Guy Kawasaki’s Twitter tips

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We love this piece written by Guy Kawasaki for the American Express Open Forum blog and hope you will too.

Twitter Cluelessness, by Guy Kawasaki

Oct 26, 2009

A funny thing often happens to me: People tell me that they’re really into technology and ask what it was like to work for Steve Jobs. But they pronounce “Jobs” with a long o—that is, like it’s spelled “Jobes.” This is like saying, “What’s it like to live in ‘Frisco?” instead of “the City.” As a small business person, you can’t afford to look clueless anywhere on the Internet, but this is especially true on Twitter. Read on if you want to avoid this fate.

1. Don’t tell other people how to tweet. There are two kinds of Twitter Fascists: first, the “social media guru” who believes that he is the conscience of Twitter and has the God-given right to regulate the use of Twitter. Arguably, there are three people who can do this: Biz Stone, Ev Wiliams, and Jack Dorsey. (I would even debate this at this point, but that’s another posting.)The second kind of Twitter Fascist is the “ninety-day wonder”—that is, someone who’s been on Twitter for less than ninety days, has less than ninety followers, follows less than ninety people, and has made less than ninety tweets but believes that he should be telling everyone else how to use Twitter. This is the Twitter version of the “Ugly American.”

There is no right and wrong with Twitter. There’s only what works for you and what doesn’t, so telling people how to use Twitter is as laughable as telling people what kind of websites were acceptable in 1980. Twitter is a platform—do with it what you want, but don’t tell others what to do.

Nota bene: I realize the irony—even hypocrisy—of me telling you that you shouldn’t tell others what to do on Twitter in a post that is doing just that. The difference is that I’m not doing it personally and publicly to “call you out” in order to make myself feel important; I’m not a social media guru; and I have more followers, followees, and tweets than ninety.

2. Don’t tell the world that you unfollowed someone.

Just why do you think that anyone cares?

What’s going through your brain: “I’m showing this orifice who’s boss. I’m telling my fifty followers that I’m not following her anymore. That will teach her not to tweet the kind of stuff that I don’t like.”

What’s going through the brain of your fifty followers: first, technically, forty are porn spammers. The other ten are thinking: “If you don’t like how someone tweets, just unfollow her. Is this iCarly or Twitter?”

Think of Twitter as television: if you don’t like what’s playing, change the channel. There’s no upside to making a grandiose play for attention because few people care why you did it and even fewer are willing to change if they did know. If anything, you may cause more people to follow the person you unfollowed—and that may piss you off even more.

3. Don’t ask people why they unfollowed you
. When, not if, people unfollow you, don’t start feeling jilted. People have the right to use Twitter as they see fit, and the most likely reasons for unfollowing you is that your tweets suck or they got too busy too read so many tweets. So be it—tweet better stuff and get on with your life.

4. Don’t constantly tweet mundane updates and babble.
Unfortunately, Twitter contributes this problem when it suggests that you answer the question, “What are you doing?” You should answer the question, “What interests you?” Think “inform” not “meform.”

If you are an incredibly famous person, this rule doesn’t apply. For example, if  @lancearmstrong tweeted that someone stole his bike in France or @therealshaq bought a Prius, that’s interesting. Just make sure you’re incredibly famous. If you’re reading my blog, you’re probably not incredibly famous, though.

5. Don’t use a small picture for an avatar. When people click on your avatar, do they get a nice, in-focus picture? Or is it an out-of-focus, pixelated, and red-eyed calamity? Your avatar is the window into your soul, so for crying out loud use a decent picture, minimum size: 400 x 300 pixels.

6. Don’t use an avatar that makes you look too hot. If you do, people will think you’re a porn account or a gigolo. If you have a deep psychological need to bare your body, migrate over to Hot or Not. An example of a very good avatar is @thebloggess. You can tell that she is one funny woman and is worth following just by looking at her avatar.

7. Don’t go crazy with hashtags. A hashtag looks like this: “SXSW09.” It’s a string of text that people add to their tweets so that others can readily find tweets about a subject such as the South By Southwest conference. Clueless people, however, invent silly hashtags that they think others will adopt or piss someone off—for example, “#guytweetstoomuch.” Get real. Save hashtags for important subjects that at least dozens of people will use.

8. Don’t use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. All-caps tweets are just like all-caps emails: it looks like you’re yelling. If you have something important to say, just say it—you don’t need to spray it.

9. Don’t use long links. Twitter has a 140-character limit. This doesn’t mean you should use it all up by not shortening your links. Like email and PowerPoint, less is more on Twitter, so shorten your links. It will mean more people will read your tweets and then retweet them to their followers. FYI, Tweetdeck is a Twitter client that automatically shortens your links if you’re looking for an easy way to do this.

I digress, but have you ever wondered why websites make 500-character links but URL-shortening services can create unique links with only five to ten characters? Why don’t websites just make short links so that URL-shortening services aren’t necessary?

10. Don’t call yourself a “guru” or an “expert.” Let your tweets enable people to reach the conclusion that you know your stuff. A “clever” screen name like “TotallyawesomeSEOguru” or a profile that states you’re a guru makes you look clueless. Allow me a hockey analogy: A name with terms like “guru” or “expert” is like wearing a jersey with the number 99 because you think that you’re the next Wayne Gretsky. You’re not.

11. Don’t send out automated “welcome” direct messages. People who follow you will resent this message, and it’s certainly a bad first contact. And while you’re at it, don’t add people who have followed you to your Mafia family; you may think this is cute, engaging, and social. It’s not. It’s clueless.

By the way, if you are following people who send you such detritus, you can use SocialToo to automatically delete these messages and unfollow the person. (Disclosure: I am an advisor to SocialToo.)

Generally, if you’re wondering if you’re about to do something clueless, just don’t do it. This is because people might not know that you’re clueless, but if you do these things, you’ll remove all doubt. However, the last rule, and the most important, is this: Don’t be afraid to break these rules. Like I said, there is no right and wrong on Twitter. There’s only what works for you and what doesn’t.

Thanks to @neenz@anniecolbert, and @jessestay for contributions to this piece. I’m not telling you which which ones they suggested because you might unfollow them and tell your fifty followers

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