Social Media for Activists: My Top 10 Twitter Dos and Don’ts

[cc image courtesy of elkekarin]

Activists create some of the most important content in social media, but that doesn’t mean that we get to bypass etiquette. Even if the world was going to end next week and people needed to know, it would be terribly counterproductive to get all spammy about it! My approach focuses on value, authenticity, and community building; with that in mind, here are some Twitter no-nos to look out for.

  1. Don’t:Send links directly to Twitter users by using @ mentions. No matter how important your message or cause is, you won’t be able to get the word out if you get flagged for spam—and you will if you do this.Do:

    Build up a following by being authentic and sincere, and providing tweets people really want to see. Once you’ve gained people’s trust, you won’t need to send them anything directly, as they’ll be more than eager to check your feed for the best information and links. 

  2. Don’t:Send automated direct messages to new followers, especially ones that contain a link to your website. These send a very strong message to people that you’re only there to get the numbers and aren’t interested in being a genuine part of the conversation. Many people will even immediately unfollow you.Do:

    Keep your website link in your Twitter bio, and know that people will want to visit if you consistently provide valuable information and interesting tweets. Acknowledge sincere new followers by following them back—if it’s obvious that they are just trying to get followbacks and aren’t interested in your content, you can just ignore them. If you can’t determine their sincerity by looking at their bio, look at their last few tweets as well. 

  3. Don’t:Set up an automated system to send out the same tweet over and over again.  I’ve seen Twitter users send the same exact tweet every day, hoping people will eventually click their link if they see it enough times. If you don’t care enough to create original, engaging content every day and are just throwing stuff at the wall so something will stick, your followers will be able to tell. They won’t be your followers for very long.Do:

    Remember that social media audiences reward what you put in. Create great content, compose great tweets, and your followers will hang on your every word. It’s OK to send out the same article again if it’s been awhile and you’ve added many new followers; or you can send out the same inspirational quote if it’s been a month and it bears repeating. If you do this, use your judgment about when and how—which is something an automated repeater can’t do. 

  4. Don’t:Load your tweets with hashtags. Too many hashtags make tweets difficult to read, and people will tune them out. Hashtag spamming also tells your followers that you’re more interested in getting new followers to boost your numbers than providing good content for the audience you already have.Do:

    Use hashtags sparingly. One or two hashtags in a tweet are OK, and you can even stick a # sign on the front of one of the words in a sentence if it’s a good keyword. Just make sure the tweet is still readable. Look at your tweet and ask yourself:  Would I want that tweet to appear in my feed? Would I read it and retweet it, or would I just pass it by? 

  5. Don’t:Bogart your followers’ feeds. Too many tweets is never a good thing and makes you look like you can’t bear not being the center of attention. Are you providing value or just playing a numbers game?Do: Use a scheduler such as HootSuite to space your tweets evenly throughout the day so you can be part of the  conversation instead of monopolizing it. If your tweet contains a link, make sure you leave enough time for people to view the content and other tweets in their feed before you send out something else. I allow an hour after link tweets as a rule of thumb.


  6. Don’t:Set up automatic posting to Twitter from other sites without considering the timing of these posts, how they will look on Twitter, or if you will be duplicating content. If you send out a link to your blog directly from Twitter, then users see the same content auto-posting from Facebook and Google+, they’re going to be annoyed with you. There is also no way to time these posts so that they don’t come too close on the heels of your other tweets—other than planning to make the posts at a specific time, which can be difficult.Do:

    Use automatic posting from other social networks as a way to get traffic to those profiles, but compose the content while keeping in mind how it will look when it hits your Twitter stream. Make sure that the same content is only posted once and not too close in timing to other tweets. 

  7. Don’t:Promote only your own content. Not only will your followers get annoyed with constant self(ish) promotion, you’ll be missing valuable opportunities to reach out to other Twitter users by sharing their content.Do:

    Tweet and retweet news and blogs from other sites and mention their Twitter usersnames to credit them. Your followers will appreciate the variety of content. Every time you mention or retweet another Twitter user,  not only is it a favor to them, it’s an invitation to take a look at the value you’re creating on Twitter–and maybe even on your website. 

  8. Don’t:Beg for retweets. This says: “I know my content isn’t good enough to earn retweets” or even “I don’t have the patience to build trust and let people retweet me because they want to”.Do:

    Put in the time and effort. Compose tweets that are so good people instantly hit retweet, and you will build an army of retweeters pretty quickly. Asking for retweets might be OK in certain situations, such as an urgent petition against a law on the Senate floor or pleas for disaster relief supplies, but you should still build trust and a loyal following before you initiate something like this yourself. 

  9. Don’t:Make tweets that are too short or too long to make sense. Tweets that are just a few words long can look sloppy and lazy, especially if there is a link involved—and it seems there usually is. Tweets that are so long that you have to abbreviate words or use improper grammar aren’t easy to read and will probably be passed over.Do:

    Compose thoughtful tweets that tell your followers why they should click on a link. Many article and blog titles are short enough to use as a tweet, but that doesn’t mean it will make your followers want to click through. You have 140 characters—use them. Be creative. You can say a lot in a few characters, and with proper spelling and grammar to boot. 

  10. Don’t:Send out your Klout score, how many people you unfollowed with ManageFlitter, commercial offers, or any other garbage tweets some sites will try to pressure you into annoying your followers with. Unless you’re an internet marketer with a following that likes that sort of thing, it’s not why people followed you and they’re going to dump you for it.Do:

    Be yourself! Talk sincerely, providing information, discussion, and inspiration on the issues you and your followers care about. That’s why you’re on Twitter in the first place!

There are no shortcuts to building trust and a devoted social media community around your cause or organizational brand. A good rule of thumb: if you see something that annoys you, it will probably annoy your followers too, so don’t do it!