The good, the bad and the Twitter

I have long had an ambivalent relationship with Twitter – I can write that because I joined it on day 1 of its existence, but did not use my account for a year or two because I did not see the point. Two things happened: Twitter began to attract more people/accounts of interest to me; and applications such as Thwirl and Tweetdeck were developed that made it nice to use instead of constantly crashing and being clunky. But using Twitter regularly bought up another problem that I am always experiencing on the Internet – dual work/non-work personae. I don’t feel the need to keep the two identities secret from each other, but I do want them to be separate and the Internet is making this harder and harder with every device you use seeming to be obsessed with hooking you up with all your “friends” by default, whether they are an actual friend or someone from whom you once bought a second-hand book via Amazon six years ago (or worse, your online bank). Hence this need for separation was not a point that seemed an uncontrollable issue* in the early days of Twitter, as this social media glue mania was not as fully realised as today. So I deleted my account.

Some time later, owing to a request from my employer, I invented two new accounts. In one I tweet in one of my work roles; in the other I tweet as myself (@Petrona_) – which is the account you can follow and read as a mini-blog on the right here. (I wasn’t asked to tweet as myself by my employer! But I took advantage of setting up the work account to also set up a ‘home’ one.)

All this preamble is getting around to me saying that I’ve been on Twitter for as long as it is possible to have been on it, albeit intermittently, and I have some ideas about what makes someone an interesting person or organisation I think worth following, and what does not. (The learning process never ends. I have recently “unfollowed” two accounts and my Twitter experience is immeasurably more relaxed and less irritating as a result). And this is why I decided to write this post (rant?) about my own Twitter likes and dislikes. I find that the only way Twitter is bearable or even pleasant is to be ruthless about filtering! So here is what I like/dislike, and hence who I follow/unfollow.

– I like a neat, personalised summary tweet (with a link to a full article if tweeting about an article) – not a link with no information about what it is or why it is of interest.
– I like tweets about something your readers might be interested in – not a stream of consciousness of each minute of your day. I don’t want to read about your every cup of tea, etc, however much I may like you otherwise.
– I don’t like very frequent tweeting (I prefer reading someone’s ten tweets a day to reading a hundred).
– Promoting yourself is fine if done in moderation, especially if you are funny about it; constant self promotion is boring.
– Promoting your product is fine – if done in moderation and not exclusively, and your affiliation openly stated.
– I like humour and jokes, but not frequent swearing and use of obscenities.
– Tweeting the same post two or three times to catch different time zones is fine, constant repeats are not.
– If you join in “me too” waves of Twitter-hate against a person/organisation, or other momentary hysteria, I’m unfollowing you however justified your cause.
– If you are tweeting on behalf of an employer or organisation, I like it if you inject a bit of personality and don’t come over as too “party line”.
– Tweeting about events you’ve attended in a way that excludes followers reads like boasting, I prefer either not to know or to know something that shares the experience.
– If you want to moan about your hard life, fine, but not too often and vary your complaints with other material – it’s tough for everyone!
– I don’t like “follow Fridays” and other clogging-up activities (eg 20 simultaneous tweets about the page you are on on 20 different books, via GoodReads wonky RSS export!). I have never yet clicked on a link in someone’s FF list and I don’t know why I’d want to read a tweet about what page of a book someone is on.
– On the other hand I’m happy for you to tweet your blog posts, so long as that’s not all you do on Twitter (because if so I won’t follow you on Twitter but will use my RSS reader where they are all saved up for when I want to read them).
– I quite like it when someone decides to do a live-tweet of an event and warns followers in advance so that one can temporarily unfollow until the hashtag-fest is over!

Twittering is like a conversation as many have said – it is a two-way street. So the twitterers I like best are those who behave like human beings – who vary their links to their blogs or books they are publishing (say) with other material, and who interact rather than broadcast. Take all the above with a pinch of salt, though, it’s just my view and I’m probably not a typical Twitter user. Each to his/her own.

Lots of people write books, Storifys and all kinds of things about Twitter of course and this post is but a minidrop in the ocean. However, it is worth drawing attention to Nicola Morgan’s blog and associated upcoming e-book Tweet Right – aimed at authors but I am sure will apply to anyone.

[* Which is it is now. I’ve recently been given a smartphone but it is too smart. I haven’t been able to work out how to use it as a phone, but it automatically has merged everyone I’ve ever interacted with on email and every social media site out there and gives me all their updates, “likes”, etc… aargh! – and I am definitely not “smart” enough to find the delete option – yet.]

22 thoughts on “The good, the bad and the Twitter

  1. I’m very, very late in coming to Twitter. I said for years that I would not join in on all the social networking sites, though I do like blogging. I did give over not too long ago and join Twitter and am still learning the etiquette–so to speak (so it’s helpful to read your post). I try and use it judiciously–though I am probably not really using it as effectively as I could. I agree with many of your points–I also don’t like to be bombarded with Tweets and had to unfollow people whose blogs I enjoy but I would prefer not to see endless tweets on one topic or every news article from a favored news source retweeted (if I want to know what they have to say about the world I’ll click on through myself). A little is fine or something interesting or unusual is what I like about Twitter, but for me a little goes a long way. I don’t always log in every day. Technology can be really great and open new vistas, but being so constantly tuned in seems a little exhausting to me. I work in a university and see how the students are constantly connected and realize there really is a generational divide–though I don’t feel all that old. I think I appreciate my solitude and privacy (not that there is much of that online) a little too much to jump in wholeheartedly, but I don’t mind using it as a tool! Interesting post–thanks.

    • i agree, Danielle, that “constantly retweeted news source” is very annoying, especially when some poor person has died and so many people and publications tweet it. But Twitter is fun if tailored to fit;-)

  2. Maxine – Thanks for your thoughtful, helpful and spot-on comments about Twitter. I could make a long commentary about how much I agree with each of your likes and dislikes, but trust me, my comment would go on interminably. So suffice it to say that I agree 100% with many of your points. I would say another thing that makes me decide to follow or not follow someone on Twitter is that I don’t care for personal “wars of words” on Twitter. We all have our disagreements, but in my opinion, there’s no need to get personal on Twitter.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Margot, and I do so agree about the wars of words – often it reads as if the people concerned have had one too many, and it isn’t very useful for anyone (my view!).

  3. Another general problem with twitter/facebook et al is that often settings are such that everything you write is broadcast simultanously to all, and one has to actively over-ride this in one’s profile settings to stop it, not someone many people bother to do, reasonably enough. These internet sites should make more use of opt-in rather than opt-out I think.

  4. Yup, I agree with everything here.

    A danger with twitter, I think, is that there is a tendency for people to forget that their tweet has the potential to reach everyone, not just the people that follow them (unless protected, I guess – although that is not watertight). I have often seen tweets from people that are obviously ‘meant’ for just their followers, sometimes insulting others, or stridently putting forward some questionable point of view. It is not a closed room. Sometimes I think people forget that.

    • That’s so true, Clare! Perhaps partly due to the fact that you can’t send someone a private message unless you are following each other – I am sure this cuts down on spam but equally sure it results in some inadvertent publicising, also perhaps on small apps where “reply/message” might be easily confused.

  5. Great post and interesting. I’m Twitter/Facebook-challenged and quite content to stay that way. There is nothing I need to know immediately except perhaps news which I get by reading the New York Times and other news websites nor is there anything I have to say that can’t be said on my email or blogs, but nothing earthshaking where I must tweet the world.

    • Agreed, Kathy, to quote a very eminent news editor I know, there is no news that can’t wait until next day’s newspaper when it can be read and assimilated properly. I definitely don’t like multi-twitter (or blog) posts about exactly the same news — this is one area where the mainstream media do much better than amateurs!

  6. As usual you have summed up my thoughts quite nicely, thanks. With my personal account I admit I go through phases of not bothering too much with it, though I have occasionally found interesting things out there is a pretty high noise to substance ratio. I have gotten very brutal though about who I follow and am quick to unfollow if someone is auto tweeting only or otherwise annoying me. I generally avoid twitter entirely on American Fridays when the FF tweets clog everything up too, I don’t see the point. I go out of my way not to auto tweet from other sites like good reads precisely because I find it so annoying, some people have the same information tweeted multiple times as their various social networks retweet in a loop that often feels like it will never end

    • I too have learnt to avoid Twitter on Fridays! I do think that some multiple-times tweeting is inadvertent, but it’s sometimes hard to tell someone without coming over as grumpy (which I admit I usually am anyway!).

  7. I hate the #ff tweets and the good reads tweets but agree with a lot of what you say Maxine and understand completely why you don’t follow me on there. I don’t take it personally as I know how I am on and I joined only to converse with other readers I’ve known for years and to engage with new people to discuss books and life in general. I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter and was just finishing up my own like/dislike post. I’ll wait to post mine a little later I think but excellent post even if I am guilty of a few of those things. Ha. I am thinking/working my way towards deleting my account though. It isn’t as fun as it used to be for me.

  8. Thanks, Maxine. Always very interesting to read people’s thoughts on Twitter. I spent quite a lot of time worrying in the early days about my tweets – their content, tone and how potentially annoying they might be – but eventually decided just to tweet what I fancied. My followers are very diverse (reflecting different bits of my world and interests) and it would be impossible to please all of them all of the time. I always try to be understanding if someone unfollows me 🙂

    • I love your Tweets, Mrs Pea 😉 Tweeting what you fancy is most likely to garner you followers, I suspect.

  9. Maxine, I am definitely not smart enough, or young enough, for a smart phone.
    This syncing and merging business is quite frightening, especially if you go abroad to a country with high charges for data transfer and your smartphone starts downloading hundreds of emails.

    • It’s a nightmare, Norman! Thanks for the tip about going away, I think I’ll leave mine at home in that event.

  10. I only joined twitter because so many writer friends suggested I should so I am not quite sure yet if I like it or what I really want to use it for (but once in a while someone retweets one of mine, and then I think I must have done something right).
    But of course you and everybody else has the right to unfollow anyone (including me), and I really don´t get the fuss about it. You cannot stay loyal to a horde of ´friends´ just because you happened to click on that follow button before you really knew who they were and what they had to offer.

    • I agree that if one is oneself, that is best, Dorte. I cannot continue to follow someone who tweets 300 times a day because then I miss the (better!) tweets from those who tweet 1-10 times. Signal to noise ratios, that’s the key.

    • I think some of the comments people have made in the discussion are probably a lot more useful than my post, Martin! Hope you enjoy Twitter if you decide to take the plunge – it is much better than Facebook in my opinion (if used with filtering that suits you). I essentially use Twitter as a “mini blog” to draw attention to interesting book reviews and articles, but other people use it for different reasons, which is fine – live-tweeting events is very popular via the hashtag system.

  11. Pingback: Meat and Marginalia for the week (3-9 July 2011) | Interlineal

Comments are closed.