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.
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.