Being a Better Tweeter

I have been using Twitter continually for about three years now. I'm not sure of the exact date, or my first tweet, because Twitter still hasn't given me the option to download my entire archive yet, though every time I check, the "Deactivate my account" option stares back at me from the bottom of the Settings page, where the archive option is supposed to appear someday. It taunts me, that deactivation option, because like all good things, Twitter occasionally makes me sick. There are days when I love it, and days when I can't stand it. There are days when I can't stand myself as a tweeter. To paraphrase a misogynist saying, show me a beautiful social network and I'll show you a guy who's tired of checking his @replies.

The problem is that I need to use Twitter. I don't just mean I have a psychological need, though I probably do. I mean that an important part of my job takes place on Twitter. I joined Twitter to keep up with technology news and information, and to make sure I was hearing the conversation that people were having. It's important to be up-to-date and relevant, and without Twitter that's nearly impossible.

If you're not a Twitter user, or if you haven't integrated Twitter into your professional life, you probably think I'm a crazy loser. An explanation of Twitter to a layperson pales in comparison to the experience of Twitter. Rather than meditate on my addiction, however, I thought I would use this space to suggest some ways I'm going to change my Twitter habits to make the service more palatable.

These are my pet peeves of social networking, but I'm not going to make this a gripe column where I call out my friends for annoying me. These are mistakes I have personally made, and I'm only going to focus on changing my own behavior. As always, if everyone simply followed my example and could abide by my rules, the world would be a better place, but for now I'll just concentrate on me.

1. Stop complaining

I'm going to stop griping on Twitter. It's so easy to make Twitter a sounding board for all of the petty annoyances in my life. I already have a rule in place that I never complain about travel. Travel sucks. Hotels suck. Airports are horrible places filled with stinky people whose habits and transgressions are completely unforgivable and worthy of report. Airplanes are cramped tubes of farts and knees and trash and screaming wet things that punch you in the back interminably for hours on end. It's all horrible. So I don't complain. I just tell you where I'm going, and you can assume it was a nightmare getting from point AMS to point BWI.

Travel is only one thing I complain about, though. I also complain about bad customer service. I complain about stupid, poorly researched stories that lack the omniscient perspective of the mobile technology industry that only I seem to possess. I complain about Republicans, right-wingers, gun nuts, and anyone who disagrees with the way I want everybody to live their lives.

I haven't done the research, but I think I complain a lot. So, now I'm going to try to stop. I can't imagine it makes for interesting tweeting. I know that I can't stand when people complain on Twitter, unless I can completely empathize with their complaint, but even then complaining only serves to make me relive some horrible incident. No more complaining, and that alone would probably make my Twitter a much nicer place.

2. Stop tweeting the obvious

Raise your hand if you wanted to kill yourself on 12/12/12. Good, because I probably wanted to kill most of you, too. After the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, I'm guessing that 12:12 PM on December 12th of last year was the most tweeted moment in Twitter's history, at least if my feed is any guide. It was insufferable.

I have a rule about sharing YouTube videos. If a video has more than 1,000,000 views, I'm assuming most people I could show it to have already seen it, so I don't bother sharing. At least I don't expect that I'm exposing you to something new if I share such a video. The same should apply to tweets. If I can guess that a million people know something, I don't have to tweet it. I'm not on Twitter to report the news. I'm especially not on Twitter to report about natural disasters, or human disasters, or to be the first to spread some general information around.

[aquote]I guess the Mayans were right[/aquote]

I'm also going to avoid making the obvious joke. Hey look, Honey Boo Boo got renewed for another season. I GUESS THE MAYANS WERE RIGHT!! Oh my, it's snowing here in Texas. SO MUCH FOR YOUR GLOBAL WARMING, AL GORE!! Nickelback is releasing a new album. I GUESS THE MAYANS WERE R... oh, I already used that one. If I had a dime for every stupid Mayan calendar joke I read on Twitter, I'd throw them all at your face for making stupid Mayan calendar jokes.

3. Stop retweeting compliments about myself

It's rare, but every once in a while someone says something nice about me on Twitter. I'm somewhat irascible and prissy, so it's quite unlikely, but every now and then I'll get a new reader who doesn't know me well enough to know I don't deserve a compliment. Sometimes I'll say something funny. Once, I got a #FF follow friday tweet with my handle in it.

I probably retweeted most of those things. Then I realized how I feel when I read similar retweets from my friends and folks I follow. I think they must be lonely, desperate shmucks to have to brag about themselves that way. It's worse than a humble brag. I can handle a humble brag. I actually think humble bragging is kind of nice. I like hearing about my friends and their accomplishments. Humble bragging is a way of saying "hey, I did something kind of cool that I want to tell you about, but I don't want to seem pompous." It's taking a step toward the edge of the stage during an ovation, then taking a big step back to stand with the rest of the cast for the final bow.

Retweeting your own compliments, however, feels different. It's complimenting yourself in someone else's voice. It's tricking someone into making an advertisement for your talents.

There is a big exception to this rule. When the person complimenting you is so famous and popular that their compliment is more interesting than your achievement, feel free to retweet. If you write a book, and Stephen King tweets about how much he liked it, please retweet. If you volunteer at a soup kitchen, and Mayor Cory Booker mentions your heroic efforts in his feed, please let me know. That's cool, and I wouldn't want to miss that sort of thing. But if you have 15,000 readers and someone with 28 followers tells you how much they liked that stupid photo you took of your cat on a cheeseburger at sunset, you're wasting my time.

4. Cut my Twitter time in half

[aquote]I don't need to know every time someone mentions my name[/aquote]

Here's the toughest one. I'm going to try to stay on Twitter less. I'm going to check my feed less often. I'm turning off notifications for mentions and retweets. Direct Messages are more like email, and some people prefer to contact me via Twitter, so they still bubble up to priority status; but I don't need to know every time someone mentions my name. I obsessively check Twitter dozens, if not hundreds of times a day, flicking between the news feed and the @replies column, looking for a reaction, a connection, a personal public message. That needs to stop.

I thought about instituting an odd/even policy on Twitter. I'd only check Twitter during hours that begin with even numbers. That seems silly and complicated. I would never remember to check the time before I check Twitter. I don't make resolutions that I know will fail, so I'm not holding myself to that standard, but it will sit in the back of my mind so that I will force myself to be a bit more aware of the time I spend refreshing my social feed.

5. Do not hold others accountable to these rules

Strangely, one of my biggest pet peeves on Twitter is when people complain about another person's tweets. This is especially true when there is some massive event that captures the public's attention, for better and for worse. After a violent incident, there is both an outpouring of emotion and hand-wringing and grief, as well as a negative response to that outpouring. Half of my feed is crying out "Why is this so?" while the other half rebutts with "What are you going to do about it?"

This is an off-shoot of rule #1, No complaining, but it deserves a special mention. Let people act naturally on Twitter. They will be tedious and boring. They will say the obvious and complain. They will make empty promises, empty threats. Eventually, they might surprise you. If they aren't worth sifting through all the chaff to get to the wheat, unfollow them. I just culled 100 people from my Twitter following list, and all of a sudden I'm happier with my Twitter feed.

I don't expect everyone to follow these guidelines, but I'm going to make a personal effort, and hopefully I'll produce a better, more compelling feed. The true secret to Twitter is that the people you want to follow the most are usually the ones who say the least.