Twitter Rules For Newbies

A colleague of mine is new to Twitter, and sent me an email saying “I have no idea what I’m doing with this thing.” I figured I’d respond to him with this blog post, instead of replying to him directly.

Welcome to Twitter, buddy. Thanks for asking for my advice. Here are my suggestions for what you should do:

1. Share ideas, not activities. I couldn’t care less that you’re on a call with a client, at the airport, stuck in traffic, or (especially) eating breakfast. Maybe your wife cares that you’re doing those things (but I doubt it). People want to know what’s in your head, not in your mouth.

2. Talk to Twitter as if you were talking to a person. The biggest losers in Twitterville (geez, I didn’t just say “Twitterville”, did I?) are the people who tweet company marketing messages. What’s really sad is that, often, these are the same people who preach that “marketing has to change”. Yet they broadcast their marketing messages as if this were some traditional media. Think of a tweet as a conversation starter. Think of sharing some thought on Twitter as you would a Skype message to me. (But keep it clean, and don’t bitch about other people. Not that you would ever do that on Skype).

3. Share links — judiciously. I’ve got a Twitter buddy who’s an email exec (not you JC) who tweets every damn social media link he sees. Not only is it a good bet that 25 other people have already tweeted that link, it really doesn’t enhance his personal brand (oh geez, I didn’t say that, too, did I?). I try to share links that meet two criteria: 1) stuff about marketing/financial services that I don’t think everybody has already seen or are likely to see, and 2) stuff I think is really funny (and that I think other people aren’t likely to see).

4. A link to a new blog post. Please note that I said “a link”. This is your call. When I publish a new blog post, I tweet the link once, and only once. I hope and pray that other people will RT my tweet and/or tweet the link. I know of people that tweet links to a blog post multiple times throughout the day, and over multiple days. I couldn’t tell you where the spam line is.

5. Respond to what other people are tweeting. It’s called conversation. Trust me on this one: People will appreciate the fact that someone is actually listening to what they’re tweeting. It’s mind boggling how many people use Twitter to broadcast their messages, and don’t engage in conversation. That’s their call, they can use the tool as they please. Just sayin’  that I think you miss a big opportunity to engage people if that’s what you do. The big decision you’ll have to make here is whether or not to reply with the @ sign (a public tweet) or DM them (direct message). Here’s my rule of thumb: If I don’t want, or think it’s necessary for, anybody to reply to my reply, then I DM the person. Not every tweet has to go out to everyone.

6. Do NOT live tweet conferences. If Bartlett were around today, his book of quotations would run 20,000 pages. At least that’s my conclusion judging from the fact that so many Twitterers that attend conferences seem to think that every damn comment made by every damn speaker is worth tweeting.

7. Follow only the people who abide by the previous rules. Every two weeks or so, I scroll down my TweetDeck window, pick out the people who aren’t following the rules, and unfollow them. I realize it probably offends them. But I know you well enough, my friend, to know that you won’t lose any sleep over this one.

So, thanks again for asking for my advice. I hope this helps. I’ll leave you with my Twitter mantra, with the hope that you will make it your mantra: Add Value to the Conversation.

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14 thoughts on “Twitter Rules For Newbies

  1. I totally disagree with number 6. I’ve enjoyed the live tweets from GAC and the most recent MBD10 conference IF they only tweet the highlights. Big exciting, worth the price of admission moments. Otherwise I’m with you. When someone tweets, So-and-so is up next, or is taking the stage I think….um…………and what did you have for breakfast?

  2. I would generally agree with all your suggestions, but newbies and twitter veterans should also use them as guidelines. I have two twitter accounts and the people I follow and who follow me are very different on these accounts with some overlap. The conversations you want to have on twitter will determine what is more or less “acceptable” behavior.

    An example, number 1, you say share ideas not activities. Generally speaking I would agree. If you are talking about what you are eating for breakfast, or that you are getting your mail, or other mundane things. But, some of the best conversations start when someone tweets what they are doing. That is how people get to know you. If you are on twitter to discuss business topics and not personal things, then that would be a reason to not share activities as much.

    There is a hashtag within one group of people I follow because they specifically discuss what they had for breakfast. It is their morning ritual.

    Basically, I wouldn’t want newbies to be afraid of tweeting about activities. They will get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work. But, every tweet does not need to be a profound thought. (Not that I think that is what you are implying.)

    Also, for conferences, I agree with Denise. I enjoy following conferences on twitter. I live-tweeted GAC and received only compliments about it. No one complained and only 1 person unfollowed me (:D) during it.

  3. Carla and Denise: Thanks for commenting. The beauty — if not the definition — of an effective tool is that it allows different people to do different things with it, or in other words, to achieve different objectives.

    Do what you want with Twitter. The title of the post might include the word “rules” but of course, there’s no penalty for breaking the rules, no one to enforce them, and no one to implement them as any kind of official set of rules.

    Perhaps a better title for this post would have been “Ron’s Suggestions To A Twitter Newbie”. That would have been a more accurate title, but come on, you have to admit, that would have been a more boring title.

    Don’t overlook the construct for setting up this list of “rules”, however. It’s not an attempt to prescribe to either of you how to use Twitter, but my recommendations to my colleague for how he should use it.

    Of course, I wouldn’t mind it if I did influence some people’s Twitter behavior.

  4. Ron –

    1. I’d like to respond but I have a bit of peanut brittle in my teeth and I’m having difficulty getting it out. That and I’ve got an itch between my toes and you know what THAT means…. Geesh!

    2. As a global provider of innovative solutions for business transformation we are uniquely qualified to support you in your ERP, CRM, SaaS and BMF efforts.

    3. Just follow these links to,, and for more.

    4. As it happens I just published a blog post. Can you find it?

    5. Whut?

    6. I missed SXSW but did provide running commentary on bailing out my basement during EXNE. Is this OK?

    7. If I followed rule 7 I wouldn’t be able to follow you!

    ps – its actually a good post – 🙂

  5. Enjoyed the post – although I have to say I think I remember a day when a bunch of us including you were tweeting a Finovate Start Up Conference. I enjoyed it that day and have to agree with Denise and Carla on that topic.

    I also have friends that share activities of interest. In our case yoga and cycling, and we tweet about those activities – maybe to share an accomplishment or a great place to go or an invite and event or meet up. I don’t think that is the same as sharing what you are having for breakfast, but perhaps is instead an ongoing conversation about shared interests.

    I totally agree with #2 and #5 – how else can you have a conversation? And conversation is what I enjoy about Twitter .

  6. Jodi: I’m not saying don’t tweet about activities like yoga and cycling, simply saying don’t tweet “I’m doing yoga.”

    Unless, you’re me. Cuz’ if I tweeted “I’m doing yoga” — THAT would be funny.

    And yes, I remember live tweeting Finovate. And I hereby apologize to everyone who had to endure that.

  7. Dude… Ron… you totally forgot campaigning. J/J! 🙂

    Good post that I happened to find it well… via Twitter (your one and only tweet about it I guess). My thoughts below.

    1. I don’t mind seeing the activities of a person via Twitter if they mix it in with good conversation, thoughts and ideas. It’s the ends and outs that to me builds the relationship.

    2. Agree

    3. Links can include You Tube Monty Python video 🙂

    4. For blog posts, I am thinking that 3 is a good number. Once in the AM, at lunch and then in the PM. Campaigning for a video contest… well, all bets are off and it’s every half hour. 🙂

    5. 100% on point

    6. Have to disagree with you on this one. I think it is pretty cool to be able to bring a conference or event to those who are not there. Plus it makes for a great archive.



    7. Considering I have broke some of these rules (noting 4 and 6), I hope that you will still follow me as I enjoyed the conversation and banter with you (especially during campaigning… btw… did you vote video #8).

  8. JR: The Grateful Dead once said (thx for giving me an oppty to quote the Dead): “If a man among you has no sin upon his hand, let him cast a stone at me for playing in the band”. As I said in my comment to Jodi, I, too, have sinned and broken the rules. If I stopped following people who broke any of these rules, once, I’d be following nobody. And nobody would be following me.

    It really is all about balance. Breaking any of the rules once or twice is no big deal. Consistent violatiions and I hit that unfollow button.

    Now having said that, let me reiterate one of my points: No live tweeting conferences. Trying to tweet every other sentence that comes out of conference speakers’ mouths is spam for two reasons: 1) most conference speakers really aren’t saying stuff that is THAT interesting or insightful, and 2) even if it IS interesting and/or insightful, it’s OUT OF CONTEXT.

    Instead of trying to keep up w/ tweeting every other sentence, here’s an idea for all you conference attendees: STFU, put your friggin’ mobile devices away for 20 minutes, and LISTEN TO WHAT THE SPEAKER HAS TO SAY. And then do a blog post that summarizes the key points and takeaways.

    BTW, videos w/ conference speakers are good.

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  10. Doug: 1. The idea behind Twitter is to share WHAT you’re eating, not THAT you’re eating. 2. I’m afraid to ask, but what’s BMF? 3. Tweeting links to the Hamster Rodeo is going to get you in trouble with the PETA people. Your call on that one. 6. Tweeting your basement bailout is OK, because we all get to laugh at your misery and suffering.

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  12. Seems to me this is a post for ‘Twitter rules for the “professional” newbies’. I keep thinking of this topic (maybe incorrectly) as an analogy of learning to play guitar. Somebody asks Ron how to play guitar and he shows them nothing but ‘Grateful Dead’ trash (yes, that was an intentional dig) but the guy is more naturally a jazz or acoustic fan. Ron is merely suggesting how Ron uses Twitter, not how the questioner should.

    If somebody asked me the same question and I prefer to respond like this: Go follow some people you admire and figure it out yourself. You’ll figure out where you fit and how to participate pretty quickly.

    Last point: I wish Ron tweeted more about personal stuff, I don’t know that part of him well enough.

  13. I’m struggling with “follow some ppl you admire and figure out for yourself” advice. I can’t imagine that that’s an easy thing to do. To some extent, though, it’s exactly what the questioner (my colleague) did. He followed me. But I guess he couldn’t “figure it out” just by following along, and asked for advice, to which I tried to codify what I do.

    What is missing from my post, though, which you make me realize, is that I didn’t set up the objectives. I should have started by saying “IF your objective(s) for using Twitter is X, Y, and Z, then you should do the following things.”

    Also, if I tweet more about personal stuff, it’d probably go like this: “Listening to the Grateful Dead 10/26/72 from Cincinnati OH. Great show” and “Psyched to score tix to the Furthur concert in Lowell, MA for end of June”. Given your GD trash comment, I figure after a few hours you’ll be begging me to stop the personal tweeting. 🙂

  14. Ron Shelvin, the Twitter Expert. Ha! I kid.

    Your points are valid, but Twitter is a mixed bag of nuts and people use it for different reasons.

    This post should be titled “My Rules….” The beauty of it all is that if someone is breaking your rules you can simply unfollow them.


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