Twitter: Are You Taking the Lazy Way Out?

Photo by Krawlings95.

Every once in a while, I’ll be on Twitter and start feeling glum. No one is talking to me, I think. No one new is following me. No one’s replying to my tweets. There’s a problem here, and that problem is me.

It never fails that if I notice a Twitter slump, it’s my own fault. Whenever I start feeling left out, I know it’s because I’ve gotten lazy. Twitter is not always the priority, so there’s nothing wrong with letting it lag when you have other things to focus on (that writing thing, anyone?), but sometimes we focus on Twitter and still feel dissatisfied. Those are the best times to take a step back and ask if there’s a good reason for this feeling.

Twitter is a social platform. Think of it as a party or large gathering. You can’t just stand in the middle of the room and talk; you have to go up to people and engage in conversations. You might get away with being the storyteller who draws people to you for a while, but eventually people will realize that you have no interest in others and wander away.

Today I’m going to cover the 5 most common shortcuts tweeps use, and why they can become a problem.

The Tweet and Run

We’re all guilty of this at some point. We’re busy shortening our to-do list, so we get on Twitter, dash off our most recent link, and get back to work. Every once in a while this is okay, but if you find that you tweet without even looking at your timeline more often than not, it might be time for a self-check. Are you giving, or just asking to receive?

The Favorite Button

The favorite button is a wonderful tool. It’s similar to the “like” button on Facebook, allowing you to show someone you appreciate their tweet. It’s also a great way to “bookmark” tweets you’d like to come back to. And occasionally, it can serve as acknowledgement. If you’ve had a conversation with someone but now have nothing left to add, favoriting their last tweet is a good way to say “I’m listening; I liked that,” without needlessly dragging things on.

However, the favorite button can become a lazy way out. Have you ever tried to engage with someone and instead of replying, all they do is push a button?

Have you ever tried to engage with someone and instead of replying, all they do is push a button?

It’s rather off-putting. Again, imagine this in real life. It’d be like going up to someone at a party, saying hello and introducing yourself, and they only nod and walk away. If someone takes the time to strike up a conversation, it’s polite to respond.

(Note that this doesn’t apply to retweets or compliments. A “favorite” is often a perfectly clear “I’m touched” or “thank you.”) Unless you’re famous (and sometimes even if you are), people on Twitter generally expect responses. This does not mean that you have to give them one. It does mean you will likely be considered rude if you don’t, so it’s worth understanding that the favorite button is not a substitute for actual conversation.

The Blind Retweet

Ever clicked on someone’s manual retweet only to realize that their personal note is totally wrong? That they didn’t actually read the article before recommending it? Yeah, don’t be that person.

Promoting others is a great way to spread good content to your followers as well as acknowledging and connecting with people, but promoting others without actually checking out what they’re selling? That’s a lazy way out, and your followers will not appreciate it.

The List Without Follow

Don’t put someone in a public list called “awesome bloggers” without actually following the person’s blog. Don’t recommend someone in a follow Friday tweet if you’re aren’t following them yourself. This is tacky, and comes across like you’re trying to ‘trick’ someone. Nobody likes flyers on their car.

The Follow-back Follower

There’s nothing wrong with following back people who follow you. But when was the last time you found someone new to follow on your own? Can’t remember? It’s time.

Great ways to find new people to follow include searches, Twitter’s recommendations, looking through your friends follow lists, and browsing hashtags.

Waiting for people to find you is understandable, but if you’re looking to meet new people (and if you aren’t, why are you on Twitter?), you should get out there and make the first move. Just like in real life, there’s a give and a take.

So consider this your friendly reminder to check the balance of your Twitter social life. Shortcuts can be great, but if we take them so often we forget the long way ‘round, we’re liable to lose sight of the fact that the journey is more important than the destination. (Dang. Don’t you hate it when the sayings are true?)

Are you guilty of taking the lazy way out? Does it bother you when others abuse Twitter shortcuts? And how can we remember to stay on track?

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About Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a novelist, short story author, and award-winning poet with stories and poems appearing or forthcoming in over fifty venues, including Black Static, Deep South Magazine, Fireside, and Buzzy Mag. She's an active member of the Horror Writers Association and webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas. When Annie’s not frightening strangers with her writing, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their two cats, Buttons and Snaps.

Comments

  1. says

    I don’t want to sound grumpy, but I haven’t decided yet if I like Twitter. I’ve been trying it out and I’ve found a few good articles and videos through Twitter, but it also frequently annoys the hell out of me, especially when people act as if the whole world is ruled by Twitter, and as if everyone is on Twitter.

    Example: I heard someone say that because of Twitter, as a writer you now have 140 characters to capture the interest of your reader. For some reason, everyone who buys and reads books automatically has an active Twitter account and does not know the difference between reading a book and a Twitter feed.
    I’ve heard someone else say that if you can’t pitch your novel in 140 characters there’s something fundamentally wrong with your story. Here’s mine: 16-year-old girl takes 400 pages to figure out how to defeat bad guy. It even leaves me with a few characters to add the necessary hashtags.

    For some reason, and correct me if I’m wrong, it’s general consensus that if you can’t keep it short, you’re not worth being listened to or taken seriously, and people cannot concentrate for more than a few seconds anyway. When I dare to ask the question whether this is a good thing, I often get answers like “that’s just the way it is” or “it’s just a fact of life”…

    I’ve been getting that answer a lot lately, that I shouldn’t ask any questions because these things “are just facts of life”. It is a “fact of life” that social media have so much power these days, that we cannot ask people to concentrate and really pay attention and not expect to be entertained every second of the day, and yes, it’s fantastic for a writer to have these means to promote themselves and create an online presence. And because of all these amazing opportunities, we are not allowed to ask critical questions.

    I think I’m going to read Fahrenheit 451 again…

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    • says

      I haven’t decided yet whether I like it, either. I see the beneficial side, I see the opportunity to connect with people you otherwise would not. But it doesn’t come naturally. Twitter feels frenetic–there are so many rules that seems to be associated with it, like having more followers than following, so many tweets per follow, unfollowing those who don’t follow back, etc etc etc. I never thought I’d say this, having taken four years to join Facebook, but I like Facebook better for it’s ability to create conversations.

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      • says

        Jessica, I totally understand what you mean. My best advice for all of those “rules” is to ignore the ones that don’t work for you. Honestly, since doing that I’ve been so much happier with my experience. I still read tips and try new things, but I never let anyone convince me that there’s one right way to do things. If you let all of those “rules” slip away, you might find you start to enjoy it.

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    • says

      Hi Andrea! I think there’s a huge difference between getting lazy and being undecided. You’re totally allowed to not like Twitter. You’re even allowed to not use Twitter! This post is for people who’ve decided to use it and want to get the most out of it. If Facebook or blogging or any other platform works better for you, than by all means utilize that one instead. “Platform building” should be fun, or it becomes a chore, and that sort of “do I have to?” attitude definitely comes across. I would be very wary of anyone who tells you you *have* to use Twitter, or any other type of social media.

      That being said, I personally have found Twitter to be one of my favorite tools and have gotten so much value from it it’d be difficult for me to explain. I don’t at all agree with the people who are telling you that your book must be as short and snappy as Twitter. Honestly, I think that’s silly. But that’s just me. :)

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      • says

        Hi Annie,

        You’re right, my reply was off-topic, and I certainly didn’t want to criticize your article, because I agree with your advice.

        But even if I decided to give up on Twitter, my writing is still being judged by Twitter standards. The two examples I gave were actual quotes from literary agents. I took them off my query list.

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        • says

          No worries; I was just trying to clarify. I write about Twitter because that’s what the nice people here at Writer Unboxed have asked me to write about, but I think sometimes in the greater context (outside of my column) readers might assume I’m endorsing it or even pushing it, which simply isn’t the case. I just wanted to make sure your realized I really do think it’s perfectly fine to not use Twitter.

          I understand your frustration. I feel like those agents might have expressed their thoughts poorly. Many people use “because of Twitter” as shorthand for “our society has a short attention span.” I don’t buy it that Twitter is causing this; I think Twitter is successful because of this. Either way, I wouldn’t let that advice get under your skin. Advice is only useful if it works for you, after all!

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  2. says

    I’m definitely guilty of taking the lazy way out, and for the same reasons as Andrea and Jessica – I’m not quite sure I like it. Once in a while I feel as if I really connect with someone through Twitter. But often it seems as if it’s more about the stats. And personally, 140 characters or no, I have a hard time keeping up with all of the tweets from the people I do follow. In fact, sometimes it seems as if I miss out on the information I do want because it gets buried in a bunch that I don’t. But, as you say, Annie, that’s probably a sign that I’m not doing it right!

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    • says

      The stats will totally suck the fun out of Twitter, no doubt. I do my best to ignore them! And as to keeping up with people, here are two things that do wonders for me: 1) Don’t try to. If I feel like I have to scroll all the way back to where I last left off in my timeline, getting on Twitter becomes a chore. So I don’t! 2) Utilize lists. I have two private lists for when I’m behind and just want the highlights, Filtered and Favorites. Filtered is everyone I follow minus the annoying/loud people who take up too much space, and Favorites is simply the people I most enjoy reading. Having these options under my belt makes everything more enjoyable, and it makes the information I actually want easier to find and harder to miss. Good luck, Lori!

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  3. says

    I like Twitter a great deal. I’ve met and connected with so many fascinating people, found new bands I love, had conversations with celebrities (ok, not many, but I don’t really follow a lot of celebs). You can take the ‘rules’ with a grain of salt. Mostly it’s just a matter of reasonable etiquette. If someone follows me that I’m not interested in, I don’t follow them back. Sometimes they stick around anyway, sometimes not. You can kind of tell the ones who only follow you to get you to follow them back, and ignore them. You’ll probably never have an actual conversation with those types anyway so who cares. Like the author of this article said, it’s like a big party, and you’re not going to like everyone who showed up. Just because someone I’ve never heard of and don’t follow ‘favorites’ a tweet of mine, I won’t follow them. I follow a lot of magazines, publishers, agents and writers, mostly.

    That said, I don’t like the Twitter.com site. I run Tweetdeck, which makes it easy to create lists so you can keep up with the people and issues that are of most interest to you (there are other applications like that, Hootsuite, for instance). It makes it a lot easier to keep up. You can see several lists at a time on screen so if there’s a lot of fluff (people live-tweeting tv shows you don’t care about) you can ignore the main timeline and watch your lists for things that do interest you. It also has a ‘mute’ function, so you can shut off people or topics you don’t want to hear about. Also no ads or ‘promoted’ tweets.

    Really, you can do what you like. Follow who you like, talk with whomever you choose.

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  4. says

    I definitely do the last one on twitter and FB – Most always, 99% of the time, I wait for people to come to me. Hey! Rejection is a part of a writer’s life, why bring more on? *laugh*

    Facebook appeals to me more – I try to mill around twitter, but even sometimes when I’m actively looking at the “feed” and trying to find something interesting, I come across “tweets” of LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME BUY MY WHATEVER and I’m just frustrated enough to walk away.

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    • says

      Yes, the fear of rejection is part of it. I get that! If you start putting yourself out there regularly, though, it becomes not such a big deal. I don’t keep track of who follows me back and who doesn’t, which makes ‘rejection’ a lot easier. Every once in a while I’ll go through who I’m following and clean out some people who don’t add any value to my experience, and that’s that!

      I also understand your frustration. It sounds to me like it might be time to unfollow some people, or at least to make a ‘Filtered’ list (see my comment response above) so you don’t have to wade through the muck to get to the good stuff. Your experience is bound to improve if you try this! Your timeline, after all, is only as interesting as the people you choose to follow.

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  5. says

    Great post, Annie!

    Like you, I see Twitter as a social platform, though it took a while to realize this. These are all important things you high-light, and behaviors I see often (and try to avoid doing myself).

    One thing I LOVE to do is the #FF tag on Friday, but I don’t just list people off. I take the time to tag about 40-60 people who I follow in groups of 5 or 6 and say something to them. If the group is fellow fantasy writers, I’ll ask how their writing is going, for example. Also, when someone comments and tags me, I reply – heck, this is a party, right? Hitting “favorite” is like a polite smile while you sneak away to get a drink. I also like to randomly visit my followers or people I follow and reply to something they’ve tweeted about – kind of like hunting someone you met down in the party room and following up with some conversation.

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    • says

      Thanks Graeme! Follow Friday can be a good way to connect with people, although it more often becomes clutter. Your method sounds like it works for you. I try to only do #FF for one person at a time, even, and personalize the recommendation. My eyes tend to skim over lists of handles, so I think the people I’m recommending get more exposure this way.

      And yes, I always try to reply when I’m tagged! I’m sure a few slip through, but to me it just seems polite. I love your ‘sneak a drink’ analogy, too. :) I also sometimes visit people’s timelines to comment on something they’ve said; that’s a wonderful way to connect with someone! Great points.

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  6. says

    Great pointers! I noticed I was getting annoyed with lack of response on twitter recently too. And I’ve been trying to interact directly more. I’ll be definitely be incorporating some of your tips.

    One additional things I’ve do e is made use of the lists feature, since sometimes it can be easy to loose track of some people with the massive follow list. So I have one list for people I actually met in real life and another list for people who are responsive and I make sure to check those lists regularly so that I know I’m keeping up with people I consider “buddies” regularly.

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  7. Sarah B says

    I’ve been reluctant to join Twitter, but yesterday I finally gave in. I enjoyed reading your tips. Thanks!

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    • says

      Thank you Sarah! And welcome to Twitter. :) If you give me a follow and say hi @AnnieNeugebauer I’ll follow you back.

      ^This goes for all Writer Unboxed readers, by the way. I don’t auto-follow everyone who follows me, but I do make an effort to follow everyone who then talks to me!

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  8. says

    I like Twitter. It was the social media that got the word out there about my Facebook account and my blog. The people have to know that it is out there in order to appreciate it. In my case, I was just starting my author platform. I am not yet published. So, I had to get the word out. I let everyone know that I write a review blog for debut authors. Wow, the response was amazing! In fact, my queue is so backlogged from all the requests, that I had to suspend all new requests until further notice. It helped, maybe a bit too much! :) I use it to say hi, retweet others and just be out there. The ultimate goal was to promote my Facebook page and blog, and for that it has been an amazing tool.
    Thanks for the post!

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    • says

      Hi Rebecca! I’m so glad you’ve had luck with Twitter. I also use Twitter to point to my blog. I think of my website as home base, and all other signs should point there. Twitter is wonderful for that. Congrats on your success!

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  9. says

    You’ve pointed out a few things I haven’t considered when using Twitter. So, thank you for that. There are so many great people online. It’s only time that gets in my way.

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  10. says

    I just joined Twitter a little over a month ago. My problem is finding time to get on there during the day because I work full-time. So I make some of these mistakes. Reading blogs takes a lot of my social networking time and it’s hard to squeeze it all in. Also I’m finding it hard to keep on top of all the tweets and I follow less than 400 people right now. Can’t imagine how to do it with 1000 or more followers.

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    • says

      Time really can be an issue, as can following so many people. One thing that might help with both is creating a “Favorites” list with just your top tweeters. That way if you only have five minutes to scan your timeline, you’re only scanning the best content. Good luck, Natalie!

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  11. says

    I used to love Twitter and the friends I chatted with all the time. But lately I’ve really been feeling like this a lot, actually, and I wasn’t sure if it was because Twitter had lost some of its newness for me or I’m so focused on other things. But I definitely have felt glum at times about it. Your post has reminded me there are some things I can do to reconnect and feel the Twitter love again…and more importantly that it’s within my control! Thank you!

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    • says

      Thank you, Julia! Yes, you aren’t the first to feel that the shine has worn off, and I think it comes down to our effort. Of course others have to put in effort too, so it might be time to find a few new people who love interacting to help bring back that ‘healthy glow.’ ;) I know I always get a little rush when I make a new connection with someone and it feels like friendship.

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  12. says

    This is a fabulous post, thanks Annie! All your pointers make sense.

    I’m very new to twitter (actually to all social media) and have loved discovering fascinating people and links to great articles and blogs I didn’t know. I love sharing things that I find interesting and I try to tweet a few links every day. What I find harder is engaging directly. I guess it’s shyness. Sometimes it feels like intruding on other people’s conversations and other times it feels, well, like you said, a party with cooler kids, where I also tend to be shy about approaching others.

    But I’ll keep playing with it. Follow Friday seems like an interesting thing to explore.

    Thanks again for the great post!

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    • says

      Thanks Marialena! I completely understand the shyness part; I really struggle with that too. One thing I’ve noticed is that the first time I interact with someone (or jump in on a conversation with a few someones), the reaction is often silence. I don’t know what it is, but we tend to mistrust people at first. (Or maybe they can just smell my awkwardness, haha.) But if I wait a little while and then make the effort again, they usually respond well the second time. Who knows why? Maybe they realize I really want to connect, maybe they feel more comfortable the second time… I have no idea. Either way, my point is that sometimes engaging with people takes a few tries, so don’t give up if your first effort falls a little flat. I mean, we don’t want to pester people, but most of us are on Twitter to engage, so they’ll probably come around. I wish you the best of luck! And if you talk to me I promise to talk back. :)

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  13. says

    I really like this post. There is some good advice here. I am one of those people that happens to really like Twitter. I like it much better than a lot of other social media sites. There are so many different people on Twitter who talk about so many different things and I find it interesting. I sometimes hold conversations with people, but it’s usually with people I know personally. I do favorite a lot of tweets and I comment sometimes. I use Twitter as a tool to find other writer’s blogs. For that reason alone, I find it an invaluable tool for all writers. There are a lot of promotions on Twitter and when people start tweet-bombing that I should buy their book, it starts to get irritating, but truth be told, I visit a lot of blogs that way.

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    • says

      I agree that Twitter is a great way to find blogs. I’ve found most of my blogging buddies through first seeing them tweet a link on Twitter. Of course constant “buy my book” promotions is annoying, but we can usually choose not to follow those people!

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  14. says

    I’m guilty of RT-ing a link w/o adding commentary. I wish twitter would make it easier to edit RT’s!

    Thanks for the tip of searching for new people. Nothing worse then scrolling through a list feed and it feeling stale. I’ll remember that next time I looking for fresh blood :-)

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    • says

      Well there’s nothing wrong with just pushing the retweet button! Commentary is only important if you’re manually RTing, because otherwise you’re just taking their tweet and putting it next to your name. I’m glad the tip helped! Good luck!

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  15. says

    Thanks Annie,

    I appreciate these reminders. I am working hard on making twitter work for me right now and have some of the frustrations mentioned above.

    I am trying to be patient and positive and understand that social media builds slowly.

    One thing I appreciate is when people leave room for me to comment before retweeting. I don’t like to just retweet a bunch of links even if they are blogs or articles I find interesting. I want to be part of the conversation.

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    • says

      It is so hard to be patient! I was convinced I’d never get anywhere for the entire first year I used Twitter, but eventually I relaxed and stopped worrying about numbers, and now I feel very happy about how far I’ve come.

      Yes, that’s actually a great thing to keep in mind when tweeting: keeping it short leaves room for others to manually retweet and add their thoughts. If, however, you want to retweet and comment on something longer, you can always use MT — which stands for modified retweet — and cut out some of their extra words.

      Thanks for commenting, Mary!

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  16. says

    This is such solid advice, Annie. I think it’s really easy to forget to find interesting people to follow. I just followed all my fellow writers in an upcoming anthology and it’s fun to discover new people.

    I agree with Mary above about leaving room for someone to RT. It’s hard to always remember, but I appreciate it when others remember. In addition to my own Twitter account, I run the account for Greatnewbooks.org. Sometimes I get lazy and just RT something without any commentary before . . . but often because they’re aren’t enough characters to comment and I don’t feel like making the time to get creative.

    As for the favorite button . . . I have a love/hate with it for all the reasons you mentioned. I LOVE that people use it instead of the unnecessary formal thank you. (My pet peeve, as you know.) It really has cleared the Twitter stream of the all those thank you, you’re welcome, etc. I wish twitter had a “bookmark” button and a “I hear you” button because having both types of tweets in one folder is making me a little crazy. I can’t find the tweets I want to get back to because I also have all the “I hear you” types in there.

    That was all very meta, but I know you’re get me, Annie.

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    • says

      Thanks Nina! I DO get you! I can see how it’d be frustrating to use the favorite button for two very different purposes. I used to use an app called Clipboard that served the purpose of bookmarking things to read later, but unfortunately it shut down. I’ve yet to find a replacement, but perhaps you could look into something like that to save articles for later? That way you could delegate the favorite button just to favorites and acknowledgements (the ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcomes’ we talked about). Sorry I don’t have a specific one to recommend you!

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  17. says

    I used to be confounded by twitter. It moved too fast, what the hell is a hashtag anyway and since I wasn’t a Justin Bieber fan what use was it to me?
    With my writing partner’s prompting I started using Twitter and now love it! If you’re a writer, trust me, if used correctly it can be a Godsend.
    Thanks for this list Annie, I’ve been guilty especially of number 1.

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    • says

      Thank you, Hugh! I felt exactly the same way when I started out on Twitter. I hated it for about two full weeks, actually. But now I love it! I’m glad you do too. :)

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  18. says

    How perfect, Annie. Just when I was sneaking back onto Twitter — a newbie after only a month — and feeling insecure, I found Therese’s link to your post! Now that I’ve been rescued by the “cool kids” I’ll fix my make-up, come out of the girls’ room, and party.
    Well, maybe tomorrow…
    Great, helpful, advice. I’ll be re-reading this for a refresher course. I have yet to make lists!
    Thanks so much.

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  19. says

    Great post. One thing you didn’t mention is something that’s driving me nuts: the people who, when you follow them, DM you to engage in conversation. But since they haven’t followed you back, you can’t reply. Now that is lazy (and impolite). Just sayin’.

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    • says

      Thanks Phil! I agree; that is very tacky. Automatic DMs are a big no-no anyway, but to send them to someone who can’t even answer is exceptionally rude. I’d be awfully tempted to unfollow that person!

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