You know it's rude to talk loudly on the phone in a restaurant, to leave your ringer on in the movies, or to never reply to a personal email. But you know what doesn't have such clear dos and don'ts? The latest social networking rage -- Twitter. Twitter has taken off like a rocket ship -- CNN anchors can't stop blabbing about it, Ashton Kutcher has 847,666 followers (people who read his updates), and the Huffington Post has gotten on the bandwagon. Even though people use Twitter for a multitude of reasons -- to keep up with friends, share links, follow financial trends, tap into the collective brain or read celebrities' thoughts -- one of its primary functions is as a social networking tool. Social networking, a.k.a. interacting with other humans, is always fraught with potential missteps. There aren't necessarily clearly defined rules of social etiquette yet for Twitter, or, as I'm going to call it because everyone seems to put a prefix of tw- in front of all Twitter behavior -- Twitiquette. I'm fairly new to the game (who isn't?) but I've noticed some serious misuses and annoying behaviors. I think it's time to lay down the law -- here are the top 5 biggest Twitter no-nos.
1. Overtweeting. You may think that every five to ten minutes you have something brilliant to say that everyone would want to know about -- but unless you are personally witnessing the Hudson River plane crash, are on a ship that's being hijacked or in the middle of an earthquake, chances are you need to keep your tweeting in check. Don't indulge in narcissism. You may have interesting things to say or links to share, but don't overdo it. There is nothing more annoying than signing into your account and seeing a whole page of tweets from one person -- have a bit of a filter. I completely lost patience with an acquaintance who I thought was already on the verge of overtweeting. After 4 tweets in a row about bad service at a restaurant, I got annoyed and decided she wasn't worth following at all -- I removed her from my list. Overtweet, and risk the same actions from your followers.
2. Tweeting Over Talking. Since one big advantage to Twitter is that you can tweet from anywhere on your phone, a big no-no is choosing to tweet while you are actually in the middle of doing something, or having a conversation. It's sort of like checking your phone and texting while ignoring the person in front of you, except that in this case, it's completely gratuitous. Unlike texting, there's no one at the other end waiting for a reply, so when you pay more attention to your Twitter account than the people you are with, it's especially rude.
3. Forgetting Who Can See Your Tweets. Most people keep their accounts public, but even if yours is set to private, be wary of tweeting anything that you wouldn't want everyone to know. My boss, my coworkers, and people I've never met follow me on Twitter, so I always have that in the back of my mind. Once something is sent to the world wide Internet, you give up an amount of control over the information. A friend recently told me, "I just broke up with my girlfriend, so I won't be tweeting about my personal life at all, because she follows me on Twitter."
4. Stealing People's Witty Tweets Without Giving them Credit. Twitter is all about the well-stated phrase, the smart observation or the awesome link. Twitiquette dictates that if you can't just copy someone's else's tweet without indicating that it originally came from them. The way you do this is to write RT (which means re-tweet) and then put @(username). Otherwise, it's sort of like plagiarism. Maybe there won't be any Jayson Blair-like consequences, but it's just not cool.
5. Not Reciprocating When Someone With Whom You're Actually Friends Follows You. I follow Mark Bittman, a New York Times food writer, and I'm not remotely offended that he doesn't follow me back. However, If someone I'm actually friends with, who I'd have a drink with, or would talk to if I saw in the street, doesn't choose to follow me after I've initiated following them, that's just a plain ol' fashioned snub.
What do you think are the biggest Twitter faux pas? What are other rules of Twitiquette?
Oh, if you want to, ya know, follow me on Twitter, I promise not to break any of these rules.