photo by Ron Mead

It might (or might not) come as a surprise to you that many writers hate Twitter. I confess that I’ve had my own “die, Twitter, die” moments over the years, and it’s usually due to discourtesy. The character limit, the flood of information, the time drain: those I can stomach. But people being rude or obnoxious? Well, I think we’ve all had moments where we wanted to jump ship.

Unfortunately, we can’t make everyone else use Twitter well. What we can do as denizens of the writing Twit-o-sphere is make sure that we are using Twitter well. Of course, this is subjective, but isn’t all etiquette subjective? Today I’m going to cover my top 10 etiquette guidelines in hopes of encouraging a livable, courteous place for us all to tweet. Let’s go!

1. Don’t be a numbers hog.

Remember my first Twitter column about my 5 unshakeable beliefs? One of those was “quality over quantity,” and it still is. (Can’t shake it.) What this translates to behavior-wise is treating people as people rather than tally marks. Don’t follow 500 new people at once just to see who will follow you back. Don’t unfollow everyone if they don’t follow you back immediately. Instead, try finding people who actually interest you and engaging with them. Build relationships, not a big number. You’ll feel better, your platform will be stronger, and your followers will like you more (and actually know who you are).

2. Unhook your outside accounts.

I know I’ll get some flak for this, but it drives me crazy when people hook their outside accounts to their Twitter account. I don’t want to see every single post from your Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or tumblr. And if I do… I can follow you on those platforms. In fact, having these hooked to your Twitter makes me less likely to follow you at those places. Why would I sign up for double information? Not to mention that most of these “hooked” accounts require Twitter users to click out to see/read the information, which is really annoying.

Instead of hooking Twitter to your other favorite platforms, try occasionally tweeting links to how to follow you elsewhere, sometimes mixed with what type of things you offer there. For example, I sometimes lure my Twitter followers with cute cat pictures if they come “like” my Facebook page. But if I were to share those same pictures on Twitter every time, why would they bother? Offering varied content without cross-pollinating creates value in each place, rather than just one. (Occasional cross-over is fine.)

On a related note: many writers also run secondary Twitter accounts, either for organizations, groups, magazines, or whatever. It’s fine to occasionally retweet these secondary accounts so people know they’re there, but don’t retweet every tweet. It’s the same as above; if your followers wanted to see every tweet, they would simply follow that account.

3. Don’t mass-tweet a personal tweet.

I’ve noticed a growing trend: the practice of replying to everyone to reply to one person. Someone tweets something. A follower @ replies. The original tweeter replies to that publicly instead of directly. They do this by putting a period in front of their response so everyone can see it, or by tagging the person at the end instead of the beginning of the tweet. This is a great trick to know, but it should be used sparingly, and only for a good reason, such as if you think all of your followers would be interested in the response. The problem, then, is when the response isn’t that interesting or otherwise doesn’t need to be universal. When every response becomes a public one, it makes the person seem like they have an inflated sense of self-importance. Not all of your followers want to know every part of every conversation you have – and even if they do, they can go see them on your actual timeline. Spare everyone else and keep most of your convos one-on-one.

4. Watch the sense of entitlement.

I have a whole post about entitlement here. Bottom line: no one owes you anything. Take a chill pill; you’re not a rock star. And even if you are, not everyone likes rock.

If you can’t get on Twitter regularly, try using a tweet-scheduling service to prevent overwhelming the timeline.

5. Don’t flood the timeline.

Being generally talkative on Twitter is one thing. Followers can choose to unfollow people who are too active for them. A bigger problem I see: users going silent for long periods of time, then occasionally signing on and doing catch-up with dozens of tweets at once. The problem with that? Someone scrolling through their timeline has to scroll through tons of your tweets just to see anyone else! If you can’t get on Twitter regularly, try using a tweet-scheduling service to prevent overwhelming the timeline.

6. Talk about things besides your books.

Nobody likes flyers on their car! You’re a writer, yes, but you do have other things in your life, right? Talk about some of them. No matter how famous you are, your followers want to hear about more than just books, books, books, buy, buy, buy.

7. Don’t tag someone in a negative comment or review. Don’t tell someone that you’re unfollowing them.

That’s just rude! Why would you point out something negative to the person it involves? Stop it!

8. Retweet manually only when you’re adding something.

Remember when I covered the different ways to retweet? The manual retweet (copy-pasting instead of pushing the RT button) should only be used if you’re adding a comment or editing their tweet. If you tweet exactly what they said with no addition, but do it manually, you’re basically taking their face away and putting yours there instead. If there’s no reason to RT manually, push the button and leave their profile/tweet/handle combo intact.

9. Don’t auto-DM new followers.

This is tied for the most obnoxious widely-used practice. I’ve never heard of anyone who likes receiving direct messages when they follow someone. Most people ignore them; some unfollow because of it. It does no good. Don’t do it. Nothing says “I don’t care about you” quite like an automated “buy my book follow me elsewhere” message to strangers. Personal connections, remember? Instead – unless you have something private to say – introduce yourself one-to-one in a normal @ message tailored to them. (Ex: “@handle Hi So-and-so! I found you through this writing organization we’re both members of. It’s great to meet you.”

10. Refrain from sharing lists of users.

This is the second part of the most obnoxious widely-used practice tie. #FollowFriday, #WriterWednesday, and the like can be useful tools, but rarely are. For these connection devices to work, they need to be wielded sparingly and thoughtfully. Rather than tweeting long lists of random people with no explanations:

#FollowFriday @handle @handle2 @handle3 @handle4 @smurflover @handle5 @handle 6 @hanlde 7 … @handle852

try tweeting one or two specific suggestions, and share why:

#FollowFriday @handle because his blog is always hilarious, and he’s the nicest guy I know!

See the difference? Big lists might get the attention of the people in those lists, but they don’t actually help anyone because everyone ignores them, they annoy most people, and they end up being clutter.

So there you have it: my top 10 tips for Twitter etiquette. Questions? Additions? Hit me up in the comments!

What Twitter etiquette breach drives you crazy? Have you ever been guilty of these offenses? How did you change them?

About Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a novelist, short story author, and award-winning poet represented by Michelle Johnson of Inklings Literary Agency. She has work appearing in over forty venues, including Fireside, Darkfuse, Buzzy Mag, and the British Fantasy Society journal Dark Horizons. She's an active member of the Horror Writers Association and webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas. When she’s not frightening strangers with her writing, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their two cats, Buttons and Snaps.