A Newbie’s Adventures in Twitterland #2

In my last post (which, yes, was a ridiculously long time ago, but let’s just shut up about that, okay?), I talked about how confusing certain Twitter conventions can be for newbies.  When even long-term Tweeters can’t seem to agree on the Rules of Twitterquette, what’s a poor newbie to do? As I said last post, I don’t have the answers, but I have found some middle ground that hasn’t (yet) sent all my followers flapping off into the sunset.

In this post, I’m going to talk about one of the biggies: following.


Ah, who to follow, who to follow. 

There seem to be two distinct schools of thought when it comes to following. Actually, who am I kidding, there are way more than two, but I’m only going to talk about two because I have a life to live once I finish writing this post.

School 1 says: 

  • Follow the people who follow you. Follow all of them, except possibly the zero-tweet bots and the spammers (although some people seem happy. to follow them and, even more startling, to suggest that you follow them too, but more about that when I talk about #FollowFriday).
  • Follow the people who tweet things that make you want to smack them.
  • Follow the people who tweet all day about things you don’t care about and will never care about and who bore the pants off you.
  • Follow the people who say vile things that make you wish there were a virtual equivalent to barfing in their laps.
  • Follow the people who say “comprised of” even if seeing the phrase “comprised of” makes your eyeballs seize up in your head and your heart start thumping like a drummer on speed (okay, maybe that’s just me).

Follow them all, says School 1, because, well, what does it hurt? It’s not like you have to actually read their tweets, and everyone’s trying to build their social media platforms, and shouldn’t we all support one another like a great big happy family of total strangers? As with any family, you take the bad, boring, obnoxious and slap-worthy along with the good, right?

School 2s position can be summed up more succinctly: Follow the people you find interesting. Life is too short to arse around sifting through a barrage of tweets that make you want to take a hammer to the fingers that have wrought them.

The Twitter Equationists:
It’s also worth mentioning that there are a couple of interesting little cliques within School 1 and School 2 that I think of as The Equationists. These are the tweeters who seem to view Twitter as a finely (or perhaps not so finely) balanced equation, like so: 

Clique A, School 1: # of Followers = # of Following (+ or – x-dozen)
Clique B, School 2: # of Followers must ALWAYS be > # Following (by a LOT)

Clique A, School 1: These tweeters espouse the #teamfollowback philosophy. You follow me, I follow you. I follow you, you follow me. No follow = snip, snip. No exceptions. (The plus or minus x-dozen is, I believe, illusory; it reflects the allowance of time for people to follow back. No followback = unfollow!) 

I don’t get this philosophy at all. At. All. There are so many people whose tweets I love. They don’t all follow me back, and nor do I expect them to. Well-known authors; politicians; news reporters; lexicographers; tech gurus: am I really going to snippety-snip them out of my Twitterverse because they don’t reciprocate?  

Clique B, School 2: These people probably aren’t following you at all. They want you to follow them, but unless you’re an A-lister, have great whacks of Klout or have something other than your stellar wit to offer, you’re just not going to be one of the cool kids. These Tweeters, like you, are trying to build their social platforms, and make a nice splashy name for themselves in whatever Twitter niche they’ve ensconced themselves. 

Please note: I’m not talking about actual celebrities here. While it would be singularly delightful to wake up and find that @stephenfry, @ladygaga, @mashable, or @MargaretAtwood has decided to follow you, most of us aren’t delusional enough to think that’s really going to happen. And most of us would agree that’s okay. No, I’m talking about those folk who do a regular cull of their “following” list to make themselves look a whole lot more popular than they actually are. Lame, you say? Um, yes.  

So, where do I stand? 
I guess I’d have to say that I have a foot in the playground of each school. Or at least a toe. The people I proactively follow are people whose content interests me. I’m not very niche-y, and my interests are pretty eclectic, so I tend to look for people who tweet about writing, publishing, social justice issues, politics, music, technology, science and nature, cupcakes…that sort of think.
I don’t pay much attention to Twitter’s “Who should you follow” feature, because I know from experience that I can do a much better job of figuring that out for myself. I find people to follow by checking out retweets, searching for specific hashtags and engaging in a certain amount of stalking careful research.
I do tend to follow back most people who follow me. Come on, I’m Canadian, what else am I going to do, eh? But I don’t blindly follow back and I never, ever autofollow. The people I choose not to follow are:

  • Tweeters who express their political, religious and/or personal views in a way that’s likely to make me homicidal. Don’t get me wrong; I follow all kinds of people who think very differently than I do on all manner of issues, but if you’re going to take your sexist piggery to obnoxious new heights or try to cram your particular version of god down my throat on a regular basis, sorry, you don’t make the cut.
  • Businesses that are a bazillion miles away from where I live and are trying to sell me something (not online)–unless they give good tweet. I’ll forgive a lot if the ratio of interesting tweets to marketing is weighted toward to former.
  • People whose entire twitter stream consists of quotations, lists of meals eaten, fashion/beauty tips, or celebrity gossip. 
  • People who tweet primarily in a language I don’t speak or read. 
  • Tweeters who relentlessly self-promote. I’m actually pretty tolerant on the self-promotion front. As a writer myself, I want to support other writers trying to make a buck. BUT. A litany of “buy my book! buy my book! buy my booooook!” unleavened by anything amusing, entertaining, or thought-provoking makes your followers what to hunt you down feed your book to you page by page.
  • People whose entire Twitter stream seems to be a tedious and frequently cryptic conversation with the same three people. Ho freaking hum.
Right now I check out every person who follows me. I look at their timeline, I frequently have a boo at their blog or website. Obviously, if I become staggeringly popular, this will change, but since that eventuality doesn’t appear to be lurking anywhere near the immediate horizon, I try to get a feeling for each and every person, business, organization that follows me. Isn’t that supposed to be the point of Twitter? Connecting???

So, tell me where you stand on these thorny following issues. Are you School 1 or School 2? Or some other school altogether, you rebel, you?

Next up in this series: 

  • Unfollowing
  • Retweeting, replying and DMs, oh my!
  • Hashtags: friends or foes
  • The delicate art of self-promotion

A Newbie’s Adventures in Twitterland #1

You know, this tweeting thing isn’t quite as straightforward as a person might think. I mean, it sounds simple enough, right? Trot out your delightful and delicious 140-character bon mots, reply to or retweet other people’s equally delightful bon mots, play nice or play mean–how hard can it be?

Except, as a relative newbie to the Twitterverse, I have to tell you, it’s not as 1-2-3 as it looks. As friendly and welcoming a social media platform as Twitter is, it does have its own quirky lexicon, its own rules of etiquette, and its own tricks and strategies–and not all of them are entirely intuitive.

When I started tweeting in earnest towards the end of May, I decided I’d better do a bit of Google research before I committed some gaucherie so heinous that all (10 or so at the time) of my followers decided to abandon me en masse. Coming from a long line of co-dependent, please-let-me-please-you enablers, I wanted to do the right things in the right way at the right time. I wanted, in fact, to be smacked in the forehead with the shovel of rightness.

But do you know what I discovered as I plumbed the depths of Google wisdom on this subject? I discovered–shocker of shockers–that there is an essential disharmony in the realm of Tweet. In fact, to paraphrase Newton, it appears that for pretty much every opinion on every convention, practice or definition in Twitterland, there is an equal and opposite opinion.

For you long-time tweeters, I’m sure this disharmony is nothing new, and I’d guess that it barely even ruffles your sails as you navigate the Twitter waters. But imagine the plight of the poor newbie, stranded without a lifejacket in a sea of #hashtags, DMs, RTs, spammers and bots, looking for advice so she doesn’t wind up making a big splatty fool of herself. What does she find? I’ll tell you what she finds: 

  • Only follow people who follow you back! 
  • Follow everyone who interests you!
  • Hashtags are annoying and pointless! 
  • Hashtags saved my life! 
  • Old school retweet rules and new retweet sucks! 
  • Old retweet sucks and new retweet rules! 
  • #WatchWednesday and #FollowFriday are lame! 
  • #WatchWednesday and #FollowFriday are the building blocks of your social media empire!

So, what’s a newbie to do? On which side of the Twitter divide is she to cast her anchor (to belabour my metaphor beyond forgiveness)?  I’ll tell you what I’ve done. As any self-respecting middle child with co-dependency issues might do, I’ve tried to chart a course right down the middle, with the occasional veering off into one side or the other.

Over my next four blog posts, I’m going to share with you how I’ve made sense of and come to terms with a few of the contradictory Twitterlaws around: 

  • Following and unfollowing
  • Retweeting, replying and DMs, oh my!
  • Hashtags
  • Self-promotion

Do I have the definitive answers? Very much not, I’m afraid. Feel free to chime in along the way with your thoughts and your own personal Twitter rules of survival.