Martin Hughes

Higher education writer & fan of all things student related. Writes study tips & more at

10 Controversial Twitter ‘How To’ Issues

I’ve been using Twitter for over two years. I’ve noticed a few things in that time:

  • There’s no specific, agreed etiquette;
  • One user’s potion is another user’s poison;
  • Your tweeting technique WON’T be liked by everyone, no matter what you do.

This causes difficulty, since there’s no standard to work from. Do you send out hundreds of updates every day? Should you schedule your tweets and pump out content even as you sleep? Will it upset someone if you state an opinion? Will it bore someone if you don’t?

For all the difficult questions millions of users pose every day they use Twitter, the twitterverse is a relatively friendly place. If someone doesn’t like the way you tweet, you won’t find much more than an unfollow coming your way. People get followed and unfollowed all the time, so you won’t have time to take it personally. That’s if you notice at all.

There are many opinions on how to tweet effectively. Most sound sensible and work fine if you follow them. That doesn’t stop the opinions from being controversial. Here are 10 tweeting issues that are subject to the biggest arguments:

1. Update frequency

How often should you tweet? Do you wake from the dead only when you have big news or do you try to maintain a regular heart-tweet? Many people suggest regular (but not too regular) tweeting. However, I don’t tweet at specific times and I sometimes skip an entire day. Nobody has complained yet.

2. Linking to your own blog

Personal promotion is frowned upon in one corner and expected in another. Should you broadcast your own links? If so, how often? Is this self-promotion like spam or is it simply a way of letting followers know when you’ve posted something new that should be of interest to them? Not everybody will subscribe to your site via RSS feeds, so I happily link out to my new blog posts. I tend to promote no more than once or twice and have no specific method.

3. Thanking for retweets

Do people expect to be thanked? Would they rather you didn’t bother thanking them? At what point does your following get too much to send out personal thanks each time someone retweets you? I thank those who retweet my own posts and links. I try to thank in other ways too.

4. Expecting to be followed back

If they don’t follow you, what’s the point in following them? If you value their content, does it matter if they don’t follow you? Are you looking for great content, personal communication, or both? New followers boost the ego, but you have to realize that not everyone will want to follow back. Reasons for not following don’t have to be personal or concerning, but it easily plays on the mind.

5. Using retweets

Where you should put the ‘RT’ in a tweet? Should you edit the retweet? Is it awful to you the official Twitter ReTweet button? Should you use ‘RT’, ‘rt’, ‘r/t’, ‘via’, ‘HT’ or something else? As Twitter has evolved, users have developed their own ways of communicating content. Even the simple retweet doesn’t have a clear right and wrong.

6. Too much of a single thing in your feed

Perhaps you only provide links, only copy quotations, only promote your own content, talk to yourself and not to others, say the same thing over and over again, and so on. Some users enjoy the reliable flow of the single element you bring to the table. Other users would prefer some variation. Do what feels comfortable to you. By all means surprise or change your game occasionally; just don’t surprise too often!

7. Gaps in tweeting

Should you spread out your tweets, or send them all at once when you’re on? Are automated tweets impersonal? Do people get upset if you don’t tweet at the weekend, or you miss out particular days? As with update frequency, nobody is going to complain of inconsistency.

8. Injecting personality

Should you talk about your personal life or should you provide value (unless you’re a celeb and can do both at the same time)? Should your personal life stay personal? For some, Twitter is a mere communication tool, not a lifestyle decision. For others, anything lacking a ‘human’ feel is too distant.

9. Going off topic

Will people unfollow you in droves if you suddenly write about something outside your field? If you mention a cause that you feel strongly about, is it asking for trouble? For some professional users, some care is necessary. For most, a bit of off topic banter is unlikely to shake someone’s confidence in following you.

10. Tweeting at particular times in the day

Is it best to tweet at peak times, all day long, during working hours, or whenever you like? Are you missing out on the best times for your followers? I tweet mainly to students and academics in higher education. I try not to tweet a study tips link at 3am, because most students will either be sleeping or partying. The link is more likely to be missed at that time. For greatest exposure, understand what hours best suit you. 3am may be wasted for me, but it’s perfect for someone tweeting sleep tips to insomniacs.
What next?

The use of Twitter brings up more questions than answers. There is no single way of using the service effectively.

The one piece of advice I’d give is this: Don’t panic about each unfollow you get. For every user who doesn’t appreciate your content, there are loads of users who will be happy with your output. Focus on developing a unique presence, not a concoction of what one or two users demanded. Your job is to listen and respond, not to roll over and obey.

You’ll never know exactly what everyone wants. Enjoy creating tweets that work for you. Eventually, you should enthuse, engage and inform others in the process. Genuine output is not only accepted, but also the most likely way to get you loyal, engaging followers.


  • September 23, 2010

    When retweeting I might do minor edits to keep the length down. However if I completely rewrite for some reason then I’ll use “via” on the end.

    I like to keep things on topic and only personal items that are on topic would be added. For example I might mentioned a DIY project.

  • September 23, 2010

    Hey Martin, Great post! I like these questions and your approach to answering them. I’ve seen some people complain about what appears to be personal communication between Twitter users. I guess they feel left out. However, I find most people don’t mind letting others in on the discussion, so it’s fine with me.

    Thanks for some great tips!

  • September 23, 2010

    An excellent post, Martin. I’ve asked myself these questions a lot of times too :)

  • September 23, 2010

    Good post. I agree, everyone’s got to develop their own voice, find their own style for Twitter.

  • September 23, 2010

    @Marly, thanks for the kind words! Your mention of personal communication reminds me of something. I used to wonder if it was okay to break in to a conversation between two users in conversation. The general agreement seemed to be that it’s encouraged. Unlike at a party, people are happy if you jump into the middle of their discussion!

    @Paul, absolutely. Emulating another user’s style rarely helps as much as finding your own winning techniques. Finding what works best takes time, but it’s worth it.

  • September 23, 2010

    Hi Martin,
    First, I’d like to thank you for linking to my post – What a pleasant surprise! Secondly, you’re absolutely write about the fact that no matter what your methods are, you won’t be able to please everyone and will eventually annoy someone. There’s just such a wide range of options, and while that can be a disadvantage in some cases, I actually think that’s the beauty of Twitter.
    Thanks again, for the mention and have an awesome day!! :)

  • September 23, 2010

    Good article! I think you’ve nailed some really interesting points. Thanks!

  • September 23, 2010

    As I am spending more time learning Twitter these tips both reinforce a few things and remind me of others. Still trying to build relationships, but seems difficult to get anyone involved. I’ll keep trying.


  • September 24, 2010

    Great post. Interestingly enough, I addressed some of these things yesterday when I was interviewed re: Twitter as a valid form of media. I brought up in the interview that there are no rules. It can be anything you want it to be and it can be easily tailored depending on the audience you are trying to build and/or appeal to.

  • September 24, 2010

    Love this post!

    I’ve come to similar conclusions. My style isn’t for everyone, and I’m comfortable with that. Those who don’t like it can choose not to follow me – I have better places to focus my energy than on trying to figure out what followers want and changing myself to their needs.

    As for “thank you’s”, RTs and some of the other etiquette, I try to do unto others as I’d want done to me . If I inadvertently stop on any toes, I hope people recognize that I’m just a genuine person with good intentions (and if they can’t – who needs them!)

  • September 24, 2010

    @Andy, I have a very similar method of retweeting to yours. I don’t aim to change it any time soon. If it ain’t broke… :)

    @Alex, thanks! I’m sure the post didn’t exactly answer those questions, but I hope it helped!

    @Kiesha, you’re more than welcome. I enjoyed your post and I’ve been waiting for a good place to link to it. I agree that the beauty of Twitter is that you can make it your own, despite the simplicity of the service.

    @Tommy, cheers!

    @Mike, the relationship process can take time. The closer another user is to your niche and/or interests, the more likely you are to find relationships blossom successfully. Keep enjoying the challenge…it’s totally worth it.

  • September 24, 2010

    As a newbie, I understand what Mike is saying as well. It’s difficult to build relationships when most of the people I’m interested in following in the education or ed tech field, do not follow back. I understand that they do not want to be bombarded with tweets, but it can be disheartening to send out tweets to one or two people. It’s also difficult when someone you follow sends you a Direct Message and you can’t send a DM back because they do not follow you.

    To add to your list of controversial tweet issues, I find it annoying when someone sends constant tweets about where they are physically, for instance; “I’m at a Conoco station in Flagstaff, AZ.

    Great post, Martin and a timely one for me.

  • September 24, 2010

    Excellent. It takes the pressure off to know there’s no single right way. At the same time, it’s good to have some basic guidelines and experiment from there.

  • September 24, 2010

    How important is grammar over content? Do you use tweet shrink? How about an ampersand instead of writing and? Should you omit punctuation to save the character space?

  • September 24, 2010

    These issues are very insightful and I have experienced many of them myself. @jgwentworth

  • September 26, 2010

    the main rules I always follow for myself is to use correct grammar when necessary, retweet about my interested niches, and leave a 25 character gap for others to Retweet me.

  • September 27, 2010

    I think those are all valid questions. Answers to them will depend on our audiences and the way we manage our content and reactions of others. I really like the self regulatory nature of online discussions which is the best compass ever. I also think our approach to Twitter might change with time…we change jobs, other tools develop, we go away and come back to Twitter. Sometimes we tweet more often, lets say at an event, sometimes less. As long as our audiences accept it, it should be all ok, no?

  • September 27, 2010

    It has been advised that only one out of every 20 tweets should be to your site. make jokes make, comments have fun. it’s a conversation not a blog.

  • September 27, 2010

    thanks for the advice, i’m not finding it easy to get followers.

  • October 1, 2010

    Experience and engaging with your followers is key in this case (as with any social media)

    Thanks for refreshing the specifics though :)
    I remember the 1-20 rule from a social media surgery event here in UK.

  • October 7, 2010

    I think it really depends on exactly WHAT your there to do.

  • October 8, 2010

    @darrenmonroe If you’re worried about your follower number, I’d say this is relevant, but if you’re just there for a personal group, it doesn’t really matter what you say :)

  • October 8, 2010

    @Darren & Tim, some people will only join Twitter for personal interaction between a handful of people they already know. In these cases, there is absolutely no need to consider usage other than how you want to come across to your friends. Boundaries and relationships are already in place, so there’s not much to think about.

    The use of Twitter really does depend on WHAT you’re there to do. That’s why I mentioned that one user’s potion is another user’s poison. There are no solid answers, so we should never run out of things to discuss! :)

  • October 14, 2010

    @universityboy Indeed!

  • October 26, 2010

    Thank you for teaching an old dog new tricks!

  • November 24, 2010

    Twitter is an online extension of society as a whole, and as with “real life” society it is governed by unwritten rules! Your post is an excellent illustration of how confusing it can be to find yourself in a new “culture” without a guide book as to how you should behave, but once you take the plunge and emerse yourself, you will understand which rules are pertinent to your Twitter self.

  • December 7, 2010

    If they don’t follow you, what’s the point in following them? I am in real estate and follow others to see what the trends are. What are they pushing. Where, when and why? But yes your post is right on. Ordinarily I wouldnt. I didnt even think about half of it before. It makes perfect sense to me.

  • December 28, 2010

    Thanks Martin for the info! I’m a newbie at tweeting. LOL
    Can you give me advice on deleting all the incoming tweets that are old and excessive?

    Awaiting your reply,

  • January 25, 2011
    Tony Koch

    4. Expecting to be followed back

    I am new to this stuff but this is the one topic that I find most surprising.
    Here is what I generally do for new followers:
    1. view their profile
    if interesting then maybe follow
    2. check their location
    if local then maybe follow or just add to a private list
    - review their recent tweets to get a feel for them.
    are they just pumping out spam or ‘quotes’ or are they adding something positive to the world.

    This may change over time as I work smarter – you post povides some great ideas. Very much appreciated.

  • January 27, 2011

    Does anyone out there use Twitter without a mobile device? I just find it hard to imagine becoming a regular user until I get a mobile device.

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