Four tips for effective tweeting

If you were nervous about using Twitter in a professional capacity already, the past month’s headlines about 10,000 tweeters having potentially libelled Conservative peer Lord McAlpine probably won’t have helped your confidence. But tweeting doesn’t have to be the minefield it’s often presented as. Just remember to treat it with the same respect that you would any public communication and you can’t go far wrong, writes Cathy Relf.

Here are four tips that you’d naturally apply to face-to-face or written communication. Apply the same rules to your tweets and you’ll soon find you’re opening up a whole new channel of sector-specific news, networking and chat.

1. Strike a balance

One of the trickier aspects of tweeting in connection with work is that you need to balance being professional with being personable. If everything you tweet is dry, factual and work-related, few people are likely to want to follow you. On the other hand, if you only ever tweet about football and nights out, you’re likely to alienate colleagues and clients with whom you have only profession in common.

The answer is moderation. Of course it’s fine to tweet about both work and football – just make sure there’s a balance. Twitter is an informal space and your followers are hoping to see a little personality, otherwise they’d simply look you up on your company website. They just don’t want to know what you had for breakfast.

Don’t monitor your follower numbers too closely, though, or read too much into losing a few now and then. If your follower count is on a general upward trend, that’s good. But don’t check it more than once a week. It will fluctuate daily and hourly, partly because some people use programs that follow and unfollow accounts on their behalf. Incidentally, we wouldn’t recommend you do this, any more than you’d employ someone to make and dispose of your face-to-face acquaintances.

2. Don’t be a bore

Remember, just like a conversation in the office or the pub, it’s not meant to be a monologue. If people mention you or respond to your tweets, reply to them. If the only thing that responds to your tweets is tumbleweed, resist the urge to just repeat the same tweets again, and instead ask yourself why.

Perhaps you tweeted at a time when people tend not to be looking at Twitter. (There are apps that can help you with this.) Commuting hours and lunchbreaks are often good times to get conversations going. Or perhaps your tweets aren’t reaching many people simply because you don’t have many followers – in which case, try following other people and responding to their tweets. They’re likely to do the same in return. Or perhaps you’re tweeting things that don’t invite a response. Try asking a question to get things going.

In fact, one of the best things about Twitter is that it puts a whole community of communicators at your fingertips, many of whom are willing to share their opinions. It’s a great opportunity for brainstorming and feedback. For example, when I was planning this article, I thought it might be helpful to start by asking people what kind of behaviour they disliked on Twitter. The answers came flooding in (occasionally a little swearily, be warned), and I’ve used Storify to collate them.

3. Keep it wise … and legal

Remember that unless you’ve set your account to ‘protected’ (where only your followers can see your tweets), everything you write is visible to everyone, whether they’re a member of Twitter or not. So it’s not the place to complain about your boss, your colleagues, your clients … or anyone else.

Be as careful with the truth on Twitter as you would when publishing material in any other place. Libel is the publication of matter that is false and defamatory. That includes tweets and RTs, even if you delete them later and even if your account is set to protected.  Earlier this month, lawyers for Lord McAlpine identified more than 10,000 potentially libellous tweets incorrectly linking him with child sex abuse. The fact that the tweets were triggered by a misleading Newsnight report hasn’t prevented Lord McAlpine taking action against some of the tweeters. Nor has the fact that in some cases they made only mysterious observations, rather than direct allegations.

There’s a simple way to stay out of this kind of trouble: never tweet or retweet anything that you’re not one hundred per cent sure is true, especially if it has the potential to damage the reputation of a person or a company.

4. Learn the lingo

You’re probably as keen on LOLs and ROFLs as we are (ie not very), so we’re not going to discuss those here. However, there are a few Twitter-specific abbreviations that you need to know, if you don’t already.

DM – direct message. These can only be seen by the person you’re sending them to. Everything else is visible to everyone. You can only DM someone if they already follow you, and they can only reply if you follow them.

RT – retweet. There are two ways to RT. Either you can click the retweet symbol to replicate the original message exactly, or you can do a manual retweet by copying and pasting the text, preceded by ‘RT @username’. This allows you to add your own comment at the start of the tweet.

MT – modified tweet. Sometimes when you do a manual RT you’ll run out of space and have to cut a little of the original. In this case, write ‘MT @username’ instead.

HT – hat tip. When you want to tweet about something that you found out about via another user, but you don’t want to use their own words, it’s polite to mention them with an HT (or a ‘via’).

#hashtags. These are meant to make searching for subjects easier. So, for example, if you’re tweeting something about Brighton, you might hashtag the word #Brighton. However, people often use them to add witticisms to the end of their tweets. #becausetheythinkitsclever (Incidentally, you can’t use punctuation in a hashtag. Yes, that ‘its’ pained me.)

FF – follow Fridays. On Fridays, some users share their favourite tweeters to encourage others to follow them. It’s a compliment, so it’s polite to thank them. But retweeting it to show off your popularity is a no-no.

In the December issue of the Write Away e-bulletin, we show you five ways that tools and apps can make your tweeting more effective.

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