It is one of the most popular social networks in the world and notwithstanding all the hashtags talking of its demise (following news of timeline tweaks), continues to go strong. But for all the communication that Twitter offers, it is also a very brutal and cruel place, for the simple reason that in most cases, you really do not have too much control over who follows you (blocking people is an option as is muting them, but in most cases, this step is taken AFTER the worthies have done damage to be cut out). Outrage is also more often seen – and highlighted – on Twitter than on other social networks. So, as Marc Andreessen discovered, you do need to step very gingerly when in Twitterland. There are no Ten Twitter Commandments, as different approaches work for different people, but goeth thou in to the jungle that is Twitter? Then take care to avoid these ten pitfalls: (we did take a slightly Biblical tone to compensate for the absence of official commandments)
1. Thou shalt not state conclusions without facts, for aye, facts speak louder than opinions
Many were outraged by Marc Andreessen’s tweet about India not having done well with its anti-colonial approach – something not borne out by facts. But alas, drawing conclusions without evidence is the default approach of many people out there. Products of all sorts are called hits or failures, without any sales or market share evidence. Get the stats, do the math, before you tweet your conclusion, else you will end up looking a fool.
2. Thou shalt not look for the last word in a debate – silence is indeed golden, in some matters
“Discuss, don’t debate” is a rule of thumb on Twitter. The micro-blogging network has millions of members, far too many of whom are ready to prolong a debate endlessly just in the hope of having the last word in it. And they are ready to do anything from swearing to endlessly prolonging a point to do so. Know when to step away from a debate – before you get angry is a good idea.
3. Thou shalt not tweet in anger or in haste – the repenting will be more leisurely!
Which of course brings us to the next point – if you feel hot under the collar, just log out of Twitter. Ditto if you are in a hurry. Your chances of saying something you will regret are far greater in these circumstances. If a speedy response is the need of the hour, then make as formally correct one as possible. And then log out. You can always return when you have time.
4. Thou shalt not forget who dost thee represent – the “tweets are individual opinion” line save thee NOT
Saying that tweets in an account reflect the opinion of the individual rather than the organisation he or she works for is fashionable these days. That said, it would be exceedingly naïve to think that this disclaimer makes too much of a difference to your followers, many of whom might actually follow you because of your affiliation with an organisation. Make an error and it will come back to haunt not just you, but those with whom you are associated, no matter how many disclaimers you put out.
5. Thou shalt not generalize – condemn not the many for the acts of a few
Taking the act of one person or one organisation and branding an entire region, class of people, or even a nation (as Andersson rather unfortunately did) is not a clever idea. If you have had a bad experience, by all means target the person or organisation responsible, but do not extend it to a nation or a region.
6. Thou shalt not make typos or goof up grammatically – knowest not thee the word? Speak it not then.
This does sound simple enough and is violated so often that it has been forgotten. The credibility of what you tweet diminishes with every error you make in terms of spelling or grammar. Not knowing the language well enough is not an excuse any more – if you are not sure of what to say, perhaps staying silent is a better idea.
7. Thou shalt not beg – if thee can afford to be on Twitter, thee need charity not
You want a retweet? A favorite (err.. like)? A mention? Don’t beg for one. Put up something that you think your followers would love to share – sharing and mentions should be voluntary not a favor.
8. Thou shalt not bribe – those that can be corrupted, can be corrupted by thine rival too
Offering someone something in “exchange” for a mention, or a retweet is worse than begging. If begging shows desperation, bribing shows corruption – and neither has any place in healthy conversations, which is the purpose of being on Twitter. Oh yes, and if someone DOES agree to put in a mention or a retweet in exchange for favors, monetary or otherwise, do yourself a favor and block them! They will switch camps depending on the bid and bidder.
9. Thou shalt not keep blowing thine own trumpet – the meek will inherit the network!
So someone praised you and/or your work on Twitter? Well, do the right thing and thank them for their kindness. And if you think that what has been tweeted would be of interest to your followers, do retweet it to them – praise does sound better coming from other people. But do be wary of recklessly retweeting or favoriting EVERY single tweet that speaks kindly of you – remember, it is YOUR account and people follow it to find out what you have to say, not what others have to say of you (unless it is really interesting). Retweeting praise too often can transform it into boasting – something one should never really be associated with.
10. Thou shalt not be afraid to apologize – learn to bow thy head in humility before raising it in outrage
He might have had a rough day but the one thing that Andreessen did get right at the very end of the day was his apology. He could have deleted the tweet and pretended all the ruckus did not happen, but he chose to put his hand up and apologize. And while that might not help much in the short run, it definitely will in the longer term. Sorry should never be the hardest word on Twitter. To err is human. To apologize for erring on Twitter is essential. Forgiveness does rest with your followers, but at least an apology initiates the process!