Wednesday, 5 September 2012

3 common Twitter mistakes to avoid

Twitter bird
Flickr CC image by Mathamm

Each social network comes with its own quirks, and people make little mistakes all the time. This doesn't really matter too much for a personal account, but for an organisation's account it's more important to get it right and make the most of the opportunity Twitter presents. With this in mind, here's 3 surprisingly common mistakes institutions and individuals make (even experienced Twitter users) because of a lack of in-depth understanding of Twitter's quirks. This is how to avoid no-can-do DMs, follower-excluding @ replies, and chaos-causing hashtags.

1: Asking for people to DM you

The way Direct Messaging (DM) works is, if someone follows you, you can message them directly within Twitter. So you can DM all your followers - but the mistake is to assume they can all DM you. This is only possible for the ones you've followed back. I've seen people and organisations on Twitter soliciting competition entries, volunteers for things, even expressions of interest for a vacancy - and ended the tweet with 'DM me for details', or even worse, 'DM me for details, and please RT' which is particularly perverse as you're just opening the tweet to a vast new audience, none of whom can DM you.

So the solution is to say '@ reply to me and I'll follow you, then we can DM the details' or to just ask people to email / use some other method of contact that doesn't involve Direct Messaging at all.

2: Excluding most of your followers with an @ reply

In order that your Timeline isn't completely overwhelming with a gazillion conversations, Twitter limits what you can see to a: regular tweets from people you follow, b: ReTweets from people you follow, and c: conversations BETWEEN PEOPLE YOU FOLLOW. Which is to say, you have to be following BOTH participants in the conversation to see the tweets in your tineline.

So let's say you follow @libmarketing on Twitter, and I'm having two conversations - one with @librarianbyday who you also follow, and one with my friend Pete who you don't. You'll see the tweets I'm sending to @librarianbyday, but none of the tweets from my conversation with Pete will appear in your timeline. So in fact (and many people don't realise this), the vast majority of any tweeter's tweets don't get seen by most of their followers.

Why does this matter? Because by starting a tweet with '@username' you are almost certainly excluding most of your followers from seeing the tweet, and you may not always wish to do this. For example, if someone asks you about new opening times and you reply "@username - and for anyone else interested - we now close at 10pm" then the chances are only @username will actually see the tweet - unless loads of your followers also follow @username. Or if I post a guide to Twitter you think people will find useful, and you tweet "@libmarketing's new guide to Twitter is out - take a look at [link]" then the only people who will see this are your followers who ALSO follow my @libmarketing account (who, of course, may well have seen me tweeting about the guide anyway).

So the solution is to put any kind of character BEFORE the @username - so you can either literally just put a full-stop or something in there before the name, or you can phrase the tweet differently: "See @LibMarketing's guide to Twitter here" or "For @username and others asking - we now shut at 10pm." This turns the tweet into a regular tweet, which will go into every single one of your followers' timelines.

3: Creating a hashtag which is already in use

Hashtags are a way of bringing tweets on the same theme together - they're useful for holding a wider conversation across Twitter where all the participants don't necessarily have to follow each other. People often use them for events and for themed discussion. However, a classic and common error is not to search for your hashtag before announcing it to the world: a brief search of Twitter will reveal whether any other group or event is ALSO using the hashtag, in which case it's best to come up with a new one entirely - or things can quickly get very confused indeed.

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