I like to focus on the positive, but sometimes it’s just more useful to come right out and say: Please don’t do THIS.
So here they are, some of the specific Twitter behaviours that are likely to disenchant your followers, get you unfollowed — or even get you blocked or reported for spam. Yikes!
At heart, the underlying reason these don’t work is because they violate one or both of the Two Golden Rules for Twitter:
- Make friends, not sales
- Be the kind of friend you’d like to have
…even though they might look like good things to do!
And if you’ve been doing some (or all) of these, don’t worry, we’ve all made lots of mistakes on Twitter! Today is a good day to start doing things differently. 🙂 Yay team!
1. Don’t auto-DM
There are services that allow you to set up an auto-reply, which sends a DM (direct message) each time someone new follows you.
It sounds like such a nice idea, and yet is widely hated. If you don’t believe me, try googling “auto DM hate” and see just how much emotion is out there on the interwebs.
I have lots of great Twitter friends who have one of these in place, and rest assured, if that’s you, I’m not judging you for it! I’ve made so many Twitter mistakes myself over the past couple of years, I choose Tolerance. [Insert old saying here about glass houses and the throwing of stones… 😉 ]
But some people are not so mellow. Some will instantly unfollow you if they get an auto-DM from you. Others will even block or report you, they hate auto-DMs so much. So you need to know!
What’s wrong with it? There seem to be two main complaints:
- People see it as robot behaviour instead of genuine engagement. You probably only set it up to make sure you didn’t miss greeting anyone! But it tends to be received differently than that.
- People also tend to resent it as an abuse of the DM door which opens when someone follows you. You can’t DM someone unless they follow you. And so that should be seen as a privilege and therefore used sparingly and only for genuine private messages. Everything else can take place in the normal tweet stream. (Twitter is public, it’s not like Facebook.)
Back when I was a shining-eyed Twitter newbie, I responded to one of the more cleverly-worded of these auto-DMs, thinking someone was actually speaking to me, only to find out it was just a soulless, unmonitored recorded message (or that creepy morse code signal in Neville Shute’s On The Beach). I felt disillusioned, and silly.
If you’ve got one of these set up on your account, don’t be embarrassed, you’re not the only one. But you might like to go and deactivate it now. 🙂
The better alternative:
- Following back is a friendly and perfectly acceptable way to return the “handshake” that’s been offered when someone follows you. It’s not actually necessary to do anything else, unless you particularly want to.
- If you’d like to personally acknowledge each new follower, just welcome them with an @mention. Making it specific to something in their profile or tweet stream makes them feel like you are really paying attention.
- And, er, don’t tweet them a link to your book. Yes, I know you think you really really should, because you’re on there to build a platform, but that’s another one that people tend to react against. It’s counterproductive. They think you only see them as a potential customer, rather than as a person, and they zone out. Just have the link in your bio, and if they’re interested, they’ll check it out.
A SIDE NOTE: A lot of the auto-DMs come from services that allow you to auto-follow. That can seem both friendly and a handy time-saver, but beware. It encourages the spammers and porn stars, who exploit such systems to the full. You will end up following a lot of seriously weird people (or non-people) who are not interested in you but just trying to boost their follower numbers.
You’ll get a much better following if you choose carefully who you follow back. Check out this excellent article by Molly Greene about how to build a quality Twitter following fast.
- I go to my Twitter profile on my computer and click on “Followers”.
- This shows me a list of my most recent followers. Some people have a blue FOLLOWING button beside them, and others have a white FOLLOW button. The blue buttons have followed me back; the white buttons have followed me independently.
- I read each person’s bio, and then I click on their name, which brings up a window with their most recent tweets.
- If the bio and the tweets are things I want to read more of, I click follow. If not, I don’t. Simple! 🙂
2. Be VERY selective about robots
Some people will say: Never automate anything on Twitter. I’m a bit more chilled about that. Some automation can be helpful. To me, the key is to work out if it’s helping your followers, or just turning you into a Mega Marketing Spam Bot!
For example, the Hootsuite scheduler can be handy because it allows you to tweet at different times of the day for the convenience of followers in different timezones. I’ve used that at times (when I have a phase of being quite organised about Twitter 😉 ) to tweet links to useful articles I’ve found.
I recently installed a WordPress plug-in on this blog called Tweet Old Post, which allows me to tweet my previous articles that are still useful. I decided that, to begin with, I’d only allow it to tweet once a day, at different times of day, to minimise any annoyance for my followers. It has drawn a lot of new readers into my blog (the benefit from my perspective) and given more of my followers information that they find useful for their writing, publishing and marketing (the benefit from their perspective). I’m still weighing it up, and we’ll see how it goes.
However, these are some automations that seem to be generally despised:
Some services allow you to automatically “favourite” tweets that have certain keywords, which makes you show up in the “interactions” list for that person. Many people will click on the person who has favourited their tweet. Spammers exploit this to get you to click on a malicious or grubby website in their profile. And this article by Mary C. Long shows how it got her Twitter account suspended. Warning, Will Robinson! (That article is well worth reading, by the way, just in case you were thinking of signing up for one of these.)
- The better alternative: Be a human and only favourite tweets you’ve actually read. 🙂 And if you are using it to find interesting tweets for your own benefit, you can achieve the same thing by using the search function on Twitter.
Auto tweeting daily follower/unfollower numbers
It’s hard to know what could be positive about this one. It sounds like you’re either skiting about how many new followers you’ve got, or a loser because everyone unfollows you. (Incidentally, a lot of them are unfollowing you because of this auto-tweet.) And either way, it makes you sound like a person who is only on Twitter for the numbers.
- The better alternative: Lots of people end up tweeting this because it’s the catch that comes with using some clean-up services. However, you can use free services like JustUnfollow.com to clean up your Twitter account without ever having to accept an auto-tweet to do it.
3. Don’t ask for RTs
Ooh, I felt some double-takes as people read that line. But no, it’s not a good idea to ask someone for a retweet. Dang.
Social media guru Chris Brogan obviously gets so many of these requests that he even posted an article purely about how asking for a RT or mention — unless it’s for a cause — isn’t cool.
Some people will make a general “please RT”, and I doubt that will offend too many, because no one’s under any pressure. It certainly doesn’t offend me, but as we’ve already discussed, I’m pretty mellow. 🙂
But if you target a specific person and ask them for a RT, that’s putting them in an awkward position if they prefer not to do so. Maybe that thing you’re asking to be retweeted is simply not something they tweet about. For example, in the past I’ve been asked to RT someone’s link to their book on Amazon, but I don’t actually tweet books I haven’t read. (I don’t think those tweets tend to have much impact anyway — reviews seem to be more useful.)
It’s so important to let people be the captain of their own Twitter ship. We need to respect the right of others control what they’re tweeting. People will spontaneously RT your tweet if they think their followers will find it useful in some way, and that’s the most wonderful type of RT to get.
The exception: Asking RTs for a good cause. For example, I have retweeted for people who were raising money for a particular charity with urgent need. I’ve also retweeted for people in crisis who were asking people to pray, because I’m a praying person myself and I have some followers who also are praying people, and so I figure they might like to help — the ones who don’t can just skip over that tweet. It will vary from person to person, which causes they do or don’t want to support.
So if you have a cause, ask away, but of course be gracious if people choose not to retweet you. (You were going to be like that anyway, of course, because you are so kind. 🙂 )
4. Don’t tweet garbage
Speaking as a person who has had Twitter exchanges about dog pacifiers, Dalek relaxation videos, and eating chocolate chip pancakes in evening dress, this may seem like another “throwing rocks in glass houses” incident. 😉
I do think, though, that it’s OK to be yourself on Twitter, so long as you stay On Topic for MOST of your tweets. (I may be wrong, of course!)
But it’s good to avoid things that are negative or useless or irritating for others to read. Some examples:
- a full tweet stream of BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK AND BY THE WAY HAVE YOU HEARD OF MY BOOK (remember, make friends, not sales)
- a full tweet stream of auto-tweets
- endlessly tweeting books you haven’t even read or links you haven’t viewed (unless your Twitter account is set up for a special purpose to do exactly that)
- a heap of politics or other contentious topics (unless that’s your main purpose of course)
- nasty comments about others, or things that are needlessly offensive and hurtful.
One person’s trash is another’s treasure, so the definition of “garbage” is one we each have to make for ourselves. I try to keep in mind that Twitter is public and tweets are there forever. So I try not to tweet anything that I wouldn’t like my mother or my employer or my best friend or my worst enemy to see!
What do you think? Which Twitter behaviours would you prefer people didn’t do? What have you learned about your own behaviour on Twitter, by people’s reactions?