Twitter: Bro, you’re doing it wrong


My dad refuses to use Twitter.

My dad doesn’t get Twitter.  In light of Twitter’s move to an IPO, we had a long conversation over breakfast this morning about how he thinks it’s a waste of time. Apparently he listened to a crotchety reporter on NPR talk about how trivial Twitter is as a form of social media.  I couldn’t find the actual sound bite online, but the backbone of the argument seemed grounded on the reporter’s own Twitter stream. He was sick of reading the unimportant, random thoughts of the people he was following. My dad was convinced that this was a reflection of Twitter as a whole: a useless and infinite website created for egocentric people to spew out random thoughts.

So naturally I had to say, “Bro, you’re doing it wrong.” I’ve been using Twitter for over a year now, which means that I’ve been using Twitter correctly for about six months. I discount the first half-year Twitter and I spent together because, like this NPR reporter, I just did it wrong.

Now I guess I need to explain how I think that you can possibly “do Twitter wrong.” Put simply, there’s an etiquette that comes with the site. You can be an active participant or you can be the equivalent of deadweight on the site. You can participate in relevant conversations, or you can spam your followers with RTs. Here are five ways in which I found myself breaking that etiquette in the first few months of my relationship with Twitter.


 5. No one cares about what I’m eating.

Literally no one cares. I’m really sorry that it took me so long to realize this. I’m sorry I rubbed in every delicious burger from Mr. Bartley’s.  I’m sorry I felt the need to tweet pictures of artistically piled froyo. This probably tainted my Twitter relationship with many a follower. I’ve learned the errors of my ways, I swear.


4. Retweeting only got me so far.







For a while I went through a retweeting obsession. Instead of composing original thoughts I just glommed on to the success of others and regurgitated material from comedians or friends. Eventually I realized that if I wasn’t going to contribute on Twitter I was essentially deadweight on the site.


3. Hashtags are scary, and I avoided them at all costs.

But without hashtags it’s easy to see why some people see Twitter as a pointless running diary. Probably the coolest feature on Twitter is the ability to have a discussion with complete strangers on “trending” topics.  That level of connection is amazing—while some people may only use trending topics to talk about #MileyCyrus, others are busy discussing Syria and sharing breaking news on a common platform.


2. Private accounts are silly.












My account was private for about three months. I was never retweeted. I couldn’t actually participate in hashtag discussions. Twitter was extremely superficial on that level, because you block your own access to the conversation.


1. Only following my friends was boring.

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As a twenty year-old with limited life experience, I am not that interesting on Twitter. I am acutely aware of this fact. Most of my friends aren’t that interesting on Twitter either. On the other hand, @digg, @VICE, @Forbes, @nytimes, @CNN and lots of other news outlets ARE super interesting on Twitter.  It took me about nine months to come to the sad realization that I wasn’t following a single relevant news source. There was nothing on my stream that linked to articles, or even gave me breaking news updates. So, as I told my dad, if the NPR reporter was really that dissatisfied with his Twitter stream, he’s probably following the wrong people.


  1. Hi Emily – your blog post was really funny & witty. I am a Twitter newbie (I only created the account for the purpose of this class), so your Twitter etiquette tips & insight are immensely helpful. In particular, I am a fan of #5 and a supporter of that tip for FB too. I support trying ti use Twitter as a dialogue and news source rather than a “personal diary” as you say. Also, fun fact, I was confused what the letters “RT” meant until now.

    I also just had a conversation with my Dad on Friday who also thinks Twitter is a useless tool, but I tried explaining to him how helpful it can be if you follow the right people and companies. I, personally, am a recovering Twitter hater but am finally starting to see the light. I am curious though, what made you start reconsidering your strategy 6 months in, or was it just a learning process? I hope you tweet this post because I think much of the Twittersphere would benefit from your commentary.

  2. Hi Emily- I found your blog post very humorous and refreshing. I thought your five “how to” use Twitter tips were very accurate and spelled out in a very entertaining way. However, I would possibly contradict statement #2: private accounts are silly. In a college atmosphere where employers are constantly looking up information on you, is it that silly to keep your personal life separate from your work life by monitoring those who follow you? Just a thought, although I understand it does limit Twitter’s abilities.

    Also Kathryn, in response to your question, I think Twitter is a learning process that comes with time. The more you familiarize yourself with it, the better you will get.

  3. Emily – I really enjoyed your post! And I must admit that I probably retweet more than I should (and now I will start paying more attention to what/when I do retweet!)

    Margo – I would have to argue that private Twitter accounts are even more silly in a college environment! Twitter can be an awesome tool for college students to show what their passions/interests are and demonstrate that they are keeping up to date with what’s going on in their desired career industry. Twitter is a much less personal network than FB (which obviously should be kept private) and should be used in a less personal way. For example, it is a great networking tool; I have connected with people on Twitter that later spoke at campus events and I could have never engaged with them without the forum. Rather than monitoring who follows them on Twitter, college students should be using Twitter to their advantage and monitor what they post instead.

  4. It is crazy that in just 140 characters you can break all sorts of unwritten rules. As the 2009 Twitter video showed last week, Twitter and its followers have definitely evolved a lot and will definitely continue to do so in the future. I think we all had that six month trial period with Twitter and our other accounts where we tried to figure out what the purpose of the platform was and how we could best incorporate it into our lives. But, I also don’t think that trial period ever really ends. As more and more people join a platform they force it to evolve, they think of new ways to use it, and influence others to do the same. Therefore, we are constantly learning from each other and changing ourselves and the platform itself. It will be interesting to see what other etiquette rules will develop in the future!

  5. Hey Em, first of all I’m going to say if you aren’t hash-tagging you aren’t living #getwiththeprogram. But on a more serious note, I completely understand how difficult it can be explaining social media, in particular Twitter, to my parents. They understand the general concept, but then when my sister and I try and explain hashtags we completely lose them. “It’s a tagging system to group together similar tweets, but sometimes they are just funny and aren’t used for grouping….” Anyways I totally agree with you when it comes to the private accounts. It really detracts from the social climate of Twitter that I have come to love so much. Heck, it even helped me land an internship! If you don’t feel as though your thoughts are appropriate enough for a public Twitter there is always the option of making a Twitter under an assumed name, which allows you even more freedom (I would think) than even a public Twitter under your own name. Loved the format of this post, keep it up!

  6. Hi Emily,

    Great post! Loved that you kept it funny and loved the picture. I agree that too many people tweet about food (that’s what Instagram is for)…I know I used to occasionally. And song lyrics…the most pointless tweets ever! Haha. I also agree that the whole point of having a Twitter account, a social account, is to make it public and to connect with people other than those few people that you know. Otherwise, just texting will suffice. Twitter should be used for dialogue and sharing what you have to offer!

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