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Op-ed - Written by on Thursday, May 28, 2009 10:51 - 1 Comment

Naumi Haque
Four simple rules to keep Twitter useful

Given how emotional people get about their micro-blogging, I thought I’d include a disclaimer on this post: The views contained in this post are mine, and do not necessarily reflect those of the entire Wikinomics team. While we often disagree on topics of Twitter, I think we can all agree that there are there are opportunities for improvement across the Twitterverse.

The Wikinomics team has many posts discussing the real potential of Twitter for business value. This is how I predominantly use the tool: As an efficient way to find new stories relevant to my research, as well as discover interesting or amusing content, and occasionally peek into the personal lives of interesting people. A good signal-to-noise ratio is critical for this type of usage.

I use Tweet Deck to help filter my updates, but it still becomes a challenge because filtering is by individual, not content. That means if I add someone to my “Main Feed,” I have to somewhat trust that they will act responsibly. What do I mean by responsible? The other day I opened Twitter and notice 39 tweets in a row from the same person, most of which were links. Literally 39! That’s irresponsible. It’s also not a way to get noticed on Twitter, but rather ignored.

Responsible Twitter users abide by four simple rules:

1. You learn something new everyday
2. Twitter is not chat
3. Don’t be a needy jerk
4. Ignore rules 1 to 3 if you are in marketing

RULE #1: You learn something new every day
There are two key parts of this rule: 1) “Learn” – Share a new discovery, something novel or interesting you learned today. There are a lot of people I’d like to hear from more often, but who rarely post (I’m somewhat guilty of this myself). Everyone has something they can contribute to Twitter. At the same time, it sets the bar slightly higher than posting a stream of consciousness. 2) “Something” – not everything. How much is too much? Think top-10, max. I gave Denis a hard time about this a couple of weeks ago.


In truth, Denis was actually at a conference tweeting insights from various presentations. It’s an exception to the rule that I haven’t figured out how to deal with yet, so I took him back. He hasn’t betrayed my trust since ; )

RULE #2: Twitter is NOT chat
There is a reason that the inventors of Twitter had the good sense to include a Direct Message function. No one wants their feed spammed with out-of-context snippets of conversation like, “Sorry I missed you @mybuddy, next time for sure.” This is a very simple, yet often forgotten rule.

RULE #3: Don’t be a “needy jerk”
If you missed it, Vanessa Grigoriadis has a fantastic article in New York Magazine about Facebook. In it, she talks about the declining usefulness of Facebook updates:

“This was the beginning of the end. Suddenly, Facebook began to irk me—the way friends always posted about procrastinating, being stuck in traffic, needing a nap or a vacation, or seemed to formulate their updates in declarative yet vague form, like ‘Michelle is upset’ or ‘Roya is pouting,’ thus coming off like a needy jerk and making us take time out of our day to plead with them to answer the burning question: ‘Why are you pouting?’”

I couldn’t have put it better. There is a lot of this on Twitter and it’s exceedingly unproductive. Worse; it’s noise that obfuscates the valuable signals we’re all trying to get at.

RULE #4: Ignore rules 1-3 if you are in marketing
The future of Twitter – especially in marketing – may well be bigger than my “rules.” I talked to a company Crimson Hexagon this week that makes a business out of mining user opinions online (including from Twitter) for market research. In fact, marketers love the stream of consciousness because to them it’s data, and valuable data at that: “Post all you want about what you had for lunch, just be sure to mention the brand of mustard you used and how it made you feel…” (Note; Rule #4 should have excused Denis from his misstep on Rule #1, since he is our program manager for our Marketing 2.0 program.)

Marketers also don’t want to use Direct Message. If you answer a customer question publicly, it not only makes you look good in terms of being responsive, it also potentially saves you from having to answer the same question multiple times, as well as helps boost brand mentions. For more on how to think about your brand on Twitter, see: A potential framework for how different brands are using Twitter.

1 Comment

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Steven Burgess
May 31, 2009 19:17

Something I have asked for as an enhancement to Tweetie – a “Mute” option so that I can remain subscribed to a user, but suppress their tweets when they are being unusually prolific. Next time I log in, unmuted!

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