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Tweet Etiquette
by Joel Comm with Ken Burge

Every conversation has rules. We know not to interrupt someone when theyapostrophere talking. We know not to use bad language when we talk. We know not to talk too loudly.

And we know too how and when to break all of the rules.

Exactly the same is true for a Twitter conversation. The site hasnapostrophet been around for long, but Twitterers have already tried to figure out something like a Twittering etiquette.

Some of those etiquette rules are smart, sensible, and should always be followed. Others are smart, sensible, and should usually be followed.

While itapostrophes important to know the rules, itapostrophes just as important then to know when to break them -- and what happens when you do.

1. Donapostrophet spam.

This is one rule you canapostrophet break. Spammers donapostrophet survive long on Twitter. They donapostrophet build followers. Any followers they do get donapostrophet read their tweets and the number of conversions they can generate will be so tiny that as a marketing method, youapostrophed probably be better off printing a thousand flyers, folding them into paper airplanes and tossing them out of your office window.

There are all sorts of different ways to spam on Twitter.

As weapostropheve seen, one way is to follow lots and lots of people in the hope that some of them follow you in return. Thatapostrophes not just ineffective, it also turns up clearly in your bio.

Whenever someoneapostrophes bio shows that theyapostrophere following several thousand people but only being followed by a handful, thatapostrophes a pretty good sign that theyapostrophere looking to spam. Theyapostrophere trying to build up followers who will follow them out of politeness rather than because they have interesting content.

Twitterers often steer clear of people like that.

The spamming itself though is done by constantly sending out tweets that say things like: "Iapostropheve just put up a new blog post -- check it out!" or "Sign up for my RSS feed!"

You can send out tweets like this occasionally. But as weapostrophell see later in this section, they have to be mixed in with other tweets too. Otherwise, youapostrophere just spamming, and thatapostrophes annoying.

Worse, it doesnapostrophet work.

2. Follow style rules.

Twitterapostrophes founders may have had mobile phones in mind when they designed the service, and plenty of users may be typing their updates from their handheld devices, but Twitter isnapostrophet exactly the same as SMS messaging.

That means the language needs to look more like real words than the usual SMS-style abbreviations.

It goes without saying that typing in uppercase letters looks like youapostrophere shouting, but in addition to avoiding all uppercase, you should spell out words completely and avoid using numbers instead of letters whenever possible. (For example, "late" is not spelled "l8" and "to" is two letters, not one number.)

That might mean more typing, but the reasoning is sensible. "Heading 2 town l8. Dont nowot 4" is hard for the reader to understand. Itapostrophes only good manners -- and good marketing sense -- for you to put in the work so that your readers donapostrophet have to.

There are exceptions, of course. If youapostrophere really strapped for space, this is a rule you can break, but understand that youapostrophere forcing your followers to make an effort. What is permissible, though, is to use symbols such as @ and=and to skip some of the grammar. The question Twitter asks might be "What are you doing now?" but you donapostrophet have to begin your answer by saying "I am . . . "

Sentence fragments such "About to start watching the football. Canapostrophet wait." are fine.

3. Give credit for retweets.

One of the things that makes Twitter such a powerful tool is the fact that information placed on the site can quickly go viral. When one person spots a good tweet, they can pass that message on to their own followers, and soon itapostrophes spreading right across the Twitterverse and beyond.

For a marketer, thatapostrophes like hitting the jackpot.

On Twitter, itapostrophes done by retweeting.

Twitterers can simply copy someone elseapostrophes tweet and tweet it themselves . . . but they must give credit to the original Twitterer. The format for retweets, then, looks like this:

"Retweet @username: original tweet."

So if you wanted to retweet this post from my timeline:

"Spontaneous LIVE broadcast! join me now with special guest!" then you would tweet:

"Retweet @joelcomm: Spontaneous LIVE broadcast! join me now with special guest! jclive"

Any comments you want to add to the retweet can go at the beginning or in brackets at the end:

"Not missing this! Retweet @joelcomm: Spontaneous LIVE broadcast! join me now with special guest!"

"Retweet @joelcomm: Spontaneous LIVE broadcast! join me now with special guest! (Not missing this!)"

The etiquette is simple enough. Sharing tweets is easy to understand, too. It might not be original content, but if your followerswould find the original tweet interesting, why shouldnapostrophet you share it?

The tricky bit is to get other people to retweet for you. While you can ask specifically for retweets -- and some people do -- itapostrophes not really good form.

If your tweets are interesting enough, people will share them with their friends and followers -- and those friends and followers will come to your page to find out who you are.

4. Stick to 140 characters.

You have to stick to 140 characters, right? Thatapostrophes all they give you, and they do it for a good reason. Being starved of space stops you waffling and sparks your creativity. Itapostrophes what Twitter is all about.

Well, yes and no.

Twitter gives you 140 characters because thatapostrophes all that can fit through SMS systems. If mobile phone companies could handle messages of 200 characters, then thatapostrophes probably how long our tweets would be.

Even though the limit is fairly arbitrary, it does make sense to keep to it as much as possible.

The alternative is to show half-complete tweets and offer links for people to continue reading or break messages up so that theyapostrophere sent over several tweets.

You can see this happening sometimes on Twitter, and it rarely looks good. Readers expect the content on Twitter to be small. They expect to be able to read and absorb it in one bite. These are content snacks, not three-course meals with coffee.

Writing a thought that takes more than 140 characters and spreading it over three or four tweets is giving people more than they want. It also makes you look like youapostrophere dominating the conversation.

Chat with a friend, and youapostrophell take turns speaking. Youapostrophell speak, your friend will respond, and then youapostrophell continue. Keep talking without giving your friend a chance to offer his response and youapostrophell start to sound rude.

Multiple tweets can have the same effect upon Twitter. Again, this doesnapostrophet mean you should never break up a long tweet. And it certainly doesnapostrophet mean that you shouldnapostrophet post one tweet after another.

What it does mean is that you should be aware of the effect you can create in your timeline when you do either.

5. Follow people who follow you.

How many people you should follow on Twitter can always make for a great discussion point. Follow thousands of people and youapostrophere not going