Social Networking News - by on Wednesday, November 19, 2008 15:57 - 11 Comments

What not to do on Twitter

This post could also be titled, “how to lose followers.”

Sarah Evans over at Mashable has an excellent post about what not to do on Twitter if you want to build a community. Ostensibly her post is also about what to avoid if you want to keep the followers you already have. 

I’m going to highlight a few of her best points and add some of my thoughts on the subject.

Don’t get caught up in the COUNT; get caught up in the CONTENT!
My biggest pet peeve on Twitter is when people ask for more followers. I don’t think anyone has malicious intents, but it doesn’t make any sense to me. You get more followers because you provide great content, are entertaining or someone likes you.

This is an excellent point. People ultimately follow you on Twitter because you provide value. It’s the same reason someone goes to a Web site or buys a newspaper. People are ultimately looking for something that adds to their lives and provides them with new information.

An RSS feed of your paper’s stories does not provide value. That’s what RSS is for. If you’re going to link to your paper’s content, follow the @ColonelTribune model of linking to interesting stories.

@ColonelTribune works because he is a currator of content. He finds the best Chicago Tribune content and tells you why he thinks it’s worth checking out. But he also links to good content from competitors, blogs and other Web sites.

@ColonelTribune is a guide to what’s interesting in Chicago. If he was just a glorified RSS feed like many newspapers have chosen to do, no one would bother following him. If you want more followers provide more value.

Don’t install the Twitter application on Facebook if you send more than 10 tweets per day
You will seriously start to confuse your network…or worse, annoy them. If you’re like me, my networks are separate. Not all of my Facebook friends are on Twitter, or plan to be. When I use “Twitter lingo” it confuses them.

I learned this lesson from a personal mistake. I did have a Twitter feed updating my Facebook account until a few very nice friends “encouraged” me to stop it (one was my sister!).

I used to do this and it bothered some of my Facebook friends. The Facebook status message is meant to be changed a few times a day at most. Sometimes I Tweet more than 20 times in one day. Peoples’ news feeds were filled with my Tweets, and most of these people weren’t even following me on Twitter.

If you’re going to use Twitter for business purposes do not replicate your tweets on Facebook. It will come back to haunt you. In fact, almost everyone should avoid doing this.

Don’t use up your entire 140 characters with a lengthy URL
Use applications like TinyURL or Snipurl. They automatically shorten your URL and can offer link customization. 

It’s better to spend your tweets providing people with information than long URLs. A tiny url will allow you to spend more time telling people why they should click on your link. Which brings up another point.

People usually don’t randomly click on links. You have to sell people on why they should click on your links.

People follow you for a reason

This is my original point to add to the conversation. Always keep in mind that a person follows you for a specific reason. When you start tweeting about things that people didn’t follow you for, people stop following.

For instance, people follow me for my views on journalism (online journalism in particular), blogging, Web development related to journalism, PR and social media. People don’t mind when I tweet about my life. It adds humanity to my online presence.

But generally people do not like when I tweet about subjects outside of my expertise. That expertise is why people follow me in the first place. I may have a political science degree and be well read, but people tend to unfollow me when I talk about world issues and politics.

Why? Because people choose to follow me for what I do for a living, not for my personal views on other issues. And can you blame people?

If The Economist was suddenly filled with US Weekly content, I’d imagine quite a few people would unsubscribe. So, if you’re a technology beat blogger, people may not want to hear your thoughts on the Middle East.

There is a direct — and somewhat stunning — correlation between my tweets’ content and my follower count. My count steadily rises when I just tweet about the subjects I know well. When I tweet about politics, my count is very volatile. 

I may even get followers because of my thoughts, but I also lose others. Some may not agree with what I tweet (I tend to upset people by disagreeing with both parties on a regular basis), while others may be unhappy that I’m tweeting about topics that aren’t my expertise. People ultimately follow me for a reason.

I have to keep reminding myself of that. People don’t come to BeatBlogging.Org for NBA news. Always remember why people like your content in the first place.

Evans has several other good points that are worth considering. Click here to read her full post. 

And remember, sometimes what you don’t do on Twitter is more important than what you do on Twitter.

Note: @jiconoclast is my personal Twitter account, while @beatblogging is the Twitter account I run for BeatBlogging.Org.

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  • Share Ross

    Yes I agree. It’s about the content and being consistent about who you are and why you’re there! I post a lot about raw foods and options trading. However, I do not post about what television show I’m about to watch even though.. Twitter asks, “What are you doing?”

    I find it is more conclusive to converse with people about subjects that are of broader interest to my end result which is to promote raw foods and help people get into options trading.

    Also, it’s important to stay positive. The folks who post negative or complaining tweets are losing followers. It’s just unnecessary!

  • pat


    I think a lot of people sometimes forgot what brought them to where they are in the first place. Heck, I even sometimes have to remind myself as to why people follow me. I’m even thinking of putting some Post-Its on my monitor to keep myself in line.

    I think the whole question, “What are you doing?” is a bit outdated. Maybe that’s what Twitter once was, but it’s changed so much now.

    Good point about staying positive. In general, people like to be around positive people. Although in my industry, staying positive is hard to do.

  • Jill

    Since I work at home, I kind of view the people I Twitter with as my office mates. I’ll have conversations with them. I’ll post interesting links, just like I’d e-mail a co-worker, and I try to get to know people and keep up on news.

  • Chucklyn

    Excellent article, thanks!

    Regarding your point about twitter and Facebook, I have found that, for me, the best way to easily update both at the same time is to ensure that both accounts are cell-phone enabled.

    This way, you can send a single 140-character text message to both twitter and facebook and update both at the same time!

    Further, when you tweet / update this way, it is much simpler to realize when you are using tweet-speak that does not apply to facebook.

    i.e. Thanks to @JessiO for retweeting a link to this article!

    Happy tweeting everyone!

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  • Colonel Tribune

    Thanks for the mention, Patrick.

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  • 2caleb

    The Facebook status update used to be a bigger problem. Now it doesnt update your status with Replies, so at least it moderates it a little bit.

  • Shanmuharajan

    “People follow you for a reason” – Yes…that is perfect. @techedots

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About was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.

About the Author of this post
Patrick Thornton is the editor and lead writer of BeatBlogging.Org. He is @pwthornton on Twitter.