Ten things people say about using Twitter, but really they shouldn’t

I am a fan of Twitter and use it a lot, I have blogged about it a fair bit too, my blog entry on the demise of Twitter was quite popular, but I thought my piece on how I think Twitter was all about the coffee was a better article…

Ah well.

One of the things that does annoy me about Twitter is the way in which people like to dictate to you how it should be used and how you should use it.

Um no.

This is the top ten things you should never do with Twitter

10.    Never create a list of people you recommend others follow

One of the the things that goes around the internet on various blogs are lists of people to follow on Twitter. For example ten mobile learning experts to follow on Twitter. Sometimes a top ten, becomes a top one hundred, or even just a directory…

I am guessing that the idea is that you follow these people because someone told you that they would be good to follow.

But why are they good to follow? Do they really make lots of useful tweets about mobile learning all the time… Or are they just interesting people to follow whom just happen to all have an expertise in mobile learning… People follow people on Twitter for a range of reasons, people use Twitter for lots of different reasons. Creating lists of people and recommend others follow them is flawed as it assumes that everyone follows people on Twitter for the same reason that you do, which we know not to be true.

I am less interested in lists of people to follow on Twitter, but much more in why people follow other people, which is why I blogged about this.

9.    Never complain about the noise

The key question you have to ask before you complain about the noise, is define what noise is. Most people would guess define noise as tweets they’re not interested in, that’s fair enough.

However can you define and categorise noise?

Some tools and sites do and I am not sure if they actually understand the point of Twitter. They argue that links are not noise, and @replies are also not noise, nor are #hashtags. Anything else is noise. Some people have said that noise is a ratio between updates and followers.

@jamesclay replies to me are not noise, but as they’re not relevant to other people they would probably refer to them as noise.

So ask yourself if this Tweet from @stephenfry is noise or not noise?


For some people (or tools) it would be counted as noise for these reasons:

  • it isn’t a reply
  • it doesn’t contain a link
  • it’s not a RT
  • doesn’t mention other Twitter users through the @

For me it is not noise. I have a lot of respect for Mr Fry and I follow him on Twitter as I am interested in what he is doing and enjoy reading his Tweets.

Personally I find someone who posts links all the time is in my opinion posting noise, it’s noise to me, but maybe not noise to you, which is why you should never complain about the noise.

Some people argue that they’re not interested in whether I am having a coffee, or drinking tea, what I am doing or who I am with. Personally I always thought that was the point of Twitter!

I have written about Twitter before notably why I think Twitter is an important tool and that the informal chat side is as equally as important as the formal chat. A few people have “complained” about irrelevant tweets and I am aware of some who have stopped following others because of their so called shallow and lightweight tweets. These people in my opinion are missing the point about the real value of Twitter. I am sure that they get something from Twitter, but you have to ask the question is Twitter about following people and reading informative Tweets or is it about communication and community?

Twitter is not just about the “good stuff” it is also about the irrelevance, it is about the non-useful stuff. If all you ever post is what blog entries you have written, why would I follow you on Twitter, I might as well subscribe to your blog’s  RSS feed.

I want to find out what you’re doing, but I also want to find out the mundane things as well. This makes for a more rounded conversation and community.

The problem with complaining about the noise is that one person’s noise is another person’s signal. What is noise to me, is maybe not noise to you, which is why you should never complain about the noise.

8.    Never ask people not to Re-Tweet (RT)

Re-Tweeting has become a bit of an issue on Twitter recently. To RT is to basically copy what someone has said and re-broadcast it to Twitter. So why do people do it?

Well I do it and I do it for a variety of reasons.

Here’s one…


RT @JISC JISC Digital Content Conference 2009 registration now open: http://tinyurl.com/d63zl2 #jdcc09 <– sensible tag IMHO #letsusethisone

I RT’d this Tweet for two reasons, firstly I thought my followers would be interested in the fact that registration for the conference was open (and this is demonstrated in this Tweet reply) and secondly I thought that the #jdcc09 tag was a very sensible tag; though talking about tags will be the topic of another blog post.

In the main I know from Tweetwheel that though a lot of people who follow me on Twitter don’t necessarily follow each other. So if someone posts something which I think is useful (or more usually funny) I will RT it so those who follow me, but don’t necessarily follow everyone who also follows me can see the Tweet.

I also RT stuff I have posted, as a way of re-broadcasting a Tweet. For example I recently set up The Pelican Fringe , a fringe event for the Plymouth e-Learning Conference. I have posted and RT’d about it a few times now, because though people follow me, I know (as I do) don’t read every Tweet I post all the time.

The problem with RTs is that yes you may see the same thing a few times, but remember the one time you see something once and then you will value the RT. Don’t ask people not to RT, if you don’t like what they’re doing, don’t follow them, others may value their RTs.

7.    Never state how many times you should post on Twitter per day

Some blogs out there have written guides on using Twitter and some of these state a number of Tweets you should post per day or per hour. What about those quiet days when I am not doing much, should I post pointless tweets just to make up the numbers? I think not.

Only post once an hour otherwise you will flood the Twitter stream…

This is pointless, as everyone has different followers and different numbers of followers.

If you only follow me, of course I am going to “spam” your Twitter feed compared to if you follow three hundred people, regardless of the number of Twitter posts I make.

If you follow me and I post too often for you (and there are days when I will) then stop following me, stop following me for that day, or stop following me full stop! At the end of the day you are in control of who and how many people you follow. Telling people how many posts they should post

6.    Never tell people what is the optimum number of followers

What a pointless exercise!

Some websites state that it is not possible and you can’t deal with more than a hundred followers…

What is the difference between the number of tweets if a hundred people post one tweet and one person posts a hundred tweets? Or ten people post ten tweets?

You’re right there is no difference.

People post on Twitter for diffferent reasons and I follow them for different reasons. For example I follow M5updates which I find invaluable as I drive up and down the M5. It’s an easier way to find out the problems on the M5 as BBC Local Travel is too localised sometimes, as BBC Bristol for example only really covers Junctions 20 – 14 whereas M5updates covers all the M5 junctions from Birmingham to Exeter. However I am never going to have a conversation with M5updates, partly because I am not really interested in discussing the state of the M5 (I just need the information) and mainly as M5updates is not a person and automatically posts their tweets. If I travel elsewhere in the UK I might then follow M6updates or M4updates for a temp

Likewise I follow various e-learning people and the main reasons for this are seeing what they are doing, having discussions and conversations.

One piece of advice I would offer is that it is not only not necessary often it is not possible to read every tweet that has been posted by your followers. Twitter is not like e-mail, it is an ongoing conversation, one you can drop into, join and then leave. One of the best ways of describing Twitter is the conversations you have at a conference during the coffee break, you see some colleagues talking, drop by, converse and then move on. Rarely will you ask your fellow delegates for a recording or video of the conversation you missed.

5.    Never tell people to follow (or not to follow) celebrities

At one point the only celebrities on Twitter were the geeky techy internet gliterati, people like Leo Laporte and Kevin Rose. They along came Stephen Fry and the whole world of Twitter was turned upside down. Before the end of the week we had Jonathan Ross, and within months Ashton Kutcher (who?) had a million followers and every US TV Host was “doing the Twitter”.

As I said I follow Stephen Fry, but I don’t follow Jonathan Ross.

Does it matter that I do this?

Why would you care?

4.    Never just post links to your blog

Some people seem to spend their entire time on Twitter posting links to their blog on Twitter.

Hello, hello, have you not heard of RSS?

Twitter is not an RSS feed, to use Twitter in this way devalues not only Twitter but also your blog.

Now and again if you are proud of a particular blog post, when it is relevant to the conversation, it won’t be a problem but if all you ever do is post blog links and nothing else then sorry you don’t get Twitter and I am surprised you even have a blog.

3.    Never post the same message to multiple places all at the same time

Some services out there allow you to post the same status update to Twitter, Facebook, Jaiku, etc…  Personally this really annoys me, especially if I follow you on Twitter, are your friend on Facebook and know you on Jaiku. Do I really need to see your same update on all three sites at the same time?

It is one thing that really annoys me, well use to annoy me.

The reason (some) people do this is they have different groups of friends on each social network. Personally I think the time saved is marginal and you would be better off posting different things to different networks less often, rather than use a tool to send the same thing to all your networks more often, but that’s me.

Well the key here is that the power to stop this is in my court (as well as yours). I can unfollow people, I can stop being their friend, I can ignore them.

I can choose what I see, therefore I should make that choice, and not tell you how to post to Twitter.

What I actually do is no longer use Facebook, easiest solution.

2.    Never tell people what they should post on Twitter

I really find it amusing that people feel that they know how Twitter should be used and have written guidelines on what you should post on Twitter.

Some of these guidelines indicate that you should post only important stuff and avoid the mundane. You should only post stuff that other people find interesting.

Again we have the issue of what I find interesting you may find boring and mundane. We are all different and as a result you can not say what is the right thing or the wrong thing to post on Twitter.

1.    Never write a blog post telling people how they should use Twitter



17 Responses to Ten things people say about using Twitter, but really they shouldn’t

  1. jainmehul says:

    lol, your point number 1 is hillarious, specially after reading points from 10 to 2! 🙂

    I am pretty new to twitter, so still in trial and error phase. for point number 10…how is it any different than a blogroll etc…?

    I can somewhat relate to your point on noise. If you randomly start following people you don’t really know or care..then pretty soon ur twitter page is filled with ‘noise’. I guess i had started following a couple of random people because they had added me first ( so sort of to return the favor..) but pretty soon realized that’s not such a good idea…ur twitter page becomes like ur junk mail folder in ur inbox 🙂

    anyway, awesome post..need to read ur post about twitter demise as well..i am kind of curious!


  2. Nick Sharratt says:

    All good – although I found some ‘lists of people to follow’ really useful when I started on twitter as a shortcut to finding relevant people I’d find interesting to follow. I still applied my own filter on top of the lists by looking at the peoples recent tweets. I’d just phrase that point as ‘don’t expect people to blindly follow lists of people you suggest’ and I’d broaden that to cover some of the other points with a simple ‘be humble’. 🙂

  3. elzmcc says:

    Delightful piece — refreshing. Each “best” practice seems to have its own 15 min of Twitter fame. So bubble-map a plan on the back of a napkin and stick to it! Best,


  4. Rachel Bruce says:

    I enjoyed reading this. Thanks.
    I agree with most of it, but I guess your whole premise is that we don’t all agree.
    I totally agree that it is about community and that just chatting and having a laugh is as valuable as being serious, debating and posting links. One thing I don’t think Twitter should be used for, and I am willing to tell people, is “live blogging”, even @stephenfry has been guilty it. Ok post a few remarks and comments but a whole stream ? to me that is noise and gets in the way of the twitter dialogue/banter. If you’re blogging an event/discussion just blog it and post a link.

  5. Tony McNeill says:

    Hmmm … this post counters some of the sillier guidelines with more sensible guidelines of its own. But I don’t think dos/donts at all relevant. All technology has what Pinch and Bijker call “interpretive flexibility”, i.e. users interpret how they want to use it in ways meaningful to them, although they argue that there’s a period of “stabilization” followed by interpretive “closure”. Grint and Woolgar argue against the notion of closure and liken technology to texts, perpetually open to new ‘readings’. The cool thing about Twitter users, it strikes me, is the variety of ways they’re using it. This is Good. Very Good. Any attempt to define norms – act like l’Académie française – looks misguided and doomed to fail.

  6. Helen Keegan says:

    Great post, James…

  7. I enjoy your humour! Thank you for provoking a chuckle.

  8. fjpoblam says:

    Right on! I *especially* like number 10. Hemingway had 5 tips on writing well. Number 5 was, “Never have only 4 rules.”

    As for the rest, I’ve gotten REALLY tired of all the goldanged tips and rules for using Twitter that’ve been circulating of late! Rules, schmules!

  9. sleslie says:

    Funny post. “Telling” is different than “asking” – ultimately we all control the ultimate means of addressing these issues – unfollowing. I personally don’t see anything wrong with expressing a preference to someone else about twitter ettiquette in the hopes of reaching some shared conventions and avoiding having to unfollow someone for one specific habit they may have. They don’t have to agree ad you don’t have to follow, but there’s nothing wrong with civil discussion.

    And I am a big fan of client-side solutions that twitter allows (whether through thick twitter clients or plugins like greasemonkey) that help individuals to further shape what their twitter stream looks like without having to ask others to share their behaviour.

    So you are absolutely right – “telling” people how to use twitter is not only pointless, it misses the point of user-centric social streams like twitter. But conventions can arise and do both from use and from discussion; model the behaviour you’d like to see, but a polite conversation once in a while (with some astute observations about why anyone else should care) can’t be a bad thing, eh?

  10. beth says:

    OK, great, so I’ll blog this, then Tweet the blog link across three accounts (but asking people not to RT). That’s good, right? 🙂

  11. Anthony says:

    #3 – just can’t follow that. I haven’t been on twitter, but it seems pretty obvious that most people have friends that all use diff networks, so to put the same update on all places is definitely the solution. I know people that refuse to leave MySpace, refuse to leave FB, refuse to do anything but Twitter, but they’re all my friends. Hell, there are people that still think Classmates.com is the place to be. When I moved from 1 city to another, I posted in all places. You just gotta, it’s no diff then IMs where people all have their pref and won’t change no matter what 🙂 Other stuff, from what I see, I agree with most, just don’t follow people you don’t find useful to your own definition of community! Good post

  12. […] Ten things people say about using Twitter, but really they shouldn’t […]

  13. […] read: Ten things people say about using Twitter, but really they shouldn’t (James Clay). Posted in Education, Technology. No Comments […]

  14. […] reality is that we can’t tell people how to use Twitter as they have their way of using it and you have yours. They are not the same way and nor can they […]

  15. […] of the issue of whether to RT or not to RT. You may want to have a look at my previous blog post on Ten things people say about using Twitter, but really they shouldn’t that looks at the way in which many people tell you how to use […]

  16. […] 3. Ten things people say about using Twitter, but really they shouldn’t […]

  17. […] Ten things people say about using Twitter, but really they shouldn’t […]

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