Twitter Tips: The Art of Tweeting

You created your Twitter account and have been finding interesting people to follow. You have been reading others' tweets and getting a sense for what you like and do not like about how others use Twitter. Now it is time to figure out how you will use Twitter.

The first thing to note is that not everyone uses Twitter to interact with others; some people use it almost solely as a system for distributing content. They send their content out on it where it can be seen but have little interest in interacting with others. There isn't anything wrong with this, and it is simple enough to accomplish if that is all you want out of Twitter.

If this is how you plan to use Twitter, it is likely to be worth your while to explore a service that makes it easy to schedule your tweets in advance for distribution. I previously recommended Buffer for this purpose and mentioned how using Followerwonk can make it even more effective. With such a combination, you can make sure that your tweets go out at the times your followers are most likely to see them.

For this post, however, I'll assume that you are more interested in having an interactive experience on Twitter. That means you'll be using Twitter not just to distribute content you've already written but to share things others have written and to share some of your own thoughts with others in the moment.

What Have You Observed So Far?

There are too many ways one can use Twitter to list them all, but the main reason I suggested you start slow was so that you could get a sense for what you like about how some use it. Think about the tweets you have seen that you liked and reflect on what it was about them that you liked. In my humble opinion, some of the most worthwhile things an atheist can do on Twitter include:
  • Sharing a link to something someone else has written that will likely be of interest to other atheists
  • Retweeting something someone else has tweeted that will likely be of interest to other atheists
  • Tweeting one's thoughts on subjects likely to be of interest to other atheists (e.g., skepticism, church-state issues, religion)
  • Reporting local events one has witnessed that are likely to be of interest to others
  • Helping other atheists by answering questions, providing support, etc.
  • Modeling the application of reason and skepticism
As important as it is to get a sense for what you like on Twitter, finding out what you do not like about how some people use it might be even more informative. Have you seen people using Twitter in ways that make you consider leaving it behind? For me, some of the least worthwhile things people do on Twitter include:
  • Live tweeting television shows
  • Tweeting the scores of sporting events, ruining them for those of us unable to watch live
  • Calling people names
  • Picking fights with religious believers
  • Entering one's Twitter account into services that automatically tweet garbage (e.g., that you liked a YouTube video, listened to a song, etc.)
  • Behaving in as irrational or tribalistic manner as the religious believers one criticizes
The point is not that we will have the same lists of likes and dislikes; the point is that your own observations have taught you something about what you would like to see more of and less of on Twitter. You can now provide some of what you'd like to see more of while refraining from doing any of the things you'd like to see less of.

Some General Recommendations for Tweeting

The good news is that it should be possible to come up with a general list of things to do (or avoid doing) on which many Twitter users could agree. This is an initial and very rough draft, but it might look something like this:
  1. Try to be relevant and interesting. Tweeting something almost none of your followers are likely to care about (e.g., what you ate for lunch) is rarely well received. Save that sort of thing for Facebook.
  2. Be civil to others and model rationality.
  3. If someone asks you not to tweet at them, respect their request.
  4. Don't worry about being unfollowed. It is not a reflection on your worth as a human being.
  5. Spread out your tweets. Tweeting too much too fast will usually annoy others.
  6. Recognize that you will encounter some people who are not worth your time. You are under no obligation to interact with them.
  7. Use direct messages for conversations that should be between two people instead of public.
  8. Use hashtags in your tweets (e.g., #atheism) when they are relevant to the content of your tweet. This helps others find your content.
  9. Don't tweet a link without telling people something about the content they will find there.
  10. Think before you tweet. Should go without saying, but it doesn't.
  11. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. If it isn't, chances are good that you are doing it wrong.
I suppose we could boil this entire thing down to one simple lesson: seek to provide those who follow you with something of value. Since you have no way to know with any certainty what others will find valuable, provide what strikes you as valuable. It may take some time, but like-minded individuals will find you.

You may be curious at this point why I have not said anything on the subject of how to get people to follow you. I have not addressed this subject because I consider it unimportant. My advice is not to waste a moment thinking about how many followers you have. Provide something of value, and followers will come. There are many things one can do to attract more followers, but none are as important as using Twitter in such a way that others will want to follow you.