My Twitter Rulebook

I’ve been using Twitter for a little over a year now. During that time, I’ve developed a few internal rules that help me use the system to my best advantage. These rules stem from three guiding principles:

  • Trust Your Friends
  • Time Is Precious
  • Ideas Need Exposure

In the following article I’ll discuss the guiding principles and then I’ll talk about the rules that help me stick to the principles.

But First: Who I’m Not

I’m not an entrepreneur (or serial entrepreneur as some people like to style themselves). I’m not a social media junkie. I don’t have a product or service to promote over Twitter. I’m not trying to reach millions of people. I’m just an individual who is trying to make Twitter a useful part of his life. If you are any of the above, this article may not be for you. Then again, you’ll never know if you don’t read on. 🙂

Guiding Principles

Trust Your Friends

Because if you can’t trust your friends, they’re not your friends. What I mean is that I could choose to get advice from and follow just about anybody. But I’d rather see the advice that my friends have already tested and vetted for me. This only works if I trust them, and that trust has to be earned.

Time Is Precious

I work a full time office job, and I have a wife and two kids who need me, and I have countless other responsibilities and interests. I don’t have time to spend all day staring at Twitter, even if I was using the best Twitter client. I want to see only those things that are important to me. For what it’s worth, the Twitter clients I use are the Twitter-provided web-based client when I’m on a desktop, and Tweetie when I’m using my iPod Touch. Sure, other, more complicated clients may help me manage a much larger list of friends and searches, but I still wouldn’t have time to do anything meaningful with it.

Ideas Need Exposure

People’s ideas need exposure. If you’ve thought of a great idea, the next step is to get feedback on it. Positive and negative feedback are both helpful, assuming you have the fortitude not to take things too personally. Not only is it important to get exposure for your own ideas, but its important to be exposed to the ideas of others. They serve to help reinforce where you stand on issues, as well as to open your mind to new ideas you haven’t even considered.

How I decide who to follow

Given the above principles, I tend to be choosy about who I follow. If you’re on Twitter, I give you a base score of -5. If your final score is greater than zero, I’ll probably follow you. If it’s lower than zero, I probably wont follow you. So essentially, you have to dig your way out of a hole. Here’s how I figure out the points:

+1 point for any of these:

  • being located near me
  • having met me in person
  • posting interesting, original thoughts
  • posting links or information that directly help me accomplish my goals

+2 points for any of these:

  • having attended my alma mater
  • being a current or former co-worker
  • providing a helpful response to one of my questions

+3 points for any of these:

  • being an off-line friend
  • being a family member
  • being a company or representative of a company whose products or services I actively use

-1 point for any of these:

  • frequent swearing in your Twitter stream
  • more complaints Tweeted than anything else
  • re-Tweeting more than a couple times per day
  • more Tweets per day than there are hours in a day (that is, Tweets that I see: I don’t see @replies to people I don’t follow)
  • live-Tweeting an event that I don’t care about

Well, actually…

In reality, these points don’t exist. This is just an attempt to give some shape to the largely subjective process I go through when deciding who to follow. And if you’re trying to win me over as one of your followers, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Only 137 have succeeded.

How I decide what to Tweet

One of the first things I think about is, “Who is my intended audience?” This determines many things, including the content and style of my Tweet. I usually shoot for one or more of the following audiences:

  • my family and friends: they’re interested in news about me, pics of the kids, etc.
  • inhabitants of my local area: they may be interested to hear about my plans and activities in the area, reviews of restaurants, etc. They may also be able to help if I am looking for something in the area.
  • people in my areas of expertise: web developers, photographers, parents. They may like to hear my thoughts and ideas on these subjects, and they may be able to help me if I have queries of my own.

The next thing I think about is, “What do I have to say?”

For example, I might have just been listening to a song and encountered some lyrics that are particularly meaningful to me. I want my friends to read them, in the hopes that they’ll get some meaning of their own from the lyrics. I might also discover that one of my friends enjoys the same artist, giving us more to talk about down the road.

Another example: I’m headed out to dinner at such and such a restaurant. I want people in the local area to know about restaurants that I like. I also want to know if they’ve had a bad experience, or if they know of an even better restaurant, or a new dish I should try at the restaurant.

Sometimes I find an interesting article or website, and I want my friends to know about it. So I post the link to my Twitter stream, with my own commentary. Since I assume that my friends trust me in the same way that I trust them, I feel that I’m doing them a service by providing a pre-filtered link to content I think they might find interesting. I do also post quite a few links on Delicious, and I try to be descriminating in what I post on Twitter, although sometimes I worry that not all of my friends are aware of or subscribed to my Delicious stream (go there now!).

One more example: Say I’m having issues with a particular piece of code that I’m writing (of course, since I’m awesome, I never have issues with code, so that’s besides the point. RIGHT!). I happen to know that several of my followers are experts in this particular language, so I send out a Tweet, and get a response back with a great solution.

Finally, one thing to note is that I have set up an application to post from Twitter to Facebook. So when I consider what to Tweet, I also consider that it will go not just to my 181 Twitter followers, but also my 222 Facebook friends. That’s 403 people… a big responsibility!

The bird is the word

I hope that my Tweets are enjoyable for everyone, and I hope that all of our blog readers are reading our Tweets as well. You can find mine at, and Rebecca’s at

I will leave you with a conversation between me and Catherine:

  • Catherine: Papaaaaaaaaaaaa! I have a question for you!
  • Papa: What’s your question?
  • Catherine: How birds talk?
  • Papa: I don’t know, how do they talk?
  • Catherine: TWEET TWEET TWEET!

One thought on “My Twitter Rulebook

  1. Bethany Joy Lange

    I like this entry. I don’t “twit” and probably won’t, but I hear you and can translate this into how I view other things, even Facebook. Thanks. And I especially love the C story at the end. You are one of my favorite families. Ever.


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