Okay, so you jumped on the Twitwagon and decided to begin narrating your life in 140-character blocks. That’s great (welcome to the 21st century), and I’m sure your friends are champing at the bit - but that doesn’t mean you can just Kutcher up the Twitterverse and expect to gain fame and fortune.
The great thing about Twitter is that it can be whatever you want it to be - a diary, a marketing platform, or just a way to stay in touch throughout the day. You are late to the party however, so there are certain unwritten rules established within the community (who can be as unforgiving as the rest of the internet). Breaking the rules doesn’t get you penalized in any official way, but it makes you an annoying feed-clog that people will unfollow, fast.
Don't Tweet the Minutiae
Hold the play-by-play. Nobody needs to know that you have a #headache, or you’re drinking a venti latte at #Starbucks, or that you lost your #keys. Your tweets should be interesting to others, so install a filter between your brain and your Twitter finger. Process your thought for a second - if somebody else tweeted this information, would you shrug and move on, or would you retweet it? If it’s the shrug, don’t bother.
Don’t Flood Feeds
Just as bad as tweeting things nobody cares about is the over-tweeter. Nothing will get you unfollowed faster than sending several dozen tweets per day. If you really have that much to say, Twitter isn’t the right platform. Start a blog or at least a Tumblog and use that as a platform for your expositions on the topic of the day. Hey - you could still use Twitter to promote the blog.
Keep the Private Stuff Private
Again, part of this rule falls under the minutiae bit (the TMI sub-clause) - nobody needs to know the details of your tampon usage or just what was in Junior’s diaper this morning. Ever. Unless they’re a doctor, and you’re sitting on the exam table in front of them. There are things though, that although not terribly disturbing, are not really for everyone’s eyes. In these cases, use the Direct Message (DM) feature to send a message to the one person your tweet concerns.
Don’t Steal Thoughts
Occasionally, you will find humor, wit and wisdom on Twitter. Share it with your friends by all means - but give the creator credit. Use the Retweet (RT) function to quote verbatim, or paraphrase and acknowledge the source with a via. While we’re on the subject of credit, if you tweet something you heard somewhere, credit the source with a HT (Hat Tip) to lend credibility (or not) to your statement.
Don’t Just Collect People
Sure, you want to follow your favorite celebrities, and all your friends, and your various Twitter-aware family members, and the strangers who have recognized your brilliance and followed you (that’s only polite, right?), but seriously. If you follow a thousand people, and each of those people tweets only once every day, that’s a thousand tweets in your feed. Every single day.
That’s a part-time job, and you don’t get paid, and most of it is boring. Celebrities and companies who have huge swathes of followers actually hire people whose only job is to keep the Twitter thing going. Lots of those tweets are actually written by some intern, not the actual person. So follow out of genuine interest, not obligation - and don’t feel bad about unfollowing someone who’s proven to be less interesting than your curiosity supposed.
Feeling confident? These are only the very basic rules that keep Twitter from being irritating - there are hundreds of tinier, stickier rules for the various subsets of users. Get your feet wet before you scare yourself off with the rigidity of this supposedly "anything goes" platform. Your followers will let you know when it’s time to hone the focus.