Like every social platform, there's a learning curve for how to use Twitter. But also like every social platform, there aren't any specific rules. The confluence of these two truths can be mind-boggling, and the only real solution is to be patient and learn from the best. It's the same principle as being good at anything else: spend time watching before doing, learn from those you find most engaging and interesting, and then practice.
In the meantime, I've gathered a few dos and don'ts to keep you company while you do your own on-the-ground learning. And here's a spoiler: community is at the core of all of these principles. Don't do things that make you an annoying member of the community. Do things that build or contribute to the community. Every successful move you make on Twitter has at its center a desire for community and connection.
First, the don'ts:
Don't: be an egghead
You hear this a lot, referring to the profile picture, which remains an egghead until you personalize it with your own photo. And I mean "don't be an egghead" in that way, but I also mean it in the general sense of personalization. In the age of authenticity, where brands are human (and sometimes humans are brands) you've got to treat your Twitter account as a customized digital representation of your personality. Choose a picture that isn't too small for someone to make out when the scroll through their feed. Write a clever & short--or professional & impressive-- bio. Include a link to your website in your bio. Follow accounts you actually will learn from and be entertained and engaged by. Be an active and valuable member of your chosen Twitter community. The bottom line is that it's the same on Twitter as in real life: blandness is the enemy of popularity.
Don't: be a sporadic Twitter user
I have no bigger pet peeve than the sporadic Twitter user. Consistency catches the eye, and eye-catching is what you need to aim for on Twitter, which can be overwhelming and over-populated. Sporadic use indicates someone who is not particularly serious about their Twitter presence, and I'm less likely to engage with them because they probably won't engage back. I'm less likely to follow them because they don't regularly provide content. And don't worry--building Twitter into your existing digital life is easier than it appears. Assign Twitter check-ins to existing rituals in your life. For example, if you make it a habit to check and tweet, say, once before each meal of the day, or once whenever you check Facebook, you might find yourself more seamlessly integrating Twitter into your regular digital presence.
Don't: make this one rookie mistake
Admittedly, I had to be told about this technical mistake by a friend, but when I see it now, it makes me think "beginner." Here it is: when want to reach out to someone on Twitter and the tweet begins with their handle, you must put a character in front of the @ symbol in their handle if you want your tweet to be seen by people other than you, the person you're replying to, and your common followers. The most frequently-used character is a period, but you can also move the @handle to the back end of the tweet. Tell everyone you know: tweets that begin with Twitter handles won't be seen by a wide group of users.
Don't: confuse it for Facebook
This means many things, among them, don't post pictures of your baby, your dog, your meal, or yourself(ie).
Don't: be network-y
What I mean here is don't ask or expect people to follow you back. Don't be network-y in that you openly express that the only reason you're on Twitter is for networking purposes. If you provide value in the form of good content and a consistent presence, people will eventually follow you back. If you engage and interact, people will eventually follow you back. People won't follow you back just because you've asked them to. And you shouldn't be insulted if they don't follow you back right away. It would be unfair to say that we all don't use Twitter to network. We do. But those who do it well approach it more as connecting and communing, and they do it through active participation, not idle expectations. Prove yourself to be part of the community, and the networking will come naturally.
Now, for some positivity:
Do: copy links for sharing
Twitter recently started letting people share links to others' tweets, which is great for two reasons. First, you can comment on the tweet, and second, you can entice people to engage with your tweet because they can easily click on the link (the principle being since the link won't take them out of the app, people are more likely to check it out). FYI, it's always good to comment on other people's tweets, but make sure when you use this feature you tag the other person if you want them to see it.
Do: be real
My favorite thing about Twitter is that it allows you to be real in real-time, but in bite-sized chunks. Don't be afraid of being your true self on Twitter (though, yes, there's a fine line between being honest and being crass) as nothing is more attractive on a digital platform than a personality. Do you have an original thought about a current event, a movie, a trending topic, an element of your industry, a brand, or a product? Think of tweeting about these topics first as notes to yourself, something concise and interesting that you want to remember or mark. You might be surprised at how many other people agree with what you're saying and want to engage with it. Warning: you will make missteps. Everyone does. But it's only natural. After some time and with regular practice, you'll become more comfortable expressing yourself in 140 characters or less.
For more about what I think about authenticity, check out this post I wrote a while back.
Do: link your tweets together
Once you get comfortable expressing your personality in 140-character tweets, you might have thoughts that take up more than 140 characters. The good news is you can beat Twitter at its 140-character game by linking your tweets together. Linked tweets appear nicely connected in your followers' feeds. A technical tip: if you reply to your tweet and then delete your handle that automatically pops up at the beginning of the reply tweet, these linked tweets will appear seamlessly. This feature makes it super easy for your followers to read a series of your tweets about the same subject, instead of fumbling through their feed looking for your related tweets.
Do: pin a tweet
I think a pinned tweet is a lovely introduction to your Twitter presence for desktop users. Choose one that performed particularly well, or one that really expresses who you are, or one that announces something you wrote or made that you want people to know about. The pinned tweet is your one chance to make a first impression. Think about how you would want people to perceive you if you walked into a room. That's what your pinned tweet does, in a sense. It announces your presence. Make it good.