As always, these are only my own thoughts and impressions and not official Intel policies or recommendations.
Twitter is a microcosm of real-life where the whole world has been shrunk down to a small community, sort of like the town in Kansas where I grew up, but with much more diversity. As a result, it is a surprisingly comfortable and friendly place. However, the diversity means that the is a wide variety of cultural norms to respect (or trip over, when one doesn't). With that variety comes the fact that what is pleasant and polite is not universal.
One of the examples of that is the exchange of greetings. Most everywhere in the world people exchange greetings, except when on crowded city streets. For the most part, twitter is not like a crowded city street. There are several forms of greeting that flourish on twitter.
The first obvious greeting is the thank you. When someone does something nice on twitter, e.g RTs something, the person who was retweeted often says thank you. Another pleasantry that is common on twitter is the good morning or "how is everyone" tweet. A variation on that is the wave or hug tweet, where one calls out to specific friends on twitter. There are, of course, other pleasantries that are exchanged on twitter. The most famous remaining one is the follow friday tweet, where one lists people one thinks are worth recommending and suggests to the twitterverse that these people should be followed.
Now, these various pleasantries come in numerous variations and actually overlap in both their use and what is said. For example, many people do follow fridays to thank the people who have retweeted them in the preceding week. Others do so as a form of wave. In reverse, some people have gone away from individual replies and offer only blanket thank yous to all who have retweeted, mentioned, or follow fridayed them.
Similarly, people reactions to the pleasantries varies. I regularly read blog postings where sending a follow friday with a list of names (especially if there is no commentary as why the people should be followed) as irritating spam. At the same time, one often receives a thank you (or a retweet) from the people listed if one sends out (or retweets) a follow friday in that form.
Therein lies the rub. How does one find the right balance to weave one's way through the differing and even conflicting expectations of what is polite on twitter?
Not having the answer, I can only tell you what I do and why. This will hopefully help you think about what you do and why also. Of course, any feedback or commentary is appreciated. You might convince me to change my ways. More importantly, any other readers may see and resonate with your opinion.
- Thank Yous:
- If someone retweets something about a blog posting I wrote, I thank them. I generally batch these up so I'm sending only 1 per day. I don't write many such postings and they don't get wide circulation generally, so I'm very appreciative. I believe in the maxim of praise publicly and criticize in private, so I like doing these openly. People should know who is nice on twitter.
- I don't do thanks yous for individual retweets, especially not if I wasn't the original author of the tweet. I retweet a fair amount of material and get retweeted enough that thanking for that would generate much more noise than signal. Similarly, I don't generally expect to be thanked when I retweet someone, but do appreciate a thank you from the person who originated the tweet to begin with.
- Finally, blanket thank yous seem impersonal and worse than not acknowledging anyone at all. I know some tweeps have become very busy and don't want to spam all of twitter with thank yous. However, if one did the thank yous as batches and formatted them as @ messages to the first person on the list, they would seem both personal and not spammy, as most people wouldn't actually receive them. One of my favorite tweeps does it that way and it makes her seem very engaged.
- Lastly, try to avoid appearing like a sycophant in your thank yous. If you only seem to converse with and thank the twitter elite, you will slowly distance yourself from the bulk of other twitter users who will being to perceive you as not engaged.
I don't say you're welcome to a thank as often as I should. However, I generally try to not forget if it is the first time I have interacted with someone. It is a good way of saying hi. However, there are some people whom I retweet regularly and who thank me regularly too and I don't say you're welcome to them on the same regular basis.
- I don't generally send out good mornings or what's up messages. I also don't respond to blanket ones, unless they ask a question that prompts a specific response. The goal is to try and only tweet out things which will be interesting to other people, which keeps me from doing much idle chit-chat.
- There are a couple of groups of friends who send around good mornings to a list. I do try to up my sociability and participate in those. When the message is addressed to a specific group, then one isn't sending it to the world. Presumably the people on the list are friends and thus chit-chat with them isn't spamming the world and is engaging the people who are receptive to it.
Note that in this case, it is appropriate to start the tweet with the list of people so that it becomes an @ message. This keeps the conversation relatively private. Other people can see the conversation, but they aren't subjected to it unless they follow both you and the person who is at the start of the list (or they are on the list themselves).
From what I've seen waves tend to go to a list. Again, it makes sense to make certain one has formatted them to be an @ message, which makes them more private.
The third variation on the good morning theme, but this one feels more intimate. That may just be mid-western bias though and they are really like Hollywood or Parisian air-kisses. Therein lies a good caution, I would not send a hug to a person of a different culture, unless I'd seen them exchange hugs with others. Even then, I might wait to let them send the first hug.
- Follow Fridays:
- Follow Fridays are meant to be public. Responding to them in private seems wrong. Moreover, the person who put the follow friday together clearly had some idea that the people were related, even if the only relationship is that these were people who had retweeted that person during the week.
- As a result of that, I nearly always retweet the follow friday, removing my own name, and adding the original author's name to the list. Removing one's own name avoids the awkwardness of retweeting one's own name. That feels too self-aggrandizing. Adding the original author's name gives credit where it is due, whatever was special about the list, the original author probably has that characteristic, and thus deserves to be on the list.
- Note, I do not retweet retweets of a follow friday list. I only retweet the original author. Retweeting retweets is only encouraging what some consider spam to become an even larger nuisance.
- Many people rightfully take umbrage at a follow friday that is just a list of names with no explanation. So, even when retweeting a follow friday, if there is space and no explanation, I try to add at least one word to qualify why the group is worthy. Sadly, this is often impossible.
- Finally, in terms of formatting, I try to ensure that my editing of the follow friday retweet starts with the letter RT and fits within the 140 character limit. This is because their are tools like Klout, Twitalyzer, and Retweet Rank which measure how many times a person has been retweeted or mentioned and I think it is polite to give those people who deserve a follow friday the maximum credit into the ranking tools. This also partially explains why I take my name out. Not only do I not want to be constantly shouting my own name in front of my followers (if they are reading my tweet, they already know who I am), but I don't want to "game" the rating system.
- It is also wise to check the names on the follow friday list. Occasionally, spammers try to sneak the fake "bot" accounts in via follow friday. You don't want to help them propagate. Plus, if there are names on the list you aren't following, here is a good chance to make new contacts. After all, that is the purpose of follow friday.
- The last thing worth mentioning is follow friday cliques. Some of the follow fridays I receive are actually more like waves. They are ways that some of us who have talked on twitter for awhile stay in each others memories. While those cliques may not be as useful in generating new people to follow, they still are useful in their own right.
- Now most people wouldn't consider a retweet to be a pleasantry, but it does share some of the characteristics, so it is worth talking about. If you retweet to amplify what someone else has says and to give their words more space and emphasis, it is simply a form of appreciating them.
- Doing it to your own words is boastful (or needy). So, don't retweet people who are retweeting you just to repeat your own words. The one exception would seem to be if someone writes something nice about something you wrote (e.g. they are tweeting about your blog article), you can retweet them. That is appreciating their kindness to you.
- It is also fair to retweet something wrote "to you" (e.g. an @ message) and then reply publicly to it, as long as you aren't doing it as part of an argument or fight, but are simply expanding the scope of the discussion so that other people can hear their insightful comments and your responses. However, if the message comes via DM or from a protected account, make certain that you ask permission first. Nothing like violating someones privacy in the process of making them more widely known. Most people like publicity, but you don't want to offend someone who doesn't appreciate it.
The last twitter thing worth mentioning is DMs. Again, they are not exactly a pleasantry, but they definitely have their own sense of politeness. The first aspect being, DMs are meant to allow private conversations. That is they allow you to say something in confidence to a person you think the person might not want in their stream.
Note, I did not say you might not want in your stream. Do not use DMs to say things you would be embarrassed to say publicly, nor to harass others. Also, do not use them to send out spam or junk mail. If you would not want the world to know you were talking about a topic, then don't talk about a topic.
There is one place where an exception is polite. It is fair to use a DM to keep private info private. I will discuss in DM with my friends things about my personal life and family I don't want to be public. It is not that I would not want the world to know that I was talking about the topic, but I don't want the world to know that specific information. That is my right of privacy and keeping one's privacy is polite, as is respecting other's privacy.
DMs also allow extended conversations with someone you know only through twitter without putting that whole conversation in front of the world. That isn't a case of privacy, but of simply respecting the fact that most of the world isn't interested in everything you and your friends might discuss. Thus, it is polite to "switch to DMs" when the conversation starts to get long (more than a few tweets each worth) and the topic isn't part of a public debate where you want the world to see the alternative points of view. Note, I use DMs whenever I want to talk to someone personally and I'm not just complementing them on a nice tweet they wrote. That way I don't have to worry that I have accidentally shared some of their personal info to someone they didn't want to know about it.
Finally, this blog entry was written in response to Ten Rude Twitter Habits to Break Today and the comments to it. I recommend reading it also.