and other web content without the implied expectation that the people who post that content will read our blogs and engage us in conversation. There are old media examples of this like CNN and C|Net, and there are new media examples like Mashable and Engadget. So it’s OK for those sites to have a Twitter presence with a low Fg/Fs Ratio, as long as they aren’t quasi-spammers (see item 3 below). One important caveat: the threshold for this exception is high. If you aren’t completely convinced it applies to you, it almost certainly doesn’t. Lots of people with very low Fg/Fs Ratios mistakenly believe this exception applies to them.
3. Don’t Be a Quasi-Spammer. We don’t want spam in our email inboxes, and we don’t want spam in Twitter. You may fool yourself into thinking you are adding value, but if all you do is promote yourself or your product, you are not adding value and should be unfollowed. You may think we want to see repeated links to your latest get (you) rich quick scheme, but we don’t. It’s perfectly appropriate to link once to your new blog post, but if that’s all you ever do, you’re abusing the system. Leave Twitter and go buy a real billboard. There is, of course, a subjective line to be drawn between what is quasi-spam and what isn’t. The best way to approach this issue is to act communally (see item 8 below). If you don’t want the rest of us to bombard you with links to our stuff, then don’t do it to us.
4. Use Reasoned Conversational Etiquette. Just because you aren’t face to face at a cocktail party or nerd gathering doesn’t mean you can be rude. Don’t stand for unkind or hateful acts. Act honorably and demand the same from others. Become a better conversationalist by learning how to listen. Remember, unless you follow someone, you will not see his or her tweets. If people engage you in a positive way and try to add value to your conversation, you should generally follow them, at least long enough to assess your common interests. For example, I generally respond to @DaveTaylor‘s polls and questions, but I have no idea if he sees my replies because he does not follow me back (that is going to come across as whining, but I’m not offended or mad at Dave- I am just giving the best personal example I can think of). The point is that it takes some effort at reciprocity to nurture inclusive conversation.
5. But You Can Ignore the Extremists and Nut Jobs. Twitter, like the rest of the internet, is comprised of all sorts of people. Most of them are cool and rational. Some of them are extremists, some of them are nut jobs, and some are both. In life, I avoid those who are so psychologically bound by their positions that they cannot understand why people feel otherwise (Rush Limbaugh is the best example of this, and there are others on both ends of the spectrum). When I inadvertently end up in a conversation with an extremist/nut job in real life, I simply turn and walk away. It’s perfectly OK to do the same thing on Twitter.
6. ReTweet Wisely. There’s nothing wrong with retweeting an especially good tweet for the benefit of your followers. Retweets ad value. But you have to do it wisely and with moderation, and for the benefit of the recipients and not just for the benefit of the content producer. Tweets are not ads. And unless someone’s safety is in jeopardy, you should never ask that your tweets be retweeted. Anyone who does that more than rarely should be unfollowed. And anyone who puts retweet links in every tweet should be immediately unfollowed. We need to get together on this before Twitter becomes overrun with quasi-spam.
7. Take the Bjorn Borg Approach to Your Profile. Seriously. Do not write something like this: “Mr. Cool is the world’s leading authority on social networks and ginger ale. He’s your real daddy and has an IQ of 7000.” I’ve seen some that are pretty close to that. Everyone knows that you wrote your own profile, so take the Bjorn Borg approach and let your game speak for itself. Absurd, bragging profiles should result in an immediate unfollow.
8. Act Communally. It’s impossible to cover everything in a list of best practices. Technology and current events will always present new opportunities and challenges. When this happens and you are about to do something new on or with Twitter, ask yourself one question: “if everyone started doing what I’m about to do, would that improve or detract from the collective Twitter experience?” The answer will generally be pretty clear.
That’s version 1.0. It’s open for comment!