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Summary:

My insight into Twitter etiquette isn’t anything earth-shattering, but as the 140-character microblogging platform has become a daily tool for just about all of us, we’ve developed a loose set of norms when it comes to how we conduct ourselves on the service.

My insight into Twitter etiquette isn’t anything earth-shattering, but as the 140-character microblogging platform has become a daily tool for just about all of us (all of us reading WebWorkerDaily, that is), we’ve developed a loose set of norms when it comes to how we conduct ourselves on the service. Beyond the general etiquette of not acting like a jerk on Twitter, let’s dig into some ideas on the etiquette norms for a few use cases, specifically connecting, promoting and servicing.

Connecting

I use Twitter for connecting with media and developing new business. You’re able to gather real-time, personal information about the people you’re seeking that they themselves have pushed out. That’s great; it might even be better than relying on a static, infrequently updated LinkedIn page.

So you have all this information, but how do you break the proverbial ice without seeming like a weirdo? Start off by being subtle. Follow the journalist, blogger, startup CEO or biz dev VP you’re trying to engage. After that, wait. Think about what their inbox would look like with a follow notification and a “howdy!” email arriving within the same minute. Give them a day or two to see who you are. (Side tip: It might make sense to do your following on off hours when the people you’re trying to reach are, say, commuting on the train and therefore perhaps haphazardly browsing through their smartphone. A new email during those time periods might have a better chance of getting noticed. Just an idea.)

Now say the person you’re trying to woo follows you back. First, calm down. Don’t rush to DM them. The best, most subtle option might be to just mention them in a public reply later on.

Here’s an example:

A writer at the Wall Street Journal wrote a story on iced coffee, related techniques, products, etc. She’s someone I’m interested in connecting with for a variety of reasons, beyond my interest in iced coffee. So I followed her that morning. Later that afternoon, I tweeted a public reply to her: “My coffee consumption is entirely based on outdoor temp. Above 65F, we’re going iced. Below, hot. Nice story.” The idea was to show her that I actually took the time to read her article. She saw it, and then retweeted me (most likely to further the promotion of her story, which is totally fine). As a result, she followed me back. Sweet, right? Now we’ve got something.

This is all sort of a soft way to open up the door in a way that’s polite, calm and, above all, not annoying. How effective would it have been if I simply I tweeted a public reply that said, “Great article. Mind following back so we can DM?” Not very, that’s for sure. Consider each action, each communication as a date — the overzealous are rarely rewarded. Bottom line, when using Twitter to connect with new people for a specific purpose, subtlety is key. Think about — and respect — why they use Twitter. And respect their time.

Promoting

“We’ll set up a promo campaign on Twitter too,” says the PR account executive in the strategy meeting. (Note: I’m not ripping on PR account executives. I used to be one.)  Well, this idea is good, but there’s a wrong way and right way to go about promotion on Twitter. Some brands/products have been awesome at it. Others… not so much. A lot of it comes down to balancing a polite, convivial sense of etiquette and respect with the actual promotion. (It also helps if what you’re promoting is actually useful to a specific audience). A few tips:

  • Start with those who care. When you turn on a promo campaign on Twitter, start by following people you know will be interested in your content. Do a keyword search and find out who cares. For example, I’m helping out an author friend promote his latest book. It’s a fictionalized account of some rather interesting true stories surrounding Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So in starting up a Twitter effort, we found every Sherlockian and Holmesian we could (yes, there’s a difference between the two and yes, there are a lot of them). If we were to just fire off random follows, that would have been showing bad form. You wouldn’t follow someone you weren’t interested in would you? So don’t do the same. The point is, build your following with people you’re relatively certain will be receptive to your product. And then give them some love that will increase the likelihood that they’ll help you out (i.e., #ff them, retweet content that’s relevant, etc.).
  • Participate. Especially at the start, when your numbers are low, you must respond and engage with your followers. If someone DMs you, you DM back. Ask their opinions. Find out what they’d be interested in. Not only is this polite, but it shows you’re actually paying attention and not just tweeting to hear yourself tweet. Remember, the conversation is two-way and listening is a big part of it.
  • Accept and respond to negativity. If someone is harping on whatever you’re promoting, acknowledge them. See what their gripe is and do everything you can to win them over. Don’t turn on the corporate speak (I’m looking at you, banks). Instead, maintain a conversational tone. Not only will you make good with that individual, but others watching will hopefully see your efforts. It’s worth noting that this sort of individual attention is easier said than done — especially as your follower base grows. Just try to be helpful as often as you can.

Servicing

Twitter has taken on a customer service functionality — especially for consumer brands.  If a consumer has an issue, question or complaint, bringing it up on Twitter is now an acceptable action. People usually do this for one of two reasons: either simply to vent their frustration to their social community with no desire to be helped by the brand (hint: that’s a prime opportunity) or they do it specifically to attract the attention of the brand, usually by tweeting a public @reply to the brand in question.

Here’s a little story. I had an issue with an online flower vendor and a third party “membership affiliate.” It was a pretty serious issue that involved nefarious online tomfoolery that is now subject to legislation. I vented my fury on Twitter after getting nowhere with the call center. My intent was to get the attention of said company and, I admit, to rage a bit. Anyway, it took the flower brand a while, but they eventually connected with me on Twitter in a very cordial manner, followed me back and we then took the conversation to DM and ultimately email. I consider that a social win for the company, in part, due to the way they conducted themselves. They could have taken defensive stance, but instead, they engaged with a positive tone.

So if you’re a brand that uses Twitter as a customer service desk, the following etiquette path might be helpful when engaging with a not-so-happy patron:

  • Acknowledge
  • Follow and ask for a follow-back,
  • Be polite, be human, offer to help in any way possible
  • If things get testy, offer to take the conversation out of the public stream (DM, email, etc.).

Norms and examples  of Twitter etiquette certainly exist beyond the aforementioned use cases.  What say you, WWD readers? What elements of Twitter etiquette do you abide by? Which breaches irritate you?

(Note: The Emily Post Institute actually does use Twitter. Seriously, check it out: @emilypostinst. It even tweets about Jersey Shore etiquette. Heh.)

Dave Clarke is the Communications Strategist at Churnless, a digital strategy and production company that helps businesses satisfy, delight, and keep their customers. Follow Dave on Twitter: @thedaveclarke.

Photo by Flickr user Muffet, licensed under CC 2.0

  1. I try to keep quality of commentary high – Article Title, Link, brief comment that is fair but catchy. I avoid tweets that are too off-topic to my largely economics-oriented reader base. I freely retweet where someone is on target.

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