Twitter for adults or smart people

Fail whale

The consistently talented Derek Powazek wrote a great guide for Twitter called Twitter for Adults. If you don’t know Derek, you should get to know him. For me, his book Design for Communities isn’t just the best on the subject of community, its also the reason why/how I got to know my ex-wife Sarah. So real life changing stuff, but back to twitter… here’s the outline.

Participate Publicly but Carefully

  1. Turn off New Follower Emails – I turned off the emails that tell me who started following me from the get-go. They just made me worry too much. “Who is that? Should I follow them? Why are they following me?” Instant writer’s block.
  2. Ignore your follower count – The number goes up, the number goes down. Who cares? Your follower number has no bearing on your self-worth, but when it goes down, you can’t help but feel bad. Make a conscious decision to ignore it.
  3. Interact judiciously – Follow people who seem interesting, stop following anyone who’s not. You don’t have to follow everyone you know – that’s what Facebook is for. Check your @Mentions, but remember that you don’t have to reply when someone talks at you. Block anyone who bothers you. Remember that you are solely responsible for where you point your attention. If what you see upsets you, direct your attention somewhere else.
  4. Turn off retweets when necessary – Just because you enjoy following someone’s tweets doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy everything they retweet. Unfortunately, you can’t turn retweets off altogether (aside to Twitter: please?), but you can disable retweets from individual members by going to their profile page and de-greening the retweet icon.
  5. Remember where you are – Any thought worth thinking takes more than 140 characters to write. Twitter is useful for a great many things, but nuanced discussion of important topics is not one of them. Twitter is like shouting over the band in a bar. You can do it, but you have to keep it short: “I love this song!” Don’t get baited into a back-and-forth with a stranger. The immediate, short nature of Twitter is good at amping up disagreement, and bad at reaching understanding.

Before that, there is a divide between being very hidden (Curate Your Follower List) and being public (Participate Publicly but Carefully). I personally feel like twitter is a very public place and trying to hide anything is a waste of time. If you want to be private go elsewhere, all it takes is one person to retweet what you said and your cover is blown. Its not even people being malicious, for example my Windows Mobile twitter app wouldn’t discriminate between Private and Public tweets. So when you retweet a message, there was no way of knowing.

Right with that out the way, what about the public way.

I’ve come to the realization that I’m a very public person. My blog, my tweets, my etc, etc… I don’t quite know how this happened it just did. Don’t get me wrong, I like my private time too but generally I’m not bothered who knows certain things about me. The perfect example is the caringbridge site which was setup by my family and ex-wife to inform people of what was going on with me when I had #mybrushwithdeath.

So being a public person, I would say a lot of what Derek suggests are almost no brainers.

Although I’m very public, I am careful what I write (its the internet stupid). I don’t care who follows me, hopefully they find what I write interesting but I won’t pander to popularity. In actual fact, its what I do generally in life. I almost never pander to peer pressure, I kind of lap it up and tend to do the opposite. How I got to almost 2500 followers I still don’t quite know. I also still get people moaning at me because I don’t follow them. I only follow people who have interesting things to say.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.