What I’ve learned in ten (ish) years as a Catholic on Twitter

I’ve been active on Twitter for almost a decade now and it’s been a fairly big part of my life. I’ve managed accounts for lots of organisations. I’ve built up several accounts to follower numbers of 10k plus, and I’ve even been asked to advise a few national organisations — and more than a few smaller ones — on how to use the platform.

I wouldn’t call myself an expert. I’ve got plenty wrong over the years, and I continue to make mistakes. Nevertheless, I think I’ve picked up a thing or two that might be useful.

And so, as a New Year’s gift I offer, in no particular order, a few little nuggets that I’ve picked up in the last decade:

Don’t tweet too often. You can post on Twitter far more often than, say, Facebook without annoying people and getting unfollowed but there’s still a limit. Personally, I think that unless your account is one that people expect to see updated more often (like a news account) or unless it’s a special occasion, a sensible limit is around twenty a day. Any more than that, and it starts to look like Twitter is your whole life - not a good look!

The best tweeters are those who have real lives (in our cases, real ministries) off-line and who tweet every so often to give people a snapshot into their world.

Don’t tweet too little. A lot of people use tools and apps (like tweepi) to manage their follows and followers.

One of the chief uses of tools like these is to help users to identify which users then might want to unfollow, and one of the first criteria people apply in this regard is to look and see who hasn’t tweeted recently.

Personally, when I’m looking to clean up my follow list, I ditch people who haven’t tweeted in a fortnight, but many people are far harsher than me. Some followers will even ditch you if you haven’t tweeted in a couple of days, and that’s why it’s important to make sure you don’t go more than a few days without tweeting.

Personally, I try to make sure I’m tweeting (not retweeting, but actual-tweeting) at least daily. This all means that I try to aim for something like 3 to 10 tweets a day, with 1 to 20 being my absolute boundaries.

Worried you don’t have the time for that? Well…

You can schedule your tweets in advance. I use Hootsuite to schedule my tweets. In fact, there’s a heck of a lot you can do with Hootsuite across a number of platforms. It’s great, for instance, if you manage multiple Facebook pages. For our purposes though, it’s also great for scheduling massive amounts of tweets in advance, and that includes tweets with pictures, links, YouTube videos and the like.

On the first day of every month, I spend twenty minutes or so making sure there is a tweet scheduled for each day. That way, if I get a busy week when I can’t go near Twitter, I know my account is still going to be ticking over and I’m not going to find my follower numbers dipping.

If you’re wondering what to tweet, here are some ideas: YouTube videos, articles, thoughts on the daily readings or feast days, jokes and memes (relevant and appropriate, of course), and repeat content (really good content can be repeated a few times over a few weeks or months).

Another good tip if you’re looking for tweet fodder is to have a bit of a theme going on. A few years ago, I was responsible for online marketing for an event Matt Redman was playing at, so I invented something for our feeds called ‘Matt Redman Mondays’. Every Monday, I scheduled one of his music videos, simply pasting a link from his VEVO channel on YouTube.

Pictures are good. All of the evidence suggests that tweets with pictures are far more likely to be engaged with than text alone.

If you get pictures from Google image search (or anywhere online) make sure you have the right to re-post them, and make sure you include any image credit line. That’s the sort of thing that’s far easier to do now that Twitter have upped the ante to 280 characters.

Retweeting is good. There are apps available these days (like this one) which mean that you can run an entire account on automatic retweets and hardly ever actually tweet yourself, or even log in. And while I wouldn’t recommend this approach (it’s a bit impersonal) for a personal account, it goes to show how powerful and useful retweeting can be.

I maintain a list (see below) of good and interesting accounts that make good retweet fodder and I check it a few times a day. It’s a very simple task just scrolling down and retweeting a select few.

Remember too, that there are two ways to retweet — with a comment or without. Both are good, but adding a quick comment adds your own thoughts to an already good bit of content and inserts you into what might be a great conversation.

Lists are good. Some people use lists to categorise accounts for themselves or others. And while that’s all good, I prefer to use them as a sort of selective home feed. Here’s what I mean:

You see, I follow hundreds of people on Twitter. Most of us do. And while I’m happy to follow most folks and to lend my support to them, I don’t mind saying that some people’s tweets are more interesting and useful than others.

That’s why I’ve created a few private lists. These lists are only viewable by me, and I can even add people without following if I want to.

One of my lists is for the accounts whose output I’m going to want to read, and another is for accounts that, as noted above, make great retweet fodder.

A few years ago, when I had to monitor a few nasty (some might say… troll) accounts for a large organisation, I also had myself a private ‘monitor’ list too.

Never get into spats. To be honest, if I had to pick one piece of advice on here as the most important, I’d pick this one.

You see, there are some people who live on Twitter and who actively enjoy getting into fights. And while I would never wish to question the motives of these people — or anything else about them — there are more than a few very good reasons not to engage with them. Here are the highlights:

Reason One is that you just can’t win with these people. You can come back at them with the most well-researched, logical, coherent argument to what they are saying and completely run rings round them in a debate. But guess what? Nobody cares. Nobody (at least nobody not already entrenched in the fight) is going to cheer for you, and nobody whose argument you’ve destroyed is going to go away and reflect on their life choices and their views. They’re just going to move the goal posts and come back angrier and more determined.

Reason Two is that these people love it when somebody bites. Especially somebody engaged in a real ministry. They hate it when they can’t get any reaction at all out of somebody. What’s more, they usually move on fairly quickly.

Reason Three is that it’s just a bit grubby. I go on Twitter to further my ministry and to spread the Gospel. I’m not going to do that if my timeline is filled with arguments.

You don’t have to answer every comment that comes your way. A key part of not getting into spats is to be very selective about what @comments you respond to. Most people on Twitter don’t expect their comments to be answered, or even read, especially if the person they’re aiming the comment at has a lot of followers.

When I get a @comment in my notifications, I go through a quick process before I respond.

If the person is a known troll, I ignore it.

If the person is clearly just looking for a fight, I ignore it.

If I don’t think that responding will give anything positive to my timeline, or to the person making the comment, I ignore it.

Also, if I’m busy, if I’ve already answered the question, or I just don’t think an answer is necessary, then again, I ignore it.

If the comment is a quick, friendly response that doesn’t need an answer (something like a Thank You, a general nod of agreement, or a quick addition to what I’ve said), I usually just give it a quick like to thank the commenter for taking the time to respond.

I only ever respond if I think it will be growthful for the person and positive for my timeline.

A good general rule is the same rule that any decent batsman applies to deliveries outside off stump (cricket, if you’re wondering): unless you’re certain… leave it!

You can automatically delete past tweets. There are a lot of reasons why you might not want you entire ten year back catalogue of tweets available for all to see. Especially if you get into controversial matters and/ or if you know that people might be looking through your tweets trying to find something to trip you up on.

You see, I have this theory that if you look hard enough at anybody you will eventually find something to trip them up on. Why, after all, do you think so many politicians end up in jail? It’s not because they’re inherently bad people. They’re not. It’s because the microscope they’re under is so powerful.

That’s why I don’t like leaving too much of myself lying around online, and why I use a product called TweetDelete to automatically delete my tweets after a month.

Nobody is going to unfollow you because you only have 300 tweets to your name, and it makes your timeline look a lot tidier.

Muting can be better than blocking. This is a very personal view and a lot of people disagree with me, but I much prefer the ‘mute’ function to the far more unsubtle ‘block’.

There are several reasons for this. For one thing, blocking can look nasty and confrontational. For another, it let’s the nasties know that they’ve got to you.

Personally, I want everyone on twitter (apart from those who I’ve had a really nasty experience with) to know that they’re welcome to read my output and to know that what I’m tweeting is for them as much as anybody. For another, if people are trying to wind me up, I don’t want them to know that they’ve got to me.

It’s also worth saying that blocking people to stop them seeing your output is pretty pointless. There are just too many ways round this, even if you’ve got a protected account. Once you tweet something, it’s basically out there.

On the other hand, when you mute somebody, they don’t know. Unless you follow them, it also means that any @mentions they make of your name won’t show up in your notifications, meaning that they basically disappear from your field of view.

So, it’s basically a more subtle block!

If you’re trying to build followers, do it right. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get followers on Twitter and there are several ways to do it. The most popular of which being to follow others in the hope that they return the favour. There are a few rules though:

For one, don’t ‘churn’. At least, not too much. If you constantly unfollow the people who haven’t followed you back and then follow others, you’ll get your account suspended sooner or later, and then eventually you’ll get banned.

A good rule-of-thumb (this is what the apps recommend) is to keep your follows and unfollows (combined) under 100 per day.

Another rule is to make sure that you’re getting the right followers. It’s very easy to get a big ‘bling’ follower number pretty quickly by following a load of accounts that will never read your output. To the untrained eye, it looks impressive, but if you’re trying to use Twitter as a serious ministry, it’s pretty pointless.

Years ago, a certain account tried to compete with one of mine by using automated software to get more followers than me. He managed it, but with a very serious downside.

While I had spent a few years getting 25,000 (relatively) high quality followers (that account is still active, having changed hands in 2014), he had managed to get 40k followers very quickly without any eye for quality whatsoever. Hence, when you looked through his follower list it was littered with Chinese characters, and women offering (shall we say…) certain services!

It’s also worth noting as a cautionary tale, that the account in question is now banned.

You see, it’s better (and safer) to have 300 followers that are going to read your tweets then 30,000 who won’t.

Personally, I’d advise this: use a bit of churn to get 1000 quality followers, and then just concentrate on following people you respect and tweeting good, engaging stuff.

There are good times to tweet, and not-so-good times. There are all sorts of conflicting views on the best time to tweet, but one thing is certain: not all times are equal.

Personally, I think the best time to tweet is the afternoon, followed by the early evening, and then the (working day) morning. I don’t really bother with 10pm to 9am.

You also have to think about timezones too. I aim my content at the UK and the US, so I’m more active from about 2pm to 10pm.

That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to tweet when you want. You are. But if you’ve got a choice (and this is especially important if you schedule tweets) it’s worth putting some thought into it.

Don’t be afraid to be forthright, but do it with charity. One thing I’ve consistently noticed is that whenever I post a “yes, I really am a Catholic, and a serious one” type posts, I immediately lose a few followers.

I don’t mind that.

Jesus lost people when he said the tough stuff, and if I’m not being who I really am, then I might as well not bother.

Nevertheless, I think an important rule is to do everything with charity. Forthright is good. Angry is not. Nasty is definitely not!

Bring light, not heat. A good general rule for being forthright, and indeed for everything you do, comes from a key motto used by the good people at Catholic Voices: Bring Light, Not Heat!

Bringing light is about bringing the truth and the love of God into whatever arena we are trying to engage in. Bringing heat is about being angry and fight-ey.

Sometimes (and I’m going to slightly contradict what I said above) I make quick, single responses to @replies aimed at me from people who I know are, shall we say, a bit anti. I don’t get into prolonged exchanges, but a well-aimed single tweet can sometimes be very effective.

There’s nothing more powerful than answering an angry person with something like “Hi Dave. Thanks for your tweet. I appreciate this is a tricky area and I hope I can answer your question. As a Catholic, I believe such-and-such, and I believe that because, for me, it’s about a God who loves me and wants me to grow. Take care.”

Something like that can be really disarming. What’s more, responding to somebody with kindness and love does more good than a thousand well-crafted, yet angry arguments.

Keep your account focused. I looked through my profile before I wrote this to see how focused it is and, if I’m honest, there’s way too much about sport! Okay, so we are in Ashes season (cricket again), but still.

I think the key thing is to decide what your account is for and to keep it focused on that. The odd tweet on another topic is okay. It makes you a real-life person. Just make sure it’s an occasional thing.

Twitter isn’t really the place for a general ‘this is me’ type of account. In other words, it’s not the place to put every part of your life ‘out there.’ For that, try Facebook or instagram.

Twitter is better for more focused output. For me, that’s about my ministry. Not my hobbies, sporting interests, and family life.

Keep it professional. Finally, I think it’s important to make sure your profile looks professional. Especially if, as above, you’re using it to represent and further your professional and/ or ministry life.

So make sure you can spell and make sure to use proper grammar. Keep txt talk (tbh, lol, rofl, imho etc) to an absolute minimum. Make sure the photos you use for your bio pic and banner aren’t tatty and poorly designed. Keep your bio focused. Short and punchy is better. Don’t try to say it all.

Don’t let other Social Media platforms post to Twitter for you. Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and others will happily copy your content to Twitter for you, but there’s a catch.

The thing is, these platforms are really only interested in themselves. They want people looking at their product, not Twitter’s. And that’s why the posts they put on Twitter for you are intentionally designed to direct you back to their site.

For instance, if you post a photo to Instagram (which is a platform I generally love) and tick the copy-it-to-Twitter box, what you’ll get on Twitter is just the text description you’ve put with the picture. If people want to see the actual picture, they have to click a link back to Instagram.

There are two ways round this. One is just to man up, stop being lazy, and write several posts. Copy-and-paste is a big help here. The other is to use something like Hootsuite (seriously, Hootsuite is a great piece of kit) which will let you post to multiple networks at once. Hootsuite, I think, works for LinkedIn, Facebook (including pages) twitter (multiple accounts), Google+ (if there’s anyone out there still using that), and Instagram too.

So, there you go. A few tips that might be useful.

If I’m honest, I’ve broken them all at one time or another, but I still stand by them!

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