Rules of Engagement

Oops.  I’ve caused a bit of a stir on Twitter in the last 24 hours.  Nothing big, and I thnk it ended amicably, but I certainly feel responsible for some possibly negative comments.  So what happened?  And what did I, and us Twitter users, learn from it?

There was a discussion the other day about how many hashtags you could put in a Tweet before people won’t read it. A quick, and very limited poll of people showed that 2 was probably a maximum. I’d not only agree with this but I would expand it to any kind of information that’s not actually the Tweet itself: @mentions, #hashtags and web links all included.

I used, as an example, a charity that I wholeheartedly support the work of, but who I’ve had an on-and-0ff Twitter following of.  A couple of days later I used this Tweet from the same organization as another example.

A Messy Tweet

Lessons on Giving Feedback

To cut a long story short, using this as an example lead to another user I follow being incorrectly attributed a comment that I made which resulted in him getting some bad press.  It all ended well, but  felt pretty bad about it and have apologised and explained to the charity in more depth.

Lesson 1: Giving feedback on Twitter is hard – 140 characters is often not enough to convey a complex piece of constructive criticism.


Lesson 2: If you’re replying to a tweet, make sure you understand who it’s from and that what you’re saying about them is correct.

Lessons on Using Twitter

The tweet above was not actually a Tweet from the organisation that I follow – it’s a “re-tweet” of another organisation, and I was even careful to not reveal the name of the organisation that I follow.  But it’s a fantastic example of a Tweet that I skim over.  It has:

  • 6 @mentions
  • Two hashtags, one of which is a repeat of an @mention
  • The RT prefix
  • A link
  • A total of 104 character of non-word content (I call this “meta-data”, it’s not the Tweet, it’s extra information about the Tweet or attached to the Tweet).
  • Only 30 characters of English word content

If I see anything like this in my stream I skim right over it:

  • It’s not esaily readable.
  • It’s not clear what it’s telling me.
  • It doesn’t tell me why I should follow the link.
  • It assumes that I know what the LBLuk hashtag is about.
  • It’s a “Follow Friday” (a recommendation that I should follow another user), but one that doesn’t explain why I should follow that other user.
  • It’s a “re-tweet” – a sharing of another user’s tweet – a “Follow Friday” and a link all at the same time; it has three separate purposes.

So, one question might be: “OK Ross, so what would you have done?”

I think I’d have not re-tweeted to start with – the original didn’t make much sense and RT’ing it will make it make less sense.  I’d have sent two original tweets instead:

Tweet 1. “Have you seen Live below the Line?  Trying to live on less than £1 a day – are you ready? Video here: #lblUK”

This explains what the link is, suggests why I might click it (to find out about the campaign) and introduces the hashtag which, from the content of the Tweet, I can probably work out the meaning of now.

Tweet 2. “Follow Friday: The Live Below the Line campaign, @lblUK – trying to live on less than £1 a day. #lblUK

I don’t think the #ff hashtag is particularly useful. In fact, with Twitter search and trends I don’t think that turning ordinary words into hashtags is of much use.  However, specific tags for specific campaigns or events are useful, so I’ve left in the #lblUK hashtag as we know what it means now and it is probably useful.  I’ve given the opportunity for users to follow @lblUK if they want to, which is the intention of the Tweet.

If the other users are important too you could write a third:

Tweet 3: “Follow Friday: Live Below the Line campaign partners: @SAIDUK, @christian_aid….etc”

Lesson 3: Some users will not read a tweet if it contains lots of “meta-data”. Keep this to a minimum to keep tweets readable.

Lesson 4: Think about what response your tweet is trying to invoke. Make that response as easy as possible for the reader to understand and action.

Lesson 5: Think about hashtags – they break up the flow of writing.  Is it really necessary to turn key words into hashtags?  Does this bring benefit to your users or to you?

Lesson 6: If you’re going to partake in Follow Friday, keep the users you’re suggesting to a minimum and explain why they may be of interest.

As I thought about this and looked through my Twitter timeline looking for examples and thinking “what would I skip the reading of”, I also noticed that I would skip over tweets written in mostly upper case.  Interesting!

More generally, that screen grab is from my iPhone Twitter app, and I reckon anywhere that there’s more underlined content than non-underlined content will be automatically ignored by me as too difficult to read and understand quickly.

Volume is also an issue – for me, organisations that tweet lots of similar content will eventually be ignored or unfollowed.  Keep it easy to read, relevant, new and interesting.  Repeat the same messages or bombarding me with content will not make me listen – quite the opposite.

Lessons on Learning Social Media Lessons

There are no rules about how to use Twitter – that’s one of the things I like about it.  Social Media is a new and evolving form of communication.  We’re still developing ettiquette, patterns of use and so on.  The lessons here are mostly based on how I use Twitter as a reader. It may be different for others.

Lesson 7: There are no rules, but think about how you use social media as a reader, that will probably help you with writing for social media.

I confess, too, that I’m probably guilty of breaking my own rules and of also writing illegible Tweets.  I’m also sorry if I’ve caused anyone negative feeling or bad press.

Lesson 7: No one’s perfect!

I love that social media has enabled us to have this discussion, and I love that the non-profits I support are actively using it to engage with their supporters.

What do you think?  What causes you to skip a tweet?  What individuals or organisations use social media well?  And what is it about the way they use it that makes it good?

I’ll start with @CTC_Cyclists and @nationaltrust, I think they’re great examples of using Twitter well.