Using Twitter in late 2015

IMAGE: LabLayers — DeviantArt

An article in Comunicar, a multi-language media-education research journal, entitled “Communicating in 140 Characters. How Journalists in Spain Use Twitter” (pdf) got me thinking about the changes that have taken place over the last few years on the social networks and the ways we now employ Twitter in particular.

I should say that what follows is based on my own use and that I haven’t spoken to the company on this occasion.

It’s not easy to explain the use of a tool that has changed its direction and has seen its context modified drastically over almost a decade, and that now has several different types of user. The Twitter of 2007 and 2008 has little to do with the Twitter of late 2015, and an adolescent is going to have a very different idea of how to use it compared to an adult, a professional, a business or a celebrity. How should we be using those 140 characters and the other tools this network offers? Is there only one way to use it correctly?

  • What do you want Twitter for? If you just want to chat with your friends, then use a messaging service. Twitter is to create and develop a public profile, associated or not to your person. You can remain anonymous, use a pseudonym, or any other name, Twitter doesn’t advise against this, nor does it oblige you to use your real name, like Facebook does… but whether you’re anonymous or not, don’t fool around with it or use it for things that you might later regret.
  • If you are a business or a celebrity, you’re pretty much obliged to be on Twitter. If this isn’t the case for you, using Twitter is voluntary and will depend on what you want to do with your public image, if you want to do anything at all, or you can keep abreast of what’s going on in the world, or something in particular, while reserving the right to comment on it. If you follow the right people, no other medium in the world is going to keep you as up to date.
  • Twitter is a social network: the overwhelming majority of accounts are open to everybody. If you’re thinking of publishing in closed mode, then you’re using it in a different way to most people. There’s nothing wrong in only making what you say available to your friends, and most of what I have to say won’t apply to you. And if you only use your Twitter account to stay up to date on things that interest you, meaning that the only thing your Twitter account will say about you is who you follow. Twitter today is a public network where your updates will be mainly seen by your followers, but they could be seen by many more. But the golden rule is still: don’t write something that you wouldn’t want the world to see.
  • Trying to run several Twitter accounts is akin to suffering from schizophrenia. You don’t need one account for personal stuff and another for business, because we all have a personal and professional life, which is fine. The question is: which part of those aspects of your life you wish to share.
  • Twitter is neither good nor bad, nor boring or entertaining. The accounts you follow are. If you’re not getting value out of Twitter, then you’re not following the right accounts. Start again.
  • If you use Twitter to make a fool of yourself then you’re a fool. And in that case using Twitter is showing the world what you are. Which is about the same as being a bigger fool.
  • Your grandmother was right: one of the most important things in life is being polite. If you don’t know how to be polite, then Twitter can be a horribly effective way of showing it, and that isn’t going to help your public image. If you don’t know how to be polite, do yourself and everybody else a favor: don’t use it.
  • Twitter isn’t about having a lot of followers. Success isn’t measured in this way. If a lot of people follow you, it will either be because your account is a continuation of what you do or because you have something to say that interest people. There are many ways to add value, or you can simply use it for things that give you added value (such as gathering news and interesting comments).
  • Twitter is a conversation and in a conversation if you say something dumb, people will think you’re dumb. Insults, sarcasm and going around attacking people isn’t going to win you any followers. Using Twitter to raise awareness or to protest about something is fine, but if you do only use it for that, then people will soon associate you solely with those uses, which you may not want.
  • Twitter is a two-way street. If you’re only going to use it to write, as opposed to interacting with people, then you’re not going to get the most out of Twitter. Direct Messages (DM) are more than just a way of communicating: if what you have to say is only of interest to the person you’re talking to, then it’s better to use DM. If you can manage them, it’s best to keep your DMs in open mode. If you’re a company, then you’re pretty much obliged to service your clients through it. Not answering somebody is rude, but then again, there are things that don’t require or merit a reply.
  • Twitter is sharing. You can share part of you that you don’t share on other channels, you can share what you’re reading, you can share what you think, you can share things that matter to you, you can share your opinion about what others are sharing… the point is to share. What you share determines the value of what others can get by following you.
  • If you’re a company, try to give your Twitter account a face; let people know who they are talking to. If you let an agency run the account, they’ll probably do a bad job, and even if they do a good job, it’s still going to look phony. I have yet to see an agency-run account that looks good. If you’re a celebrity and you’re not going to manage your account, be open and clear about it, and don’t lose the personal touch completely. You may not be able to answer everything in person, but try to write as often as possible.
  • Using Twitter to create content is fine, but content has a short shelf life on Twitter: it buries down pretty fast. You can’t keep repeating the same stuff over and again. Twitter is increasingly being used as a kind of RSS: if you’re going to be creating content on a regular basis, put it somewhere else and use Twitter to inform people when you update.
  • Twitter is a flat world. If you say something interesting, then suddenly somebody who seemed unreachable might answer you, retweet what you said, or mark it as a favorite. There’s nothing wrong with using Twitter to feel closer to the people you follow, but do understand that not everybody will always be able to answer you. Don’t be a drag. In the same way, understand that behind that Twitter account there’s a person: don’t say things to that person you wouldn’t say to their face (and if you do, then you need to reread the paragraph about not being an idiot).
  • Always check what you have written several times: after all, this could be your public image, and you don’t want people thinking you can’t spell or are lazy. Try to avoid typos. And never, ever, tweet when you are drunk. And that’s important, so please let me repeat it: don’t tweet drunk.
  • Finally, make Twitter part of other areas of your life. If Twitter is simply a tool that has no link to the rest of your life, you won’t get anything out of it, and you’ll probably end up dropping it.

(En español, aquí)